As I write this, there are a host of issues swirling about me culturally, in my church, and in my own heart, many of which are quite complex and are overwhelming both for me and the people I shepherd. How should I pastor my people to think and live in light of the gospel in this cultural moment? What are the lane lines that guide my vision as a pastor? Our church has also just begun our first building campaign under my leadership. These moments have glories and also controversy. What do pastoral ministry and fundraising have to do with each other? I am still sorting that out. Finally, as a man, a regular, fallen, and finite man, I have my own issues that I bring to the table. I do not wear a cape. I am a man with clay feet, called by God, to serve as a pastor. My own shortcomings often obscure my call. Then there are the myriad of books on my shelf that try and tell pastors what to do with the majority of their time and talent. There is insight in each book, but sometimes one feels like certain types of books don’t quite square up with the glorious passages of a book like 2 Corinthians or 2 Timothy.
The culture will evolve, my church situation will change, I will continue to grow and mature, and books will be pumped out opining on the real role of the pastor. But the one thing I have come to embrace is that the pastor must keep to the basics of a healthy and fruitful ministry. There are a handful of priorities that a pastor must keep to, vigilantly, over a lifetime. Staying to the basics is the heart of the pastoral ministry and this line of thought is the main argument of Brian Croft’s recent book, The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds.
It is clear that Croft’s writing has been the fruit of several years of practice and study, as he is both a working pastor and is the senior fellow of the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Between the sociological and theological nuance of a book like Center Church, by Tim Keller, and the myriad of theologically light manuals on leadership and church growth, there needs to be some solid go-to’s on the basics of ministry and I think Brian Croft has achieved this. In the tradition of ministries like 9Marks, Croft has thoughtfully yet straightforwardly laid out a classic and biblical vision of these basics. The author highlights ten pastoral priorities and does so under the book’s three main divisions: foundation, focus, and faithfulness. Part one (foundation) focuses on the teaching and interceding ministry of the pastor. It includes chapters on guarding the truth, preaching the Word, and praying for the flock. Croft could have chosen to put all of the prophetic elements of ministry in this section, but I found it compelling that he added the non-hortatory element of prayer. The prophetic and priestly should he held together. Part two (focus and faithfulness) stress the relational aspects of ministry, the long and heart-consuming task of shepherding. This section includes the priorities of modeling, visitation, grief care, and caring for widows. Part three concludes the list of priorities with the call to confront sin (church discipline), encouragement of the weak (counseling), and ministry training.
I am not sure why Croft chose how he filed each priority under each main pillar, and I think they could have been hung together in more closely associated categories. At times I would have liked an arrangement of the ten priorities to hang off some core values, like Word-ministry, or personal ministry, etc. The three file folders of foundations, focus, and faithfulness are memorable but do not have an obvious conceptual link with the priorities named under each one. But, that is a minor critique and that lack of obvious organization did not hamper the overall thrust nor the content of each priority. Certainly the ten overall priorities are biblical and thus important. As the book unfolds, Croft’s thesis is clear: ministry should keep to the main things, the basics. And, perhaps the value of the list as it stands is that it keeps these priorities together, rather than as a buffet of choices that men who have teaching gifts can pick at versus those with counseling gifts can selectively choose. Croft is spot on that each must find some place in the pastor’s life. Now, I would add that some are non-negotiables as a weekly pattern. Visitation may not happen each week, but biblical teaching should. I think it is assumed in his presentation that this is the case, but one must keep that in mind.
Is the book pushing the envelope of pastoral theology? Will it push you in theological directions that you find insightful or creative? No. But, that is not the point, and those are often the books that go off the rails very quickly. I suspect the point of this book for Croft is a no-nonsense, yet thoughtful, reminder to keep to the basics. A book like this is more of a workshop than a theological exploration of the pastor’s narrative. I think the strength of the work is that it does not pretend to do more than it actually does, and so I was left reminded and edified and directed back to the basics.
If you have several books of this type on your shelves already you may wonder why invest in yet another? First, you may find that each book brings a slightly different nuance. You may find a few kernels that no other book has. And second, certain books are quite useful for training others. In fact, I was struck that the value of a book like this is something Croft focuses on in his last priority, namely, training. Whether for pastoral residents, interns, or even lay people in ministry training, this is a solid resource to use as a workshop or seminar resource. I would think a book like this would be a great introduction to pastoral ministry, especially for churches that have a training vision marked by the basics. Croft begins each chapter with the biblical basis for that priority, he weaves in personal stories to illustrate, and he gives practical applications that any pastor, in any setting, at any time will face. Some of the more sociologically and organizationally technical books are wonderful for urban settings that focus on highly educated and vocationally successful urbanites, or they are very beautiful narratives yet quite vague in practical import. However, The Pastor’s Ministry is genuinely helpful in that it is both basic in its concepts and basic in its presentation. Basics, when biblical and thoughtful, actually empower pastors to lead people into the eternal and infinite glories of the gospel.
One pastor I respect once said that the key to a life that will change the world is not doing a lot of things superficially, but rather doing a few things with all your heart. This book attests to that truth. We live in an increasingly complex world. Our churches will face dynamic moments of leadership challenge, and our own hearts can be prone to stray from the course marked out for us in Scripture. It is good to have a solid reminder on how to keep to a lifelong and faithful ministry—to the basics—those things we should do with full resolve.