Reviewed by Kirk Wellum
For the past few years, Brian Croft, with the help of some co-authors, has turned out a number of books on pastoral ministry as defined and shaped by the Bible, and I have had the pleasure of reviewing several of them for Books At A Glance. As someone who teaches in the area of pastoral theology I have found them useful additions to the required reading lists in my courses. For conservative evangelicals these books fill a void that has existed for some time and are a welcome addition to older standards like Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, Bridges’ Christian Ministry, and Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, all of which continue to be a great blessing to this day. Croft writes with clarity and evident real life pastoral experience. He knows what it is like to minister in the church of Jesus Christ at this point in history, and he has an excellent grasp of biblical theology and the flow of redemptive history when it comes to this aspect of the Christian life.
His latest offering, The Pastor’s Ministry, focuses on the role of the pastor, by which he mean, “elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim.5:17). I think it is important to emphasize this in a day when those whose work is preaching and teaching are not being sufficiently honored for the critical work they do in addition to their responsibilities as elders. While the concept of the plurality of elders is clearly taught in the NT it should not obscure the special calling, gifting, and preparation required of those in the “especially” category. As a pastor, Croft knows from experience the demands that are made on those who serve in this capacity, and therefore the need to have their priorities shaped by the word of God.
In his introduction he begins with a reminder taken from 1 Pet.5:2-4 that those who serve as pastors work under the authority of the Lord Jesus, who is the Chief Shepherd, and as such we are accountable to him. Practically this means that Jesus defines our role and our responsibilities and these, in turn, should shape our lives and ministries. Then he proceeds to spell out what this looks like in 10 different areas. Pastors are to
- guard the truth
- preach the word
- pray for the flock
- set an example
- visit the sick
- comfort the grieving
- care for widows
- confront sin
- encourage weaker sheep
- identify and train leaders.
Reading this list I am immediately struck by the balance of his approach to ministry. It is not a matter of pursuing two or three of these areas but all ten! And I think Croft does a great job of demonstrating how these ten areas support and enhance one another and bring a wholeness to pastoral ministry which can sometimes get fixated on some tasks at the expense of others.
Guarding the truth is the right place to start. The scriptures are under attack in our day and must be defended by those who are called to care for the Lord’s flock. Many will see this as a given, but we cannot assume that people know what the Bible teaches and so we are called to ground people in the truth and defend those truths that are the focus of attack both inside and outside of the church. While guarding the truth involves more than preaching the word of God, it does not involve less. Preaching is not passé no matter what some in our culture might say, and good preaching, which unfortunately is not as plentiful as we might hope, is still powerful and critical to the health of the church. Croft does a great job describing the kind of preaching that is needed, namely, preaching that is pastoral, original, personalized, and self-referential, in that we do not forget to preach to ourselves.
When it comes to prayer, Croft highlights the importance of intercession by reminding us about some famous intercessors in the Bible. Beginning in the Old Testament he speaks of Moses’ intercession for Israel, and of King David for his people. In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the ultimate intercessor, but following his example the apostles pray for the church, and learning from all those who have gone before, pastors and church leaders are to do the same in ways appropriate to their place in redemptive history and their responsibilities over the flock of God. Pastors must not neglect praying themselves, on their own and for their needs and the needs of their families. They must model how to pray by making prayer a vital part of church life, and they must pray publicly so that others can hear their hearts and catch a vision for what God will do when his people humble themselves and pray.
While guarding the truth, preaching the word, and praying for the flock should be the foundation of pastoral ministry, Croft enumerates four areas of concern when it comes to ministerial focus. First, pastors are to set an example for those who are looking to them for leadership. We all need to see the truth of the gospel embodied for us in the lives of others, particularly leaders. Godliness, humility, and practically implementing what we have learned from others is critical to ministerial fruitfulness. We must spend time with our people, stop making excuses, acknowledge our weaknesses, and fulfill God’s calling on our lives.
Second, pastors need to visit the sick. This is not a duty we can neglect in our day even though much has changed when it comes to hospitals, medical training, and the care of the sick. Sickness is part of the fallen-ness that God has come to redeem in Christ, and it affords his shepherds with opportunities to show the love of God to those who are weak and conscious of their need for healing. Croft’s suggestions as to what to do when visiting the sick are especially helpful as many a pastoral visitor has not been sure what to do when they actually arrive at the bedside of someone who is unwell.
The third area of focus is care for the grieving. In this chapter, Croft again starts with a mini biblical theology that draws into the discussion the example of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both cared tenderly and compassionately for those who had suffered lost, and faithful pastors must do the same. In our day people do not always want to deal with the death of a loved one until they are forced to do so, and this means that the pastor must be prepared to minister often on short notice to loved ones and friends. Croft’s years of experience result in many excellent suggestions when it comes to what to do before, at, and after the funeral service.
This leads to the fourth area of focus which is care for widows. Croft, along with co-author Austin Walker, has devoted an entire book to this important subject, and here he succinctly summarizes what he develops at greater length elsewhere. At the very least, it is a reminder that the gospel has practical entailments that supplement and illustrate the love and compassion of God which lies at its heart. There is much to consider here in a day when Christians are once again learning that secular governments cannot be trusted to do what God has given to the church as his body and family here on earth.
From foundations, to focus, Croft turns his attention to three important aspects of ministry under the banner of faithfulness. Pastors must confront sin, encourage weaker sheep, and identify and train leaders. Although these responsibilities come at the end of the book, they are not for that reason less important because they have to do with the health of the people of God, their growth in grace, and provision of the future. Sin is something that all Christians must deal with and the overall ministry of the word of God is calculated to help us mortify it. But there are sins, particularly unrepentant sins, lack of discipline, divisiveness, and public and scandalous sins that must dealt with or they will do great harm to the church. If sin is not opposed and serious sins are not deliberately confronted people will be hurt including the perpetrators themselves, and the church’s claim to believe objective moral truth will be called into question. The encouragement of weaker sheep is also important because of the very nature of salvation itself which involves the progressive transformation of the sinner saved by grace into the image of the Lord Jesus. The church is not a group of people who have arrived and therefore are better than everyone else, we are all weak in one way or other, and together we must strive to be more like Jesus.
Identifying and training leaders is an act of faith and has in view the future of the church. As the principal of a seminary I know that we need churches and in concert with their leaders to be involved in identifying those with the requisite calling, gifts, and abilities to pursue further academic study and training. And not only that, but we need pastors who will mentor students while they are at seminary, and continue to speak into their lives when they graduate and begin to serve when and where the Lord leads them. Croft’s emphasis on those who are transformed by the gospel, who earnestly desire the work, and who are biblically qualified, is critical today when leaders are often judged by very different criteria. Also his explanation of the need to test, train, affirm, and send, nicely summarizes what we find in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Acts and the Epistles when it comes to Christian leadership in the church of Jesus Christ.
Once again I am happy to commend this book to pastors and church leaders as a concise and faithful restatement of biblical truth when it comes to the pastoral ministry that is consistent with the best thinking and writing on the subject that has come down to us from those who have gone before. I hope it becomes required reading in pastoral theology courses in seminary and that God continues to give us shepherds after his own heart who will love and care for his people until the Chief Shepherd appears.
Kirk M. Wellum is Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary and book Review Editor for Pastoral Theology here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
The Pastor's Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds