Recommended Pastoral Reading, pt. 1
Recommended Pastoral Reading
By Rev. Andrew Compton and Rev. Shane Lems
A good book is sometimes a pastor’s best friend. Books don’t fall asleep during sermons, they don’t bicker with one another, and they generally sit quietly in a room not bothering anyone. Of course, pastors aren’t called to shepherd books, but people. Yet a good book encourages, teaches, challenges, and sometimes even convicts a pastor and helps him shepherd God’s people more biblically and effectively. A good book is like a teacher.
In this series of web articles, we are going to share with readers some books that have been instrumental in our own pastoral ministries. We hope to recommend books that cover topics such as a pastor’s personal life, his shepherding duties, preaching, church life, and also other topics such as theology and history.
Obviously our recommendations are limited; no doubt many of our readers could come up with a list of their own. However, sometimes pastors need book suggestions from fellow pastors. This list is geared toward that end.
Part 1: The Pastor’s Christian Life
Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999).
This is a masterpiece by Watson that explains the many different characteristics of a godly man. For pastors, these are characteristics to pray for and strive towards – characteristics and Christian virtues that Watson draws from Scripture. Read this book and mark it up well; it will also be a good resource for preaching on the topic of godliness.
Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology (Willow Street: Old Paths Publications, 2001).
Although a bit dated (published 1877), this book by Murphy is something like a short seminary course on the pastoral ministry put into writing. In chapters 1-3, Murphy discussed topics such as pastoral piety, prayer, and study. These three chapters (along with the rest of the book) continue to be a great resource for the pastor in his Christian life.
John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007).
My first exposure to Newton’s writing was in a small book that contained several of his previously published letters. Since they magnified God’s grace and were written in such a pastoral manner, I ended up purchasing Newton’s Works so I could read many more of his letters. Wherever you may find Newton’s letters, I strongly encourage fellow pastors to purchase, read, and mark them. In them you will find the writings of a wise Christian pastor who very much understood what it means that God saves sinners. An added bonus of Newton’s writing is his discussion of his own spiritual ups and downs as a pastor, and how he fought through them by God’s preserving grace.
William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002).
A pastor needs to have his pastoral furniture thrown around now and again. Willimon’s book does just that. We pastors shouldn’t just read books that preach to the choir, so to speak. Written from a Barthian-Methodist perspective, this book will not leave readers with a warm fuzzy, but it will provoke some great pastoral thoughts. I appreciated Willimon’s chapters on 21st century ministry and the pastor as disciplined Christian.
Tim Chester, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness (Nottingham: IVP, 2006).
Three words that unfortunately fit in the same sentence are “pastor” and “too busy.” Since we live in a world where people are entirely too busy, the pastor should lead the way in redeeming the time and not lose his head in busyness. This book will help a pastor redeem the time in a biblical way. In fact, it is helpful enough that it makes me want to do a brief sermon series on the topic. I encourage pastors to get this book to help them avoid being caught up in the rat race. (By the way, there is a place and time for leisure in the pastor’s life.)
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007).
This excellent book by Bridges will help pastors fight the sins that are so prevalent and common in many Christian lives – including their own. In Respectable Sins, Bridges discusses the sins we tolerate such as anger, anxiety, discontentment, worldliness, and so forth. As usual, Bridges also explains how the gospel helps us fight these sins. This book is helpful because it essentially will help the pastor get the log out of his own eye and teach others how to do so as well – with Christ front and center.
William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001).
Psalm 42.11 is the biblical touchstone for this book by Puritan William Bridge. Since a pastor will go through temptations, affliction, dark valleys, and violent storms in his ministry, he needs to prepare ahead of time for such difficulties. Though not exactly easy to read in every part, there is enough wisdom in this book that I recommend it as a sort of help to persevere through spiritually difficult times in the pastoral life.
Andreas Kostenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).
I appreciated this book because it has everything to do with being a solid Christian scholar-theologian. Pastors should be both scholars and theologians, but there is a wrong way to go about these tasks – and there is a right way. Kostenberger does a fine job applying biblical principles to the area of study, writing, and “doing” theology and research. Pastors should get this book to help them to be solid, levelheaded, and wise scholar-theologians.
Quentin Schultze, Habits of the High Tech Heart (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).
Pastors have to know how to use and view technology, from smart phones to Skype to sears.com. Not only should pastors know how to use technology so they will not be used by it, they should also be able to give wise advice about this topic to parishioners. Schultze’s book is a great resource on how to use technology with wisdom and moderation. I would like to see an updated edition of the book, since much has changed in the last ten years, but the book is still a great place to start when thinking of technology and ethics.
Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983).
Bridges was an Anglican minister in England who wrote this work on pastoral ministry in 1830. It is one of the most thorough, biblical, and practical books ever written on this topic. Bridges discusses many different aspects of the pastoral ministry including the origins, the call, the work, the trials, the successes, the failures, the studies, and so on. It is rather difficult to read in some places, but since it is well outlined and brief in some places, it is a good resource to slowly work through part by part. This is one of my favorite pastoral ministry books.
Samuel T. Logan (ed.), The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1986).
This edited volume wears a number of hats in the pastor’s library. As it relates to the aim of this post, chapters 1-4 are especially appropriate. The chapters are “The Minister’s Call” by Joel Nederhood, “The Preacher and Piety” by Erroll Hulse, “The Preacher and Scholarship” by James Montgomery Boice, and “The Whole Man” by R.C. Sproul. As time passes and we get into the routine of our work, it is easy to lose sight of the weighty nature of our calling. Reading a chapter from this volume every couple of weeks prevents us from missing the forest for the trees. Meeting preparation, bulletin printing, visitation, denominational business – even counseling and sermon preparation can become the individual trees in our work. How important it is to see them yet again as part of the forest of this great calling!
Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker, A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).
Writing in the Puritan tradition, Ventura and Walker examine Colossians 1:24-2:5 in an effort to better understand how the Apostle Paul himself viewed his own ministerial task. With careful exegesis, vivid prosody, and concrete application, they help us to see how our pastoral work is not so far removed Paul’s. Certainly he had an apostolic call that we do not, but Paul’s pastoral ministry has more overlap with our own than it might seem given the nearly 2000 years that separate us. Ventura and Walker offer a challenge to pastors to pursue excellence in our calling so that we might best honor Christ and that we might best shepherd his flock.
Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students (Published as a pamphlet by P&R Publishing, and as part of Warfield’s Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter and also published by P&R Publishing).
Recently John Piper and D.A. Carson wrote the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. And yet just over a century ago, Warfield delivered an address at Princeton Theological Seminary describing a similar reality: pastors are called to be learned and academic, as well as godly and pastoral. In this short piece, Warfield encourages us to go about our work as a distinctly “religious exercise.” As we deal so regularly with divine things and thereby face temptation to view those things as common, Warfield warns us that this is a great danger. And yet he notes that it is only a danger because it is a great privilege. Oh that our studies might never fill our minds without also penetrating deeply into our hearts!