Book Review: “Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically” by John MacArthur (2005)

Dr. John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church and the president of the Master’s College and Seminary in Sun Valley, California (Pastoral Ministry, dustcover). He and other faculty members from Master’s Seminary combine their expertise in the pastoral resource, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. This book critique will summarize the themes of Pastoral Ministry, evaluate the straightforwardness of the text, and personally apply the content to this reader’s life.

Summary

The Master’s team of authors has fit into just over three hundred pages the outlines of a pastor’s entire life, from his qualifications to his preparation, and from his personal life to his ministerial life. This section will discuss two of the many major themes that evidence themselves throughout the text: a pastor’s character and his leadership.

No matter where in Pastoral Ministry one might turn, he will easily recognize the astonishing amount of emphasis the Master’s team places on the character requirements of a pastor. While an entire chapter by John MacArthur is dedicated to that end (Chapter 5), seemingly no contributor is able to complete his chapter without referencing the foundational requirements of a pastor’s integrity in character (see for example pages 11, 90-91, 96, 111, and 138). The idea that a pastor must be a man “above reproach” (I Timothy 3:2, ESV) may seem shocking to those who have not been called to the pastorate, for it sounds as if this qualification implies moral perfection or the pastor’s being “beyond sin.” This qualification, however, implies not moral perfection but rather deadness to self, slavery to Christ, and evidence of each in every aspect of the pastor’s life. MacArthur states that such character is not simply suggested of a pastor, but actually required, for “anything less is an abomination to God and spells disaster for the life of the church” (p.68).

A second theme that courses its way through the text is that of a pastor’s role as leader. The leadership most emphasized, of course, is his being a shepherd and overseer of the flock (see pages 30, 155, 177, 274), a leadership role that involves both moral direction and spiritual protection (274). But beyond this obvious leadership responsibility, the pastor-leader is also responsible for inspiring and motivating his congregation toward outreach, spiritual vitality, active Christlikeness, and to simply “keep on keeping on” (p.225). As Alex D. Montoya writes: “It is not enough to be at the front of the pack; the leader must also inspire the pack to pick up the pace and do it with a willing and an enthusiastic attitude” (p. 238).

Evaluation

In Pastoral Ministry, the Master’s team has acutely delineated the biblical requirements of a pastor. As one reads this text from the perspective of either being a pastor or training to become one, he will more than likely be astonished at the frankness with which the authors write. It is possible that some readers may be offended as they read this text and discover that, because of some moral failure in their lives, they have actually unwittingly surrendered their qualifications for the pastorate and are no longer eligible to hold this high office. Thus, this section will evaluate the hard-line straightforwardness that the authors of this text employ as it relates to Scripture itself.

The moral character of a pastor and his requirement to live “above reproach” is such a driving theme throughout Pastoral Ministry (as discussed above) that a reader is forced to measure his own character in public and private against the requirements proposed in the book. Sadly, many will either doubt their call or recognize their illegitimacy for being pastors after reading such passages as John MacArthur’s no-nonsense statements against moral duplicity: “Once a man fails in the area of sexual immorality, he is unqualified for pastoral ministry any longer” (p. 68). According to statistics compiled for the book Preventing Ministry Failure, 20% of American ministers admit to having an affair while in the ministry and 37% admit that they currently struggle with internet pornography.[1] Such statistics suggest that upwards of 37% of the ministers who read Pastoral Ministry could potentially leave the ministry after recognizing their disqualification for the office. The question one needs to ask is this: “Is the Master’s team too harsh in their depiction of pastoral requirements?” The answer is a resounding, “No!” for Pastoral Ministry is far from simply a collection of the ideas of stuffy seminary professors, it is the accurate depiction of God’s requirements for pastors (see I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9; and I Peter 5:1-5 as well as I and II Thessalonians). While the mass stepping-down of unqualified pastors would certainly leave a void in Churches across America, it would send a priceless message to the next generation of church leaders that the office of pastor is a high calling with specific, God-ordained qualifications that can no longer be shunned as mere suggestions.

While a reader can appreciate the authors’ faithfulness to Scripture with regards to a pastor’s qualifications, it seems that the authors have left one subject unreferenced, a subject which, in these days of nearly government-sanctioned equality, is becoming more and more a serious topic of concern: women in the ministry. At several points in Pastoral Ministry, the authors touch on Paul’s references to the pastor being the “husband of one wife” (68, 122), and the text from cover to cover is without question decidedly masculine in its references to the pastor. Nowhere in Pastoral Ministry is the debate over women in the ministry referenced directly, however, and such an oversight is one flaw in this otherwise faultless text. Whether the authors purposefully avoided the issue in hopes that their masculine references would define their stand, or whether they feared offending female pastors who may read their book is unclear. But when providing the believers of this era with such an epic volume on the qualifications of a pastor, the pastor’s gender ought to be a topic of direct discussion.

Personal Application

In Pastoral Ministry, I find a great deal of truths personally applicable to me and my ministry, even though I do not feel God’s call to the pastorate. God has called me to focus on church health and leadership development, rather than on planting new churches or on pasturing already-existing churches. As I pursue a ministry of training, however, I must certainly prioritize my own training and character in order to become a qualified and proven man of God. For this reason, I found Chapters 7 and 8 on both the training and ordination for the pastoral ministry to be the most applicable chapters of all.

Irvin A. Busenitz acknowledges that “it is important to combine the academic portion with experience in ministry” (92), and for this reason I have committed myself to an active ministry here in the United States while I continue my education. Not wanting to eventually offer my “expertise” to needy churches without any practical experience of my own, I currently lead Bible studies, take the lead in missions work in my home church, and make myself available to my pastor whenever he needs me. Beyond my building these “ministry skills” (101), however, I am also dedicated to building both my “godly character” (93) and “biblical knowledge” (97). The aforementioned Preventing Ministry Failure has been one asset which has proven vital as I discipline myself spiritually and strengthen the weak areas in the foundation of my character. I truly believe that my “theological education and preparation for ministry [are occurring] in a place and time and context in which [I am] living the questions [and] dealing with people” (105-106).

Conclusion

Pastoral Ministry has been an eye-opening textbook, causing me to see and consider how immense an undertaking the pastorate really is. This book has given me a better understanding of and a greater respect for both my home pastor and my own father, also a pastor, and it has humbled me as I prepare to be an asset to those pastors who have never had the opportunity to pursue proper seminary training or ordination for the pastoral ministry.

Bibliography

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005.

Wilson, Michael Todd, and Brad Hoffmann. Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2007


[1] Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2007), 16.

©2012 E.T.

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2 Responses to Book Review: “Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically” by John MacArthur (2005)

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