Reviewed by Kirk M. Wellum
Every once in a while one comes across a little gem of a book that is short and to the point, but very helpful precisely for those reasons. This is what the reader will find when he reads, Preparation for Ministry, by Allan Harman, who describes himself in the introduction as a student, pastor, and seminary teacher. The author knows from personal experience what it is like to wrestle with a variety of questions that surround the call to ministry, preparation for ministry, and ongoing usefulness in ministry. The book is composed of 7 short chapters, and contains 4 appendixes which take up as much space as the rest of the book and account for its overall length of slightly more than 100 pages.
What I really like about the book is its intentional brevity. This makes it ideal for someone who is pondering some basic questions around whether God is calling them into the Christian ministry. If a more detailed treatment of this subject is required other books will be needed but this book gives the reader a concise summary that can be consulted time and time again when it comes to some of the things that should be taken into consideration when it comes to ministerial training.
Chapter one is about coming to faith in Christ. This might sound like an unnecessary place to start but that is not the case. It is essential that those who aspire to the pastoral office truly know the Lord. Great harm has been done, and is still being done, by those who have never experienced the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and do not know what it means to bow to the authority of Jesus.
Chapter two takes up the call to the ministry and answers questions like how does God call men into ministry, how does a person assess a sense of their own calling, how do they test God’s call on their lives objectively, and what role does the judgment and advice of others play in this process. He has also said some helpful things about the role of families and the thoughts and feelings of spouses in the process of discerning the Lord’s will. In my own experience, I have found that all of these factors must be considered by those who are seeking to know God’s direction in their lives.
Chapter three is about pre-theological study. It reminds the reader that before any formal studies are begun there are things that can be done by way of preparation. Harman talks about taking heed to our spiritual growth as Christians, paying attention to the variety and quality of our reading, starting to gather resources for a personal library, taking time to listen to top-notch sermons both past and present, and about counting the financial cost of training. Again, these are common sense kinds of things, but alas, as someone has said: common sense is very uncommon!
Chapter four is about choosing a theological college or seminary. As a seminary principal and professor I am glad to see this chapter in the book because we live in a day when some are of the opinion that seminary training is unnecessary for those going into the ministry. In my opinion, this is a big mistake. Although there are notable examples of excellent men who did not have formal seminary training, they are the exception and not the rule. In our day we need people who know their Bibles and who can communicate the vast array of biblical truth to others in a way that challenges the idolatry of the surrounding culture. Thus, studying at the right seminary is very important and that means due diligence when it comes to the faculty and staff of the school, as well as its doctrinal position, to name a but a few things that need to be taken into consideration.
Chapter five is about the actual course or the courses of theological study. Sometimes students arrive at seminary with the misconception that the work will not be as rigorous as in other disciplines. Nothing could be further from the truth. The study of God’s word is very challenging and in some ways the most challenging thing a person can study. Harman reminds us that along with the demands of theological learning there are also many blessings. Our relationship with God, and his church, and our fellow students should be enhanced as we come to grips with the entailments of the truth on our lives.
Chapter six is about the early days of ministry and it is full of helpful and practical suggestions. Here we are exhorted to remember the privilege of ministry, the need to keep learning, to plan, to be patient and flexible, to deal with differences of opinion and controversy, among other things. Again, this is the voice of pastoral experience speaking. He knows what he is talking about because he has been there and he has learned these lessons amid the ups and downs, and the joys and sorrows of ministry.
Chapter seven is about staying fresh as time goes on. As important as seminary is, it cannot begin to give you all you will need to know for a God-honoring and vital ministry. Ministers must continue to study and learn. They must read, and attend conferences, and make sure that their own spiritual lives are nourished. They must also take breaks and vacations. No one can keep on going week after week without taking the time to refresh and recharge their spiritual, emotional, and physical batteries. It is also important that ministers focus on the church they have and not the one they would like to have in the future, or the one that exists only in their imaginations. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, and it is essential that we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the work at hand.
The book concludes with 4 appendixes that only enhance this work as a helpful guide to preparation from ministry. The first appendix is a suggested reading list. It is limited in its scope but it certainly represents a good place to start with readings in areas like biblical content and theological study, church history, theology, preaching, the Christian life, philosophy and apologetics, and evangelism. The second appendix is a very short but helpful guide, or perhaps, outline to sermon preparation. Larger books on the topic will cover all of the points mentioned in more detail but this appendix is a good checklist that will help the preacher remember the different aspects of the sermon preparation process. The last two appendixes are reprints of two classic addresses by C.H. Spurgeon and B.B. Warfield respectively. Although both were spoken to college and seminary students years ago they eloquently speak of matters that will never cease to be issues until the Lord returns for his people. Everyone contemplating ministry as well as those who are already engaged in it would do well to read and re-read these classics and take to heart what these giants of the past have to say.
Preparation for Ministry, is a book that should be read by those contemplating ministry, those who are graduating from Bible college or seminary, and those who need to reflect on what God has done in their lives, what he is presently doing, and what he will do in the future as they are faithful to him. It would make an excellent gift for inquiring as well as graduating students as they seek the Lord’s will for their lives and they listen for the voice that not only wakes the dead but calls the living to serve him. In short, this book is highly recommended!
Kirk M. Wellum is Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary and book Review Editor for Pastoral Theology here at Books At a Glance.
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