I’ve received many letters and e-mails throughout the years that have had a common theme:
Pastor Brian, I’m pastoring my first church and suddenly found myself facing my first funeral. I panicked. Calmed down. Bought your little book on funerals and read it in one day. Then I prepared and conducted the funeral the next day. Thank you!
Every time I receive a note or email with this message, I’m struck afresh with an undeniable reality: as good and helpful as a seminary education is, it doesn’t prepare men for the practicalities of pastoral ministry.
Practical ministry is best learned through pastoral mentoring in a local church and through written resources from seasoned pastors that one can pick up in a moment’s notice. Many of the issues pastors face in the daily grind of ministry arise with little or no notice. R. Kent Hughes’s newest book, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, is a wonderfully modern, comprehensive resource that serves ministers to this end. This large and beautifully bound hardback seeks to serve pastors and churches in four ways (19):
- Encourage a thoroughly gospel-centered ministry
- Refresh the church from the wells of historic orthodoxy
- Provide many of the best practical examples
- Become a go-to resource for busy pastors
Book That Belongs
Hughes (senior pastor emeritus at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois; founder of Charles Simeon Trust; and visiting professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) accomplishes these four goals with a biblically clear, theologically sound, and practically wise volume that belongs in every pastor’s study. It addresses many different areas of ministry, but is best summarized by its three main parts:
- Part 1—Christian Gatherings: This section focuses on Sunday worship services, special annual services, weddings, and funerals. Hughes spend a good bit of time establishing a biblical and historical framework that flows well into the more practical sections that follow.
- Part 2—Parts of the Worship Services: This section gets into the details of those services and addresses public prayers, historic Christian creeds, hymns, baptism, and communion. Helpful suggestions include logistics about song selection, music leading, and what kind of person should lead—insights often neglected in resources of this kind.
- Part 3—Ministerial Duties: This is the smallest section, focusing on pastoral counseling and hospital visitation. Although there are only two main areas addressed, it’s thorough and chock-full of practical wisdom to help one think carefully through these complex areas.
Major Strengths, Minor Weaknesses
Though numerous observations could be made about The Pastor’s Book, I’ll make a few by evaluating its strengths and weaknesses.
(1) A helpful, easy-to-maneuver reference work. The volume’s size could intimidate one who catches a quick glance of it in a bookstore, but its primary purpose is to be a go-to resource on a variety of essential issues. It’s organized such that it’s easy to find particular topics and specific examples.
(2) Practical wisdom. There is so much wisdom in this volume! The wedding (129–152) and funeral (181–233) sections alone are worth the price of the book. There’s arguably no greater need in the work of pastoral ministry than resources seasoned with practical wisdom that help us apply information in a way that benefits our congregations. For example, Hughes spends time addressing the important issue of whether to have a closed-door or open-door policy while counseling (482–483). Like a seasoned pastor, Hughes lays out the benefits of both policies and acknowledges there’s no clear right answer. He then explains what his own policy is and how he functions within that framework. The entire book is full of such wise, thoughtful guidance on a host of issues.
(3) Pastorally sensitive. There’s no doubt this book was written by someone who’s “been there and done that.” Hughes has served pastors for decades with other books that have helped many navigate the landmines of ministry. The Pastor’s Book feels like his definitive work. He looks back on decades of faithful ministry and shares what he’s learned in crucial areas. Hughes’s heart oozes from every page—an immense blessing for any pastor seeking to know the pitfalls and cautions that accompany his calling.
(1) What about widows? Although this is a large, detailed book, no book can cover everything a pastor faces in ministry. The Pastor’s Book does have one glaring absence (which is often neglected by pastors and churches despite being biblically commanded): the care of widows. Though bits within the hospital visitation and counseling section are applicable to widow care, I would’ve liked to see Hughes’s wise, insightful counsel specifically applied to this topic—especially since the book aims to address areas typically neglected by other ministry resources.
(2) A bit unbalanced. With approximately 75 percent of its pages focusing on Christian worship gatherings, I was a bit disappointed that a volume titled The Pastor’s Book didn’t devote more time to ministerial duties. I expected it to be more of a modern pastoral theology, but it’s not. This wasn’t its aim, but I still found myself longing for more of that balance.
I highly recommend The Pastor’s Book. This excellent resource shows how seasoned pastors have conducted their ministries, and it provides a template for applying wisdom to other areas of ministry, even if not directly addressed. That is a rare gift.