Pastoral Ministry by John MacArthur

In his book, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary faculty set out to train Christian leaders. “In keeping with the purposes of The Master’s Seminary,” writes MacArthur, “the goal of this volume is to encourage and instruct this and the next generation of pastors, missionaries, and teachers to provide the kind of shepherd leadership for the church that God’s Word requires” (vii). An additional claim of the work states, “Pastoral Ministry targets both seasoned pastors and young men preparing for or just beginning ministry,” while conceding, “[it has] left out many particulars such as church growth, church discipline, church membership, church polity, and the details of specialized ministries (such as, youth ministry, adult ministry) to be dealt with in other forms. Further, no single chapter exhausts its subject but rather furnishes a suggestive general treatment” (vii). In attempting to achieve this goal, MacArthur and his team of faculty open the book by working to build a biblical foundation of what a pastor is and what a pastor does. This is a fairly broad view. In Part Two, they move in a little closer to address the issues of who a pastor is, that is, the character, call, and ordination of the individual. Next, they tackle where the pastor is in life, which includes the home life, prayer life, lifetime learner, and compassionate social life with those he serves. The final section of the book gets down in the dirt and deals with the daily actions and responsibly of the pastor, to include topics like preaching, discipling, worshiping, and leading.

The format offers a number of voices. A different individual writes each chapter, although MacArthur does have credit more than one chapter. This however, does not offer a variety of perspectives because all of the contributors appear to be in unity regarding the content presented. The value in the book is most seen in the fact that while all of the contributors hold advanced masters degrees or doctorates, they all appear to write from experience. It seems rather obvious that many of the contributors, if not all, have served in the capacity they write about, in churches and ministries, with real people and real issues. This is not always the case with books set on instructing pastors.

While the book achieved its stated goal of encouraging new pastors, and it did provide some instruction, MacArthur has spread the content too thinly. Despite the caveat in the preface and the ignored subjects, the implication of the book is that this volume is a complete ‘how-to’ textbook for pastoral ministry. At one point, MacArthur even writes, “In a highly condensed form, this volume provides much of the pastoral theology curriculum of The Master’s Seminary, the goal of which is to prepare men for pastoring the church, giving pastoral leadership on the mission field, and assuming pastoral functions in institutional teaching responsibilities” (vii). In light of the magnitude of what is actually required of a seminary student and the library of books needed for preparation to enter the pastorate well, Pastoral Ministry falls short of its implied goal. However, could one expect any other outcome from a single volume? If the answer is yes, then seminaries around the world and shelves of books are completely unnecessary.

Many of the chapters only seem to address one approach or viewpoint within orthodox Christianity and they often only speak to a narrow audience. If the book were written to the lone pastor who serves the small church, this book would work well. However, many of the topics are challenging for church pastors who are called but share the workload. For example, in his chapter on preaching, MacArthur is very clear that pastors are preachers. He leaves little room for any other kind of pastoring or shepherding. The problem however, is that in many churches there are fantastic preachers working side-by-side with fantastic and gifted discipling pastors, counseling pastors, evangelists, and teachers. The body is gifted with many different gifts and God’s tool box has many different kinds of tools for the advancement of the Kingdom; yet, MacArthur completely neglects this diversity of skills and talents. Surely, looking around the globe, there are some different opinions that may still fall within biblical pastoral ministry. MacArthur not only completely neglects these other ideas or methods, he appears to assume that there could be only one approach. This is not to say that every chapter deals with this problem considering that some aspects of the pastorate are universal, such as character and the necessity for prayer.

Although the book does not achieve its lofty implied goal, it does offer some instruction and encouragement in specific areas. Of some of the best material, the chapter titled “The Call to Pastoral Ministry” is a gem within the pages of this book. So many pastors neglect this extremely important aspect of ministry, as do many books written for pastors on the topic of the pastorate. Opening the chapter, James M. George—the contributor of this specific chapter—writes, “This chapter will explain what is involved with the call and will seek to alleviate the misunderstandings surrounding this unique experience” (81). This statement could not be more correct. The chapter sought to address this issue well and that is what was achieved. Various aspects of the call were discussed, to include what the call is, the confirmation, giftedness and potential, and why it is important, and the pitfalls of working in the pastorate without a call from God. The structure of this chapter is such that it encourages those with a call, should warn those without a call, and it instructs other pastors how to see the call in prospective, potential leaders. Had this been the structure of the entire book, Pastoral Ministry may have come much closer to reaching its stated goals.

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to shepherd Biblically. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 2005.