The Effective Pastor

Written by C. Peter White Reviewed By David Jackman

Subtitled ‘the key things a minister must learn to be’, this is a very wide-ranging handbook on Christian leadership in the twenty-first century. Its aim is to combine the best of the past with practical pragmatism for the present, in every area of local church life and practice, so as to provide experienced Biblical wisdom about the challenge of ministry in the current climate. Its author, Peter White, has several years as a Bible college principal to add to his many years in parish ministry, so that he speaks from a realistic and authentic basis of personal knowledge and experience, in addressing what is by its very nature, a mammoth undertaking.

The book’s seventeen chapters divide into five main sections, delineated as follows: ‘Before God’, ‘Among the People’, ‘With Individuals’, ‘Development and Outreach’ and ‘Organisation’. This is a helpful progression, beginning with the minister’s own walk with God, as it affects himself, his vision and his congregation, and concluding with a final chapter on perseverance and reward. The author’s theological position is thoroughly Biblical and conservative, from the Scottish Reformed tradition, which inevitably (and by no means unhelpfully) colours the book’s perspective on church practice, liturgy, et cetera.

The chief impression this reader is left with is of the amazing amount of ground which the book covers. It is a compendium of ideas, supported by a huge number of quotations, Biblical, Christian and secular, from a wide variety of sources and examples. Nearly eight pages of bibliography, plus ten pages of Scripture, Person and Subject indices bear eloquent testimony to the amount of research and inquiry compressed into these pages. The net result is something of an avalanche of material, which might prove daunting in its range and scope to the young pastor. Derek Tidball’s wise advice on the jacket is ‘it’s worth drinking slowly and savouring every mouthful’. The alternative might be choking.

So, this is a book to be worked through gradually and ideally to be discussed with other practitioners. Its approach is unashamedly prescriptive, supporting its propositions with quotations from a variety of authorities, which made me want to ask further questions and debate many of the issues raised. I would have preferred more personal argument from the author and less assertion, but recognise the constraints of space in a book of this range. Its Biblical word studies were to me much more convincing and helpful than its pragmatic management theories, but there are plenty of good, practical tips here for the pastoral care and government of the church. It was particularly encouraging to see the role of expository preaching given such prominence in the work of the pastor.

The only danger with the distilled wisdom of many years of experience is that the newcomer (or old hand) can feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of the implicit demands made. It was comforting therefore to be assured that ‘omnicompetence is not a burden God lays on anyone. World-conquering visionary leadership is not God’s expectation of every pastor in a leadership team’ (183). But to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the contents of this book will undoubtedly both challenge and raise the levels of any pastor’s competence in the many and varied tasks which constitute ‘the ministry’.

David Jackman

Proclamation Trust, London