“I believe God wants me to be a pastor,” says the young man in his twenties. After a few years of spiritual maturation, making disciples, teaching the Bible, and affirmation from his local church, the young man is certain God wants him to shepherd his flock. “I think God wants me to leave my career and pursue pastoral ministry,” says the man in his forties who has worked tirelessly to reach his current position. After much counsel from trusted friends, the desire to care for God’s people is too compelling to resist. These two men represent the stories of countless men who have contemplated God’s call to pastoral ministry.
Aspiring to the office of overseer is a noble task (1 Tim 3:1). But what exactly is the task, and who does this kind of work? These are the questions that Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace set out to answer in their book, Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who A Pastor Is and What He Does.
Unfortunately, numerous men begin their journeys into pastoral ministry only to discover how difficult the task is. Before they know it, they’re discouraged and sadly, want to quit. While multiple factors contribute to the end of many pastors’ ministries, could it be that properly understanding the theological foundation for pastoral work would increase the likelihood of longevity in ministry? I think so. That is why I find this book incredibly helpful and timely. The authors suggest that the reason “our ministries are destined to collapse” is due to “a poor theological framework” (p. 3). Too many pastors build their framework for ministry on the latest form of pragmatism. Akin and Pace want to remind pastors that their task is fundamentally theological in nature. Consequently, “Ministry that is defined and driven by a theoretical, traditional, or practical basis is ultimately a ministry that is detached from sound theology” (p. 3). The authors’ goal is to give a biblically saturated and theologically robust framework for pastoral ministry in a systematic fashion. The overarching theme of every chapter is that theology drives methodology. A glimpse into the content may be helpful.
Pastoral Theology offers a systematic theological framework for pastoral ministry by examining three major categories. Section one examines the Trinitarian Foundation for pastoral ministry. In this section, chapters 2–4, Akin and Pace “focus on a different member of the Trinity and the implications of each in establishing the pastoral office” (p. 13). The chapters follow the systematic categories as listed: Theological (ch. 2), Christological (ch. 3), Pneumatological (ch. 4). For example, when answering the question, what kind of men should serve as pastors, chapter 2 assesses the holiness of God the Father. The authors write, “When considering pastoral qualifications, it is necessary to identify their spiritual root. The prerequisites for the office are not to be understood primarily as the ability or aptitude needed to perform certain ministerial tasks. First and foremost, the required characteristics establish the pastor as a representative of the One whom he ultimately serves and to whom he must give an account (Heb 13:17)” (p. 19). Akin and Pace are not, of course, advocating for sinless pastors. Only Christ meets that standard. They argue that the term “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6–7) “does not speak of moral perfection” (p. 27). So what does reflecting the character of God look like in the life of a pastor? It means that “he is devoted to the pursuit of holiness and continues to progress in his sanctification” (p. 27). “This includes demonstrating honesty about his own shortcomings and taking responsibility for his personal and ministerial faults” (p. 27).
The pattern of establishing a theological framework, followed by implications derived from that theology, is a useful tool for the reader. Disciplining the mind to first think theologically, then methodologically, is much needed today given the prevalence of pragmatic, “what works” approaches to ministry. Chapters 3 and 4 follow suit by exploring the nature and work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the implications that follow for pastoral ministry.
Section two explores doctrinal formulation, which gives helpful handles for pastoral ministry. Akin and Pace begin this section with a valuable study of anthropology in chapter 5. The reason this is necessary, they argue, is because a “deep understanding of [God’s] grace will not only facilitate our own spiritual growth, it will also enhance our theological perspective of humanity and enable us to view people accurately and minister to them accordingly” (p. 120). This section serves pastors well by putting ministry among people in proper perspective. Systems, structures, and trellises certainly have a place in the discussion about serving people. Yet, understanding the condition of the human heart is foundational to pastoral ministry.
Chapter 6 sets forth a biblical ecclesiology. Pastors have the unique responsibility of shepherding the church that Jesus died for. Akin and Pace do a superb job of examining the metaphors in Scripture used to describe the church, such as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the building of Christ. What is most helpful about this section is how they explain the pastor’s specific work in relation to each metaphor. For example, pastors are to edify the body, sanctify the bride, and solidify the building, all through loving service and faithful teaching (p. 170).
Section two ends with an important charge to pastors in chapter 7. By understanding the mission of the church, pastors must always keep the mission in the forefront of their flock’s minds, both by personal action and verbal affirmation.
Section three explains the practical facilitation of pastoral ministry. Chapter 8 focuses on the role of the pastor as undershepherd; that is, as one who learns how to care for the sheep by imitating Christ’s example as the Chief Shepherd. “The Lord’s invitation to follow our Shepherd and fellowship with our King … is an invitation to follow his example, be conformed to his likeness, and become a Shepherd” (p. 217). The authors follow this chapter by laying down a theological foundation for preaching in chapter 9. Finally, the book concludes with chapter 10 which explains how pastors may need to redefine their priorities, so that leading both family and church are not at odds with each other but are managed well to the glory of God.
I appreciate the attempt of Akin and Pace to follow a systematic approach in defining the who and the what of pastoral ministry. I would contend that Pastoral Theology is a must read for any pastor. The arguments are rooted in thorough exegesis and successfully establish the book’s thesis, that a right theology that leads to a right practice. That said, the book does feel a bit structurally rigid at times and, at certain points, the authors’ arguments feel boxed. This does not result is bad exegesis, however. Quite the opposite. Nevertheless, because of the desire to adhere to a systematic approach, there are moments when the argument feels a bit clunky.
Yet, looking at the structure from a positive angle, in each chapter the reader knows what to expect. A theological premise or aim for each chapter is clearly set forth. The premise is then followed by sound biblical theology regarding the particular subject. What is most helpful is how Akin and Pace make sure to conclude each chapter with pastoral principles derived from their theological analysis. This is gold.
The overwhelming strength of the book is lies in the commitment of the authors to let theology drive methodology. For this reason, pastors, or soon to be pastors, would be wise to seek counsel from Akin and Pace.