New Pastors Handbook
October 6, 2015
As a faculty member at RTS/Jackson, one of the great privileges that I have is to teach the first year, first semester class, "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies." This class is meant as an orientation to seminary. One of the points that I drive across to the students is that RTS intends to form pastoral leaders. Everything in our Master of Divinity curriculum is geared toward that end. Thinking through, then, the task of pastoral leadership at the outset is key to preparing properly and sustaining a lifetime of ministry.
One book that I will be recommending to my classes from now on is the new one by Jason Helopoulos, The New Pastor's Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry. As I read the 47 brief chapters, I found myself nodding my head--both because Jason, who serves as associate pastor at University Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, covers matters that I touch on in class, but also because he does so with such hard-won and biblically-centered counsel. This is an extremely valuable book for those starting out in ministry as well as those, like me, who need constant encouragement for the pastoral task.
The book opens helpfully with treatments of call to ministry and calls to specific ministry roles in the life of the church. It then moves on to a range of pastoral encouragements: how to utilize one's time best early in ministry; the importance of understanding the history of one's congregation; why listening to your people is the greatest gift you can give them; helpful hints for leading a range of meetings. There was much wisdom in these chapters to spur on to pastoral growth and usefulness.
From there, Jason detailed various pitfalls that young pastors face. The most significant of these involve overzealous approaches to change; the struggle with contentment (and the flip side of the sin of envy); and the reality of disappointment and betrayal by one's people. Again, helpful counsel from one pastor to another typify these chapters and make this book a joy to read. Speaking of joy, the book ends with short reflections on the joy of Gospel ministry.
The picture of ministry that emerges from this book: ours is a serious calling that deserves earnest effort and regular gratitude. To me, this is one of the great values of what Jason has done for us: presented a picture of ministry in all its reality that is earnest, serious, sober, and satisfying. As a result, this book was useful and will find a place on my syllabus next year when I teach my introduction class.