In his insightful essay, “The Pastor as Counselor” (in For the Fame of God’s Name), David Powlison writes, “You stand in a tradition of pastoral care reaching back through centuries. Wise Christians have come before you. Set out to learn from your brethren” (p. 441). Here are his recommendations:
Every pastor will profit by reading Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, written almost fifteen hundred years ago. We may have better hermeneutics, wider doctrinal understanding, and more awareness of the richness of the gospel of Jesus. But Gregory has more awareness of “the Truth in person,” more case-wisdom, more flexibility in adapting to human differences, more sense of pastoral responsibility, more humility about his achievements, more alertness to the subtlety of sin. Stand on his shoulders.
Every pastor will profit from reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.
Baxter is dense, and, like all old books, dated. You won’t do ministry in the same way he did.
But if you sit with Baxter, you will become a wiser pastor.
Similarly, every pastor will profit from reading Thomas Oden’s Pastoral Counsel and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Oden’s digest of ancient wisdom will introduce you to wise pastors you never knew existed. Your church history class likely explored the development of doctrine and events in church politics. Oden explores how pastors pastored. Bonhoeffer’s twentieth-century wisdom and example will inform and nerve you as you take up your unique counseling calling.
Every pastor would also profit from carefully pondering Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Why fiction? In both books, the protagonist is a pastor, and you will learn how Christian life and ministry work on the inside amid the untidy details of life lived.