Book Reviews: “The New Pastor’s Handbook” and “The Pastor’s Book”

Two new books for pastors have been published in the last month and both are excellent resources for those tasked with leading and shepherding the church.

The first is primarily directed at newer pastors and is appropriately titled The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Baker Books, October 2015, 208 pages). It is written by Jason Helopoulos, a Prebyterian Church in America pastor who writes from a Reformed perspective. The book is written for recent seminary graduates who find themselves serving in the first years of their new ministries. As anyone who has navigated the complexities of ministry for the first time, you will appreciate the hard-won wisdom of Helopoulos’ book. In concise chapters he is able to tackle many of the common and challenging situations facing new pastors, such as:

  • which ministry role most suits them
  • how to start out strong at a new church
  • persevering during difficult seasons of ministry
  • leading meetings and delegating tasks
  • safeguarding their family
  • fighting discouragement, pastor envy, and a lack of contentment
  • navigating special ministry needs, such as hospitals, weddings, and funerals

The book is divided into five major parts. Part 1 “The Beginning” examines in three short chapters the calling of a pastor. Part 2 “Starting Out Strong” is comprised of four chapters and looks at how one can hit the ground running in four different roles: the senior pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, or church planter. Part 3 “Encouragements” is the longest section of the book, has 23 chapters, and examines a variety of issues ranging from hospital visits to caring for your family to what to focus on early in your ministry. Part 4 “Pitfalls of Young Pastors,” comprised of 13 chapters, looks at a number of common mistakes committed in new ministries. One reviewer commenting on this section conveyed how much they wished they had this book when their own ministry began. Part 5 “Joys of Ministry” reviews in 4 chapters what a tremendous privilege it is to be called to shepherding and ministering in a church. This personal, practical volume will serve as a valuable guide for many young pastors. I suspect it would serve older ministers pretty well too.

The second book is a substantial new offering by R. Kent Hughes, long-time pastor and now senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and a visiting professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The title is The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (Crossway Books, October 2015, 592 pages). It was edited by Douglas Sean O’Donnell. It’s important to note just how comprehensive this book is; in fact, the Crossway description of the book tells us it is “designed as a reference guide for nearly every situation a pastor will face…” Having purchased and used the book the past several weeks I can verify this truth. This is a fantastically comprehensive book and one I already leave close at hand in my study. The book breaks down in this way:

Part 1: Christian Gatherings
1. Sunday Worship
2. Annual Services
3. Weddings
4. Funerals
Enrichment: Poetry to Enhance Preaching and Worship

Part 2: Parts of the Worship Service
5. Public Prayers
6. The Historic Christian Creeds
7. Hymns and Songs
8. Baptism
9. Communion

Part 3: Ministerial Duties
10. Pastoral Counseling
11. Hospital Visitation
Appendix: Sample Wedding Services from Various Churches

Like the first book, The Pastor’s Book is written from a Reformed perspective. This will color and shape, for example, the author’s reflections on the two Protestant sacraments of baptism and communion. It will also lead to and extended reflection on the historic Christian creeds.

The book has a generous index which will help you move around the book easily and contains a number of sample worksheets for weddings and funerals, which is very helpful. One of my favorite sections is on public prayers (complete with samples). I was very convicted after reading this section that I need to concentrate better energy towards the public prayers I offer in worship. Of the two books reviewed, this one is much more comprehensive.

If you need a quick read, then The New Pastor’s Handbook by Helopoulos might be a better option. If you want a lasting reference work that is comprehensive in nature, then I recommend Hughes’ The Pastor’s Book. These two books contain overlapping information with Hughes’ work being much more substantial. If it’s any help, I bought and consumed both and am thankful. I suspect that both works are “must haves” for pastors.

Tolle lege.

Matthew Dowling is a former biologist turned preaching minister who is broadly interested in systematic theology, particularly theology proper, Protestant Scholasticism, confessional Protestantism, the English and New England Puritans, and the work of Stephen Charnock. He is the preaching minister at the Plymouth Church of Christ in Plymouth, Michigan. He blogs at www.matthewdowling.org.
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Author:  Publish Date: November 16, 2015

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

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