Jimmy Dodd is founder and president of PastorServe, an organization devoted to aiding pastors in their lives and ministries.  Survive or Thrive details how PastorServe attempts to fulfill its mission.  Dodd founded PastorServe in 1999  to “provide care, coaching and crisis support to pastors” (p. 29).  The present problem, as Dodd sees it, is that most pastors’ gifting exceeds their maturity, a point the author demonstrates in the first section of the book.  In general, Dodd views most pastors as a mess, hiding behind a professional façade and trying to never disclose their brokenness.  The following generalization, toward the end of part one of the book, expresses his sentiments.

I know that the pastor is fragmented and weak.  He has a temper, is generally a slob, and does not have the respect of his staff.  Sadly, he is commonly disrespectful of his spouse and he secretly abhors poetry.  And to top it off, he has pitiful taste in clothes.  This pastor lives a front stage-back stage life.  He is adored on the front stage by those with limited contact and loathed on the back stage by those with extensive contact.  This pastor rejects the six relationships for fear of exposure.  In short, he does not believe the gospel.  He does not believe that God can and does use the least vessel to do the greatest work.  The congregation’s picture of the pastor only lifts him higher and higher so that when the fall comes (and the façade will come crashing down), many will be disillusioned (p. 132).

In order to solve such problems, as Dodd sees them, the gap between maturity and giftedness must be closed, which is the content of part two.  Dodd identifies six relationships necessary to close the maturity/giftedness gap and enable pastors to thrive in life and ministry (p. 154).  The author believes every pastor needs a boss, a trainer, a coach, a counselor, a mentor and a friend.  A chapter is devoted to each of these relationships.  Along the way, Dodd offers a number of helpful and biblically sound insights: he rebukes the Messiah complex many pastors have adopted (p. 237); he suggests we sin because we don’t believe God is enough (pp. 112-113); he reminds the reader that repentance is not fundamentally for personal relief but for bringing glory to God (pp. 285-288); the power for change is not found in morality but in the love of Christ (p. 289); freedom is found in Christ, not in our own efforts (pp. 295, 300, 307-308); and claiming to be unable to forgive ourselves is to place ourselves above the God who promises forgiveness (p. 298).

However, much of Dodd’s message is based not on Scripture but on psychology premises and experience.  Following one of the trendiest fads of our times, that all of us, including pastors, are broken and wounded (p. 215), he believes that all pastors need “professional counselors” (pp. 216, 224-225), or therapists (p. 225).  In addition pastors must disclose their deepest secrets to a few trusted friends (pp. 259-260) in order to be healthy.  Dodd elicits the support of Andy Stanley (p. 209), Mother Teresa (p. 221), C.S. Lewis (p. 232) and others for his views and, while these may offer insightful commentary, they are not authoritative.  He even states, “Some of PastorServe’s most effective ministry tools are drawn from The Lord of the Rings (p. 265).”  What this means to the discerning reader is that while the author is winsome, writes well and is at times helpful, nevertheless this book is not drawn solely from Scripture, but mingles biblical truth with psychological theory, experience and human wisdom.  While experience, wisdom and theory can be considered and contemplated, only that which emerges from Scripture can be fully embraced.

Dodd is an egalitarian when it comes to women pastors (p. 20) and often speaks of the Holy Spirit leading him through promptings (pp. 29, 57, 103-104, 240-241).

There are some beneficial concepts for pastors in Survive or Thrive but the reader must be careful to distinguish between truth drawn from Scripture and ideas based on psychological theory and experience.

Survive or Thrive, Six Relationships Every Pastor Needs by Jimmy Dodd (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015) 319 pp, paper $16.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.