Book Review: Is This It?
There is a certain amusement when you realise your boss has asked you to write a blog post reviewing a book whose front cover says (among other things), “I hate my job!” He’s a brave man. Anyway, I have duly read Is This It? by Rachel Jones. And I have frequently found myself getting distracted from working out what might be useful for a 9:38 blog post because the book is really very helpful for 28-year old me. (Let me add a hasty caveat: no, not because I hate my job. I like it. Don’t worry!)
Is This It? is aimed at Christians who, like me, are in their 20’s or 30’s. It’s aimed at people whose hopes and dreams for their lives have not (or not yet) been fulfilled, and who are realising that fulfilment may never come. It’s aimed at people whose hopes and dreams have been fulfilled – but have failed to live up to their expectations. (Which means, by the way, that it has something to offer every Christian reader, no matter your age. We’ve all had to come to terms with a dream that didn’t happen or didn’t work out the way we expect.)
Superficial things first. I loved the avocado front cover (because, yes, I am an identikit millennial!) and I was entirely overexcited when I got to the chapter which likens guarding the gospel to a dragon protecting its treasure. Prior to reading Is This It?, I had never been advised to “Be more dragon”.
Important things now. I loved the courage displayed in Is This It?’s honesty – such as when Rachel confronts her struggles with singleness in the run-up to her sister’s wedding (p. 125). This is not someone expostulating from some ivory tower. Each chapter of Is This It? is brimming with anecdotes (either the author’s or a friend’s) with which we can identify. Even more importantly, though, Is This It? points the reader to Jesus. This book is neither “Woe is me” nor insistent on a stiff upper lip. Instead, Is This It? acknowledges the troubles of daily life and, with compassion and good humour, challenges the reader to lift their eyes to Jesus and serve him to the best of our abilities.
So yes, you should read Is This It?. And – as my boss obviously deduced – I think you would find it especially helpful if you are a 20- or 30-something who is or should be considering being a ministry trainee. Here are three areas where it’s particularly relevant:
1) Decision-making. Becoming a ministry trainee involves lots of decisions. You have to decide that you want to do it, followed by where, when and how (especially if your church’s scheme requires you to fundraise). And Christian millennials, myself included, can be terrible at making decisions. We just get overwhelmed by all the options and by our desperation not to stray away from God’s plan for our lives. Is This It? helps puncture that paralysis, not least by clarifying how God’s plan for our lives interacts with our decision-making (i.e. “It’s not that God’s holding the treasure map and we have to guess the route to the X that marks the spot.” p. 40). And then it talks through how we can actually make a decision.
2) The nature of work. It’s realistic about work. Is This It? recognises that work can and does feel good. And it acknowledges that often “work will not feel good” and that “this is normal in a post-Genesis-3 world.” (p. 85) Both these things are true of trainee schemes. If you become a ministry trainee, then I promise that you will do some things well and some things badly. You will have fun and you will get bored. You will develop closer friendships and you will need to learn patience, because I guarantee some people will frustrate you! That is the nature of work, even (perhaps especially) gospel ministry. It’s good to be realistic about what you’re expecting from a trainee scheme, and from the people involved. Is This It? helps with that. And it also gives six very practical ideas for a happier working life. (And I think #3 – “Fear God, Not People” – is especially relevant for gospel ministry. You want to be teaching the kids / cooking / cleaning / preaching for God’s glory, not so that other people will like you.)
3) Self-doubt. I suspect that you, like me, have a talent for deciding that other Christians are way better at serving Jesus than you are. They serve enthusiastically at church on top of their demanding jobs. They rattle off whole portions of Leviticus and Revelation. They clear up the nth mess of the morning, and are still smiling. If you become a ministry trainee, you’ll be probably be surrounded by Christians like this. And you may feel as though you’ll never be on their level. As though you have nothing to give. If so, you need to be reminded that you are a Christian because of what Jesus has done for you and that the Holy Spirit now lives inside you (“and that means you’re a dragon”, p. 196). So you can step out in faith because you are “not on probation […] There’s nothing to prove, nothing to earn. [You’ve] already been given the grace that matters.” (p. 195) N.b. Although this chapter of Is This It? focuses on self-doubt, it’s worth saying that the same principles apply if you’re inclined to looking down on other Christians (which is also very tempting if you’re a ministry trainee): remember that you are a sinner saved by grace, just like them, and that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit – just like you.
So yes, I definitely recommend Is This It? if a ministry trainee scheme is somewhere on your horizon. And even if it isn’t, I still think you should pick up a copy of Is This It? and take a read. I’m confident that you’ll find it useful. Even if you don’t like avocados.
Pick up a copy from our friends at The Good Book Company.