Shepherding God’s People | Book Review


Dr. Siang-Yang Tan is professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in nearby Glendale. In Shepherding God’s People, he examines “biblical and theological foundations for pastoral ministry” (Part 1) and “areas of pastoral ministry” (Part 2). The author himself describes the book this way in the Preface:

The book presents a biblical perspective on pastoral and church ministry that emphasizes faithfulness and fruitfulness in Christ (John 15:5), through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Eph. 5:18; 6:10–18), made perfect in weakness, brokenness, and humility (2 Cor. 12:9–10) rather than in success or excellence of the wrong kind … . Each chapter includes a substantial review of the literature available on the topic as well as my own biblical, theological, psychological, cultural, and personal reflections.

Baker Academic published the book, and I imagine its intended readers are seminarians preparing for ministry. Although it is well, clearly, and simply written, it at times feels like an introductory survey rather than a how-to guide. Being nearly 25 years out of seminary — I attended Fuller but did not have Dr. Tan as a professor — I found this off-putting at first.

But as I kept reading, I realized that I was benefitting from the author’s extensive reading of the relevant literature, especially as it was focused through the lens of his own pastoral ministry. I came to regard the book as the equivalent of a refresher course on the theology and practice of pastoral ministry. An added bonus is that each chapter includes an extensive list of recommended readings. You can use the book as an introduction to best practices and the recommended readings as a guide to what you should read next, should a specific topic interest you.

As a Pentecostal minister, I appreciated Chapter 2 especially. It is titled, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit as Crucial and Essential for Pastoral Ministry.” Though Dr. Tan does not write from a classical Pentecostal perspective, this chapter reminded me of the breadth of the Holy Spirit’s work as well as the many points in common between Pentecostal and evangelical theologies of the Spirit.

Book Reviewed
Siang-Yang Tan, Shepherding God’s People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here by permission.

Pastor Paul | Book Review


What do pastors do? A lot of things. Perhaps too many things. They preach and teach; plan worship services; officiate at major life events such as baby dedications, weddings, and funerals (“hatch, match, and dispatch,” as one wag puts it); evangelize; disciple; counsel; visit the sick and elderly; disperse benevolence funds; cast vision; raise money; lead meetings; set up auditoriums; clean toilets; eat too much at the potluck; and so on. The list is long, but something else is always being added, as every pastor knows.

But what do pastors do these things for? In the midst of a busy schedule, pastors all too quickly and easily forget their purpose, losing sight of the end toward which all their activities are but means. In Pastor Paul, Scot McKnight mines the life and thought of the apostle to the Gentiles to remind pastors of their fundamental purpose. He announces his thesis early on: “The pastor is called to nurture a culture of Christoformity.” As Paul himself puts it in Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (emphasis added). In Romans 8:29, Paul describes Christoformity as God’s own goal: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (emphasis added).

We typically understand Christoformity in individual terms. A person — you or me, for example — increasingly becomes like Christ in thought, word and deed. That’s right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough, for Christoformity must also be understood in social terms. It is a characteristic of both the Christian and of the congregation in which he or she is a member. A church’s culture consists of four elements, according to McKnight: the pastor(s) and leaders; the congregation; the relationship between them; and the policies, structures, and systems that govern them. “No church culture is completely good,” McKnight warns, “because it emerges from human beings who are not completely good. Yet the gospel’s power transforms what could be a bad culture into good at some level, so churches have at least some small chance of emerging as a culture of (some) goodness.”

Chapter 1 briefly sketches “ten elements of a Christoform culture that a pastor can nurture”: people, formation, listening, prophecy, presence, priesthood, servanthood, and leadership, all the while resisting the temptations of celebrity and power. Chapters 2–8 describe what such a culture looks like in terms of relationships, economic stewardship, Scripture interpretation, evangelistic witness, subversion of worldliness, and practical wisdom. McKnight acknowledges that these topics are illustrative rather than exhaustive. Pastor Paul, he insists, is not a complete or systematic theology of pastoring.

Also, throughout the book, McKnight repeatedly states that he writes as a New Testament scholar, not as a pastor. He’s trying to describe what Pastor Paul did, not prescribe what contemporary pastors should do. Even so, the book is illuminating and suggestive. Pastors with ears to hear will hear its Christoform message and know what to do with it in their own congregational contexts.

I close with a quotation from McKnight’s penultimate page, which reminds pastor-readers of their need for the Holy Spirit. McKnight himself isn’t Pentecostal, but as a Pentecostal, I appreciated this statement nonetheless:

Christoformity is not the inevitable consequence of forming the right habits, nor is it simply the result of intentions and willpower. Rather, Christ is present in our word at its core through the Spirit, and the grace of God operating through the Spirit is the only path of Christoformity. Christocentricity is only possible through Pneumacentricity: we can only find Christ at the center if we are open to the Spirit taking us there.

Amen!

Book Reviewed
Scot McKnight, Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here by permission.

Helping the Hurting During the Holidays | Influence Podcast


For most people, the Christmas holiday is a wonderful time of the year. Families come together to celebrate Christ’s birth and exchange gifts. Churches welcome one and all to worship Christ, the real Reason for the season. The words “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Holidays!” seem to be on everyone’s lips.

Not everyone is having a good time, though. It’s a myth that suicides increase at Christmastime. But it’s a very real fact that some people are sad and lonely during this season. As Christian leaders, how do we help the hurting during the holidays?

That’s the question I’m talking about with Dr. Don Lichi in Episode 162 of the Influence Podcast. Dr. Lichi is a licensed psychologist and interim president of Emerge Counseling Services in Akron, Ohio.

 

The Well-Read Pastor | Influence Magazine


Pastors wear many hats in their congregations. On any given day, someone may ask them to explain a particular Bible verse or help mend a marriage or supervise an audit of the church’s finances. No wonder the average U.S. pastor buys four books a month, according to a 2013 Barna report! Pastors have a need to know.

Because reading is so important to ministry, pastors must think carefully about what and how they read. Over the years, I have developed 10 convictions about my own reading habits that may be helpful to you.

  1. Reading is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is any habitual activity that helps you become Christlike. Obviously, Bible reading is a spiritual discipline, but so is all reading. You are — or you become — what you read.
  2. What you read shapes how you lead. Reading also shapes your ministry. Practical leadership books do this directly, but other books do it indirectly. Great insights into leadership often come from unexpected sources.
  3. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The goal of pastoral reading is to become, and to lead, more like Christ. Being well-informed is important, but the Bible prioritizes love over mere intelligence. As Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
  4. Well-read is better than widely-read. Whenever I go to a bookstore, I think, So many books, so little time! Given limitations on your time and budget, prioritize reading classics over fads.
  5. Read both widely and deeply. This conviction stands in tension with the previous one, but it’s still true. Because you wear so many hats, you need to know a little about a lot. So read widely. But because you are leading your church to Christ, focus on core topics: Bible, theology, ethics, spiritual disciplines and church history. On those topics, read deeply.
  6. Read your friends, neighbors and strangers. For me, “friends” equals fellow Pentecostals. “Neighbors” means authors from non-Pentecostal Christian traditions, such as Calvinists or Methodists. “Strangers” refers to authors from non-Christian religious or non-religious backgrounds. Reading these groups helps you better understand both the breadth and the borderlines of Christianity.
  7. Old books often say it best. “Every age has its own outlook,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Including our own. That outlook isn’t true just because it’s contemporary or because it’s ours. The only way to test its truthfulness, Lewis went on, is to “keep the clean sea breeze of the ages blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
  8. The best book is a shared book. If it’s good, it’s good enough to share with others. If it helped you, it will help them.
  9. It’s OK to read fiction. Fiction has been defined as “the lie that tells the truth.” The events it describes didn’t happen, but they nonetheless accurately depict the human condition. Perhaps that’s why psychologists have found a connection between reading fiction and empathy. The best novels help us understand others better.
  10. Above all, be homo unius libri — a man (or woman) of one Book. Your church needs you to be an expert on the Bible more than anything else. So, read many books, but read the Book most of all.

In the Introduction to his volume of sermons, John Wesley wrote: “[Christ] came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”

May that be a well-read pastor’s prayer too!

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Read Like a Leader | Influence Magazine


I write the “Read Like a Leader” column in Influence magazine. I recommended the following three books in the August/September 2017 issue:

Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination
John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis (Oxford University Press)

All Americans support religious freedom and oppose discrimination — except for when they don’t. “But the devil is in the details,” write John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis, “and these topics are rich with controversial details.” Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination presents a point-counterpoint debate between Corvino, who argues that contemporary religious-freedom claims constitute “a license to discriminate,” and Anderson and Girgis, who argue that laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination needlessly violate religious freedom. Many Americans despair of contemporary political discourse, but this book shows that debate on a hot-button social issue can be conducted with both substance and civility.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
Eugene H. Peterson (WaterBrook)

Near the beginning of his pastorate, Eugene H. Peterson found himself tossed about by “the winds of the times.” The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, and many voices clamored for his attention. On top of that, he felt “increasingly at odds” with his denominational advisors, whose ideas of leadership came “almost entirely from business and consumer models.” So he turned to God’s Word to see what it said about doing God’s will God’s way. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons which consider that theme. It is a master class in what Scripture says about the pastoral care of souls. (Check out my longer review here.)

Multipliers, Revised and Updated
Liz Wiseman (Harper Business)

Leading a church is hard because of what David Allen calls “new demands, insufficient resources.” Or, as Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Too many pastors respond to new demands on their own. They fail to see God’s resources in the spiritual gifts distributed throughout their congregations. In consequence, pastors burn out and followers feel underutilized. Wiseman wrote Multipliers to figure out how leaders can grow the intelligence and capability of their organizations. It contains insights about leading others that are relevant in ministry. (Check out my longer review here.)

P.S. I am cross-posting this from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Contemporary Challenges Christian Leaders Face | Influence Podcast


In the 100th episode of the Influence Podcast, Chris Railey, John Davidson, and I discuss the challenges named in the title, as well as books Christian leaders should read and why Assemblies of God pastors should come to the Influence Conference on August 7-8 in Anaheim, California.

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey outlines five things pastors should do every time they have a meeting with their board members.
    1. Build trust.
    2. Develop them.
    3. Pastor them.
    4. Listen to them.
    5. Leverage them.
  • It must be a day for five-point lists, because George O. Wood--aka, “Dad”–also outlines five ways God calls people into ministry:
    1. Supernatural revelation
    2. The Spirit’s quiet voice
    3. Confirmation of other believers
    4. Circumstances
    5. Personal choice

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Kristi Northup begins a three-part series about serving on pastoral staff with your spouse. This quote resonated with my experience: “Church is a more chaotic structure than business or institutions. There is a constant redefining of roles that helps it grow. Rather than letting this become a source of frustration, I have realized it is an inevitable part of ministry, regardless of staff size.”
  • I review Eugene H. Peterson’s new book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire (WaterBrook, 2017). As with Peterson’s other writings, this book brims with pastoral wisdom on every page, so I highly recommend reading it. As I put it in my concluding paragraphs:

This is not a book I would recommend to some pastors. For example, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a fool-proof three-step process to ______ (whatever it is that you’re trying to do), skip this one. Or if you’re looking on Saturday night for a three-point sermon you can preach the next morning, don’t read this. Peterson’s sermons are ongoing conversations, not plug-and-play outlines.

However, if you’re tossed about by the winds of the times or you’re tired of slapping Bible verses on business principles or if your ministry lacks congruence between the means of discipleship and the ends of Christlikeness, please read this book. It will feed your soul, and through you, the souls of your congregation.

  • Finally, my colleague Christina Quick notes Barna Group research about loneliness in America, which disproportionately affects the poor. ” On average, U.S. adults surveyed reported having five close friends. Economically disadvantaged individuals averaged half that number, with 20 percent claiming no close friends and 47 percent saying they had no one to call on in an emergency.” There’s a ministry opportunity here for churches with eyes to see…

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: