On Being A Pastor: Understanding Our Work and Calling
Frequently as a young pastor I wished there was someone who would provide advice and guidance on the numerous new matters I confronted. After graduating from seminary, I seemed to confront only new things. In fact, it led to a regular humorous exchange between one of the elders of the congregation and me. On various occasions he would ask me if what I was doing was another new experience.
For that reason, I longed for some older and wiser pastor to help me address all that was new in pastoral work. What I needed was someone like Derek Prime or Alistair Begg to be available to walk me through the maze of new tasks and procedures. They were not available to me, but through their book, On Being a Pastor, they can provide the new pastor with what I lacked.
On Being a Pastor gives guidance, good sound advice and helpful insights into how two long time pastors handle the work of the pastorate. In the midst of the advice and good counsel about the ways of pastoral work, the reader finds a central theme. Pastoring is not simply about doing various jobs; it is about being something, namely, a man of God. If young pastors in the technique oriented world of our day need any advice, they need to hear this theme.
The authors set their advice against the contemporary backdrop of two diverse views of ministry. One view sees the office and work of the minister as superfluous. The denial of any special place in God's church for ministers has found many adherents in many churches. At the other end of the spectrum is the specialization of the ministry. In large churches one finds some clerics who devote themselves to teaching while others to pastoring or administration or some other focus. Prime and Begg argue that the minister is both a pastor and a teacher.
The authors set out five basic convictions that underlie their view of ministry. The first is that the Lord Jesus gives to his church the gift of pastors and teachers. A second conviction directing the authors is that the "pastor and teacher is an elder among other elders." Thirdly, since the pastor teacher functions as an elder, he must encourage and develop the other elders.A fourth point fixed on by the authors is that someone in the local group of elders must lead. The last principle upon which the authors build their case is the pastor teacher builds up the church by providing food from the word of God.
In order to show how these convictions look in the life of the pastor the authors deal with a wide range of subjects. They begin by dealing with matters of the character of the pastor. If one holds that pastors are gifts to the church from the Lord, then the minister's call to ministry plays a central role. The authors deal with this topic within the context of the calling of Christians to be servants of God. The minister has a special calling, in which he feels the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit which are confirmed by the agreement of the church that he is equipped for ministry. One is called to the ministry to fulfill a particular calling, namely, to be a pastor and teacher.
The minister must follow the pattern of the Lord Jesus and set an example for his people in speech, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. In addition to setting an example of godliness before the people, the pastor needs to focus on God honoring goals. The authors argue that the first order goal of the minister is to feed the flock and thereby enable them to engage in works of service.
These goals can only be addressed if the pastor prepares himself by prayer, devotion and study. The authors put a healthy emphasis on prayer in the life of the pastor. "Prayer is our principal and main work. It has priority over the ministry of the Word in that it must come first." (68) This is good advice to young pastors that experienced pastors need to hear again and again.
In discussing the pastor's devotional life the authors get their priorities correct. "Some lessons we learn slowly, and one that we have found particularly difficult is that God wants quality of life from us rather than quantity of service, and that the latter is no substitute for the former. More important than all the preparation for ministry and our careful administration of church life is that we should live our lives for the will of God and reflect His Son's grace and character in all our dealings with others." (89) This type of guidance under girds all the authors have to say. Such advice makes the work a useful and encouraging book.
Not only do the authors discuss the matters of ministerial character, but also they address the tasks of ministry. They provide helpful advice on preaching, pastoral care, leadership and directing the congregation in worship. In so doing the authors provide helpful, down to earth advice for one already engaged in ministry or about to enter into it.
An example of the good advice provided by the authors surfaces in the chapter on pastoral care. "Shepherding is synonymous with pastoral care: It is the practical, individual, and spiritual care of Christ's people as His lambs and sheep. It goes hand in hand with the complementary functions of teaching...The functions of the shepherd are more likely to be neglected than those of the teacher." (150) Veterans of many years of ministry in the church would no doubt echo that sage advice and provide examples of how to care for the flock of God.
The scope of this review makes it impossible to provide other examples of the way the authors set out biblical principles and helpful examples of the practice of ministry.
When I first picked this book up, I thought I might include it as required reading for an introductory course on ministry that I teach at RTS. I decided not to require it but to use as a suggested reading. I made this decision not because of what was in the book but what was not. The authors provide good advice, securely anchored in biblical revelation. I cannot fault them on that. What I missed was the theological reflection on ministry. The book could have been much more helpful if it had guided the pastor more explicitly to consider how his ministry was centered in Christ--where the pastor is assured not only that he ministers in Christ's name, but also that Christ carries out his continuing ministry through the pastor. I appreciated the fact that the authors tried to set the role of the minister in the context of serving with other elders. What I missed was a more full and explicit statement of the way one's understanding of the nature of the church directs the pastor's ministry.
The themes addressed by the authors provide useful biblical guidance. One device they use to make their advice more concrete was to intersperse personal reflections throughout the book. As I read the book, I found these more of a distraction than an aid. The chapters deal with the practicalities of ministry and the personal reflections would work more effectively if they were put at the end of the chapter or in a separate section.
I have no reservations about recommending this book to pastors, especially those just beginning. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I longed for the kind of advice the authors provide. I judge the book will prove helpful to young pastors as they discover what it means to be a pastor and will give good advice on how to understand and fulfill the calling they have from God.
Derek Prime & Alistair Begg / Chicago: Moody Press, 2004
Review by Allen Curry