The following is an email reply I sent to one of my students regarding recommendations for books as he prepares for a couple of years from now to enter full-time ministry. I thought others might benefit from this as well.
Take note of syllabi. They often include such works we have found beneficial. While we will include other works there are some listed there that would aid you (depending upon the subject matter and your interest and calling).
Commentaries. I would encourage you to purchase and read several commentaries for each sermon series you do in ministry. There are resources to help in sifting commentaries that may be most beneficial and we’re all willing to make such recommendations as needed.
Preaching. I’d encourage you to just work through one or two (at least) books a year on some aspect of preaching. Find a friend to discuss these with and consider even buying a copy for them. Also, don’t forget to consider how you are applying what you read. 🙂
Theology. Find books on various aspects of theology to read and reflect on. Read classics and older works like Church Fathers who were both pastors and theologians: Tertullian, Augustine, the Cappadocian fathers, Ephrem the Syrian, etc. And read historical theologians like Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, etc…all of whom also had pastoral care in mind. And read contemporaries who do likewise like Eugene Peterson, N. T. Wright, etc.
There are numerous other things you shouldn’t ignore that I’m not listing like missions biographies and theologies, theological/bible dictionaries, high literature (like the classics), popular literature (I’m thinking whether fiction or non-fiction), pastoral care, classic devotional works (like Thomas a Kempis), etc. Read widely. Read well.
Acquire resources that will serve you for the long term rather than consuming only whatever seems fad-ish. And all of these are really things to particularly engage over a lifetime rather than simply to purchase now (you can’t afford it in money or time, but in the long run you will slowly gain what you should). I’d encourage you to engage any given professor you are taking classes from about any specific works they might recommend on that topic beyond the required readings. 🙂
Blessings on the journey.
There is no better place for doing theology than in the life of the local church. It is in the local church that the rubber hits the road and one’s attempts at careful theological reflection need to be applied to the life of God’s work in the world. Where there can be no mere hypothesizing, but praxis is called for if one desires to be a faithful minister and disciple.
Andy, over at Hopeful Realism, has just posted a couple of articles on the pastor-theologian in the mega-church and in the small church. His introduction to the topic offers several strengths to each context.
Certainly the complexities of pastoral ministry, whether in a mega-church or small church, can seem enough of a challenge without attempting to be a so-called “pastor-theologian”. However, the responsibilities of caring for Christ’s church should demand that we take up the charge to study to show ourselves approved unto God in every way. This is not a day for leaving the work of careful theological reflection to those who do not serve in the context of the pastorate.
We NEED more pastors committing to applying themselves to intensive study of the Scriptures (original languages, hermeneutics, homiletics, etc.) and theology (historical, contemporary, systematic, biblical, etc). Our churches NEED ministers who will vigorously study and apply what is studied to writing, preaching, counseling, and pastoral care. And will do this all in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is a HUGE task, but it is one that is essential to the overall health of the community of believers (locally and globally). We need more women and men committed to the task. We need more Augustines, Teresas, Calvins, Wesleys, and Alice Reynolds and J. Roswell Flowers. Will you give yourself wholly to the work set before you?
Originally posted by myself at bluechippastor.org on April 25, 2013.
Somebody believed in you or at least trusted you enough to give you a ministry in the church. While I cannot remember each pastor I had as a kid (we moved every few years), I can remember the sense of encouragement to serve by being trained and released to do ministry in the church even as a young person. Here are a couple of highlights that I remember (thanks Twyla Kuntz for posting something like this on Facebook):
Age 9 – altar boy (I can’t believe they let me play with fire in church)
Age 12-13 – peewee Bible quiz coach (I can’t believe they let me coach kids)
Age 14-17 – kids church worker with 50 kids (I can’t believe I was brought in for crowd control)
Age 17-20 – youth sponsor and speaker (I can’t believe they let me preach and teach)
So how were you invested in as a young person? Who are you training and supporting as they grow up and follow whatever God would lead them into for life and ministry? Take a chance on a kid. Sure it might seem scary (I mean WHO in their right mind would EVER trust me with fire in a church…and I’m talking about present day, let alone when I was a kid 😉 ). You just never know what God will do in that kid’s life.
Originally posted by me at bluechippastor.org on April 16, 2013
So what exactly is the job of a “pastor”? It would seem it is about the formation of God’s people and not about the gathering of people (God’s or otherwise). The call to serve the Church by serving a local gathering of those who call on the name of the Lord is not a call to gather crowds. It is a call to see folks transformed by the power of the Spirit into the community of God. It is to see God’s kingdom in the lives of God’s people. It is to share in the life of Jesus and to grow in our staying in step with the Spirit. It is about reconciliation, whole-ness, and holiness. It is about the making of disciples, not the growing of numbers in a service.
Preaching and teaching play their part in this. The public (and private) hearing and obedience to Scripture. Praying without ceasing. Guarding one’s life, family, and church against the wiles of the enemy by walking in mercy and holiness. I could go on, but the point is that it is about the formation (really, the transformation) of God’s people as saints who are being discipled and making disciples. It is not about numbers. It is about people…God’s people.
So what is the job (perhaps I should say “calling”) of a pastor? To be a faithful, Spirit-empowered equipper of the saints who, together with all those whom God by His Spirit gifts, serves to see the whole community of God’s people growing together in
“unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT)
Amen and amen! This is actually the only “growth” laid out for the pastor (indeed for all of the Church). Growth in Christ Jesus as Lord of all!
Originally blogged by me at bluechippastor.org on March 25, 2013.
The ouster of Perry Noble has led to a spate of articles and blogs including a recent article in Relevant Magazine (online) which touts the title: “The Mega-Problem Behind the ‘Falls’ of Megachurch Pastors”. The article’s author, Eddie Kaufholz, proposes that the stresses of the megachurch are partly to blame given the enormity of the responsibilities on these megachurch lead pastors. And I have a rejoinder. Sorry Eddie. This is not a megachurch pastor issue. Perhaps the stresses of such a context are exponentially greater…or perhaps not. They may have the stress of staff, but the solo-pastor of a small church has the stress of being the only one to blame when things go poorly. At least a pastor with staff can remove others as the ones to blame (I’ve seen that happen all too often). This is a people issue and it is a sin issue. The only reason this makes news is because a megachurch pastor has more people already taking notice of them…listening to them…reading them. It happens often enough among pastors of churches of all sizes (as I have sadly walked through in a pastor-of-pastors leadership role).
While the cult of personality is an issue, it is an issue no matter the size. I’ve known wandering lonely “prophets” who believed in themselves when all others saw them as mentally and/or spiritually disturbed. They were convinced that they were the end-all. The savior complex creeps in no matter the size of a congregation (or lack there-of). Again, this is a sin issue; we have one Lord and Savior.
In reality, we must do something to address the proper training and care of ministers to best aid them in walking in holiness, humility and faithfulness in whatever context they find themselves (this is what I do as a professor training ministers and continuing to mentor ministers). Discipleship and accountability is the name of the game. We must also move toward greater congregational involvement in the regular ministry of the local church so that such contexts become less about the individual and more about the gathered body empowered by the Spirit to carry out the work of the ministry.
I am delighted with the growing interest in helping small church pastors be the best pastors (and their congregations the best congregations) they can be. Serving faithfully wherever God calls. One recently discovered resource is offering a plethora of helps for small church pastors and Karl Vaters has apparently only been at it for 100 days (but WOW! has he done a LOT in that time). What a terrific day and age to be a small church pastor. There are opportunities like never before to serve our communities and be resourced to bring greater glory to God.
With that in mind, I was listening to a message by pastor Mark Dever delivered at the recent Desiring God conference for pastors. He shared a quote–that has stayed with him and made impact in his own life and ministry–that I was struck by:
John Brown in a letter of paternal counsels to one of his pupils newly ordained over a small congregation:
“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”
And while you are at it, check out his first message on being a discipling pastor in a discipling community titled “Centrality of the Church in Discipleship” (neatly summarized toward the end by the poetic: Preach and Pray, Love and Stay). Love it!
Originally blogged by myself at bluechippastor.org on February 27, 2013.
Three years later, I am even more passionate about seeing pastors of small congregations succeed in doing what the Lord has called them to do. I say this as one who regularly preaches to gatherings of a few dozen and has pastored churches of 20-60 congregants. I am also grateful to serve in an institution like Trinity Bible College and Graduate School that equally cares for churches of all sizes and the pastors called to serve them.
This may seem a bit radical for my fellowship (Assemblies of God), but I would like to go on the record as saying that ordination ought to be the aim of every pastor and not because of education, credentials, or prestige, but because it offers a testimony of faithfulness (at some level). To be ordained…
This may seem a bit radical for my fellowship (Assemblies of God), but I would like to go on the record as saying that ordination ought to be the aim of every pastor and not because of education, credentials, or prestige, but because it offers a testimony of faithfulness (at some level). To be ordained (in my tradition) requires one to be in ministry for a minimum of 2 years and a few extra courses (if one didn’t go through one of our official schools). This is quite minimal. I was ordained at 25 and would have been ordained at 24 except I was short of the two years by a couple of weeks (don’t get me started on that one).
I have a friend who has changed fellowships after much praying and seeking and is in a LONG process of seeking ordination in her new fellowship (Anglican). I’ve spoken with her several times about their process and it is a doozy. But I’m excited for her going through the process and seeking the affirmation that I believe is already hers in her years of faithful ministry up to this point. It will be wonderful when her bishop places his hands on her (do they do that in her tradition? No clue, but let’s pretend anyways) as testimony of her calling and faithfulness to the call.
So why should you seek ordination?
Seek ordination as an affirmation of God’s calling on your life.
Seek ordination as a call to greater discipleship.
Seek ordination as a testimony from those you serve concerning your faithfulness.
Seek ordination as a deeper commitment to your fellowship and its continuing maturation.
The problem that I’ve seen is that too many pastors who aren’t ordained in my fellowship look at it like they should never seek it. Like it is only about having to pay more fees (it does require that). Like it may mean more responsibility (it might if you then get elected to a sectional or district position which can only happen by being ordained). That’s just silliness. We should want to be tested and proven in our calling and ministry. We should desire to be the best minister we can be. Ordination does not guarantee this by any stretch, but a good minister should have NO reason to avoid ordination as early as possible. Be faithful where the Lord has placed you and let others affirm this through the process of being ordained! 🙂
Originally blogged by me at bluechippastors.org on April 27, 2013.
As I was preparing for teaching the Senior Seminar – Ministerial course this semester I spent some time just reading, praying and meditating on Paul’s brief time with the Ephesian elders on his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20.18-38). I like to jot down thoughts as they come at me and these are some of the pastoral thoughts I see and hear from the apostle that offer a reminder to me of my responsibility in pastoring and my call to pastors-in-training. While they are not intended as either comprehensive (or even necessarily belonging to the intent of the text from Luke) I believe they offer some bit of wisdom in considering this calling. And so I shared these words with my students last night as preparatory for their final ministerial course and the move toward pastoring.
Work with humility for the Lord
Offer your broken and costly service
Preach the Lord Jesus boldly
Be led by the Spirit
Guard yourselves and the flock committed to you – feeding and shepherding them for good and against false teachers
Entrust yourself and the church to God
Do not be greedy, but work hard in order to give
Give yourself to prayer with (and for) the church
Embrace the church as family
I pray that I indeed live up to such a high and holy calling and faithfully fulfill all the Lord has put into my hands to do. May he keep his Church. And may his Church know the fellowship of his sufferings and the joy of his life-giving victory.
Marriage seminars and sermon series are all the rage. Churches seem to offer a regular smorgasbord of options intended to strengthen the family, but are we doing what we were intended to do? Is it the local church’s responsibility to provide marriage counseling? Is it the church’s duty to detail the nature of inter-personal communication and conflict resolution?*
I know these questions are provocative. They are questions I wrestle with regularly. And I do so even as I am specifically offering a marriage series on Sunday nights (the “Love and Respect” Small Group study**). I do believe the local church must offer helps to its congregants and to the local community, but is it perhaps overly easy to fall into attempts at psychological answers in place of Biblical answers? I firmly believe the church (my congregation included) MUST strengthen families through every means available, but the question remains…where do we say that the Church MUST be the place where God’s Word is proclaimed and lived out and not simply another tool. Where the Scriptures function as more than a crutch to our marriages, but functions as the transformative, life-giving message of God’s Spirit changing and conforming us into the image of God.
It is far too easy (as Eugene Peterson pointed out in “The Pastor: A Memoir”) to fall into offering helps that are not the direct purview of the Church or the pastor. It is easier in some sense to speak to the psychological and social issues involved and offer such models for resolving conflicts, or improving the well-being of our congregants, but (while these can be incredibly beneficial) do such things belong to the direct responsibility of the local church? Can we offer such helps (as in some sense para-church outreaches), even while retaining our primary responsibility of preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again as the grounds for our daily lives? I am persuaded that the good news says much about our relationships, but do not want to put undo emphasis where it does not belong. I guess what I’m asking is, should the task of preaching be to offer marriage seminar-like messages…or does it need to be something more? Messages where Christ is central and marriage peripheral.
If so, how do we maintain the centrality of the story of God’s redemption of creation in Christ, while still offering helps which do not belong centrally to that message, but may still be vital to the overall health of our churches?
* Disclaimer: I offer pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, have preached (and will continue to) on issues of the family and marriage (as a matter of following the text of Scripture we are working through and not as a separate series), and offer specific events targeting families, marriages, singles, and parenting.
** I highly recommend this series for its helpfulness.
Originally published by myself at bluechippastor.org on Jan. 21, 2013.
I have discovered that several things seem incredibly important for church and pastoral health…developing relationships with those outside your church. Several things which I’ve seen bear fruit in my own life and ministry might be of help to others. The following thoughts are random though numbered for convenience (or perhaps for those who really like lists):
1) We all need folks we can talk to and share our lives with. While it is important to share your life with your congregation, there are simply issues that can arise that need the counsel and ears of someone who can understand. Enter the pastor-friend. Of course, we don’t connect with everyone and not everyone should be told your life story, but it is important to be able to have a sounding board, or a sympathetic ear, or someone to say, “Yeah, I’ve done that…don’t do it”.
2) There are other pastors in your community who need you in their life. They may not even realize it, but they need you. You are their listening ear and sounding board. This is a mutually edifying and necessary thing.
3) It stretches us all to have someone else in ministry speak into our lives. Who knows, you may actually learn a thing or three about life and ministry.
4) We all need friends.
This being a short list that simply skims the surface, what would you add?
Originally published by me at bluechippastors.org on September 21, 2012.