The book Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically by John MacArthur is a collection of essays from the staff at Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, CA. It draws on the rich knowledge of, not only Dr. MacArthur, but his staff who have all been pastors before teaching at the seminary level. The book is written to not only challenge future pastors, but those who are already leading a church. It shows that biblical ministry includes prayer, holiness, worship, discipleship, being a servant, and compassion for those you are leading (MacArthur, 2005, backcover). Overall the book is divided into four main sections which include biblical perspectives, preparatory perspectives, personal perspectives, and pastoral perspectives.
The first section looks to scripture to tell the reader how important the office pastor is from a biblical perspective. One of the primary biblical texts discussed is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which not only enforced the sufficiency and authority of scripture, but its need in developing priorities and pans in ministry (MacArthur, 2005, p. 11). Humility is also discussed at length in the chapter and for very good reason. Though it is not a popular worldly trait, humility is a must in a pastor. In regards to this Dr. MacArthur writes, “The true man of God, however, seeks the approval of the Lord rather than the adulation of the crowd. Humility is thus the benchmark of any useful servant of God (MacArthur, 2005, p. 16).”
This section of the book delves into the man who is called into ministry. As the section describes it is about preparation. Has the individual properly discerned his calling? Are his qualifications in line with 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1? In regards to these Dr. MacArthur writes, “It is God’s demand that his steward live in such a holy manner that his preaching will never be a contradiction to his lifestyle (MacArthur, 2005, p. 68).”
A great deal of the section is also spent on the issue of sexual immorality. One must be in control of himself, and be faithful to his wife. This is a Godly example that Dr. MacArthur praises. Overall there must not be a single flaw in the person’s character, and secondly the call of ministry must be recognized by others. This can only be done by involving oneself with public ministry and being the willing recipient of feedback from the congregation.
This section details the home and personal life of the pastor. Ministry is hard on the family and the team reiterates this point. Again 1 Timothy chapter 3 is looks at as the gold standard of a pastor’s personal life. If his home life is in shambles then his ministry will greatly suffer (MacArthur, 2005, p. 123). The pastor also must have a healthy spiritual life steeped in prayer and devotion. This reiterated in chapter 10 when Dr, Rosscup writes, “God has given His Word as the pastor’s main tool. God’s Word makes clear that a proper blending of the Word and prayer is the most strategic approach to ministry (MacArthur, 2005, p. 131).”
The final section of the work is dedicated to the seven duties of a pastor. The pastor has many different duties within the local church. The team of writers lays out the following functions: Worshiping, preaching, modeling, leading, outreaching, discipling, watching and warning, and observing ordinances (MacArthur, 2005, p. 187). These roles make up everything that the pastor is responsible for at his church. Though some may be delegated the responsibility lies on his shoulders.
Dr. MacArthur and his staff at Master’s Seminary presented a work designed to give the current, or aspiring pastor a blueprint on what to expect and to give perspective on what expect and conduct oneself. It is truly a great resource for everyone in ministry to have, but it does have its issues.
There is much that is agreed upon in the work, but the section on training stands out. This area falls under the personal perspective section that was discussed earlier. The emphasis put on personal prayer and study is one that really hit home. It is so easy to get complacent, and that is what the enemy wants. The whole section is one that makes the minster be on guard against the things seeking to take his ministry down. The pastor is to be an example of what it means to be Christ like. If he is not doing these things then how is he supposed to teach his congregation to do so? If his home life is in disarray how is he supposed to lead the flock? These are all issues that were brilliantly dealt with in the work.
Disagreements were hard to come by in the book, but one big one jumped off the page on page 69. Dr. MacArthur state that men must have impeccable reputations. In regards to this Dr. MacArthur writes, “The pastor must have a reputation of being sexually pure (MacArthur, 2005, p. 69).” To an extent this statement is agreeable, but are people to be held to these standards if it was something done before they came to Christ? Disqualifying a Christian man because of something in his past would be wrong in this author’s opinion. If the individual has repented, accepted Christ, and shown the fruit of the Christian life then this should override any past sin. The intentions of Dr. MacArthur are fully understood, and by no means meant to be malicious. If the qualifications for being a pastor were based on lifestyle before salvation then there may not be any good candidates.
This book is not one that was written with the average layman in mind. This is not to say that the average churchgoer will not benefit, but it is aimed at those who are in ministry or considering it. The book is also very practical and is steeped in the ministerial wisdom and experience of the staff at Master’s Seminary. The work delves into what scripture states a minister is to be. This is echoed by Dr. MacArthur who writes, “Nothing could be more honorable or have greater eternal significance than serving our Christ and His church. This privilege is also the most serious responsibility a person can undertake (MacArthur, 2005, Introduction).” The writing team were honest about the hazards of ministry, particularly with the family. They gave an honest portrayal of ministry and did a great job of preparing those seeking to undertake it.
MacArthur, John, and The Master’s Seminary faculty. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2005