Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically:Book Review

Pastoral Ministry

       John MacArthur is currently the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. MacArthur received his education from Talbot Theological Seminary and the emphasis of his pulpit ministry is the careful study and verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible, with special attention devoted to the historical and grammatical background behind each passage. In 1986, MacArthur founded The Master’s Seminary, which is a graduate school dedicated to training men for full-time pastoral roles and missionary work.[1]

        As the fifth successive generation of pastors in his family, at the heart of MacArthur’s vision and mission is the training and equipping of the next generation of pastors, teachers, leaders, and missionaries. By identifying the extent to which society has fallen prey to a consumer driven paradigm, MacArthur sets out to recover, reaffirm, and restore a biblical approach to ministry. MacArthur points out, “To understand one’s role as a minister, one needs to understand the role of the church.”[2] Only by answering the questions as to why the church exists, and what purpose it serves today, can one truly quantify the specific and relevant tasks of any given pastor. To explain this point, MacArthur looks to the historical roles of pastors and compares the calling to that of a shepherd. As a shepherd, the pastor’s primary task is feeding and protecting the flock and this comes in the form of teaching them the Word of God.[3] Without sound teaching and biblical doctrine, the flock will starve and when they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot apply its truth to their daily lives. Upon establishing the theological and historical roles of the pastor, MacArthur shifts the focus to the character and calling of the pastor. He demonstrates in order for a pastor to remain faithful to his or her calling, intimacy with God must continually be the focal point, since Bible knowledge will only get the pastor to a certain point. To truly be effective in their calling, the pastor must also maintain a moral life centered on godliness. MacArthur demonstrates, “[While] the focal point of any ministry is godliness, ministry is, and always must be an overflow of a godly life.”[4] Next, MacArthur speaks to personal practices, which must be evident and demonstrates the pastor’s home is often the best indicator of character. He explains, “Sexual sin defiles the flock of God… [and] if you want to know whether a man lives an exemplary life, whether he is consistent, whether he can teach and model the truth, and whether he can lead people to salvation, to holiness, and to serve God, then look at the most intimate relationships in his home life and see if he can do it there.”[5] Lastly, as pastors, MacArthur illustrates the importance of living a life of integrity and above reproach, so when problems and misunderstandings arise, the pastors are equipped to handle them and this ability is rooted in godly character. MacArthur demonstrates, “Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.”[6] Pastors are held to a higher standard, so pastors must live a life modeled after Christ, which means they must be able to love the sheep, to feed the sheep, to rescue the sheep, to attend and comfort the sheep, to guide the sheep, to guard and protect the sheep, and to watch over the sheep.[7]

Critique

            For such a great collection of timeless principles with tremendous practical application, the one area this writer finds troubling is MacArthur’s primary focus solely being on men as pastors. With ten to twenty percent of most denominations having women pastors and thirty percent of Master of Divinity students being women,[8] it would seem having at least some application geared towards men and women would significantly add to MacArthur’s goal in training and equipping the next generation of pastors and leaders. Women, historically have had a huge impact, since the inception of the early church and the same holds true today. MacArthur illustrates, “A strong home begins with the pastor… [and] a weak home means a weak ministry,”[9] so if the woman is the pastor in the home, guidance is needed to help those classified in this example. Satan hates the family because of what it stands for: intimacy and unity with God and because anything God stands for Satan will either try to destroy, pervert, or counterfeit, the sanctity of the family must continually be safeguarded. As pastors, so much is sacrificed on the altar of ministry and for this reason MacArthur’s teaching would be significantly more relevant if it contained guidance for woman as pastors, regardless if they are married or not. MacArthur’s three biblical benchmarks all point to, “If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church?”[10] These statements and examples almost seem to invalidate the role of women as pastors. The one area this writer agrees with MacArthur on is ministry must be a joint decision, meaning the husband and wife must both be committed to full-time ministry, regardless if the pastoral calling applies to the man, the woman, or to both.

            What MacArthur exceedingly does well is illuminating how, “we as pastors tend to address surface problems without looking beyond them to the real problems facing the church, [demonstrating] if the only resource is to depend fully upon the Lord, then [we] would spend more time on our faces in His presence, seeking His help.”[11] The pastor’s strength is directly proportional to his or her faith, trust, and dependence on the Lord’s strength. It is in this area MacArthur stresses the importance of private and corporate prayer, studying God’s Word for personal reflection, in addition to sermon preparation, and worshipping God outwardly, inwardly, and upwardly.[12] These spiritual disciplines help sustain intimacy with God and will prevent ministry threats from gaining a foothold. MacArthur lists laziness as one of the greatest threats facing pastors,[13] which fits right in line with the congregations’ great weakness being complacency. Today’s culture demands everything faster, easier, and cheaper, but developing a relationship with God and people takes time, is sometimes extremely difficult, and can be very costly, as the needs of others are elevated above your own.

Evaluation

            The moral decay occurring in society is alarming and the number of pastors and leaders who suffer burnout or moral failures is equally as disturbing. Pastors are essentially God’s shepherds over His flock: the church, so this calling is not to be taken lightly. MacArthur and his fellows at The Master’s Seminary offer sound biblical principles with practical application, so this work would be beneficial for anyone currently serving or wanting to serve in a ministry setting and most of his perspectives can even be applied to the secular workplace. Every time-tested strategy and principle listed to becoming a better pastor can also be applied to becoming a better Christian. For those who feel called to ministry, this writer would highly recommend reading MacArthur’s views on what a pastor is supposed to be and do, the steps to identifying and answering the call to ministry, recommended equipping and training, and the importance of learning how to have compassion for God’s children. Knowing it roughly takes two to three generations to impact the status quo of what is viewed as cultural normal, this writer’s hope is for the upcoming generations to learn how to allow the love of Christ to fuel their ministry and empower their compassion for others. MacArthur has successfully shown the best way to maintain an authentic ministry involves being humble and being willing to work hard, even if it means going after the one lost sheep, while remembering what we as pastors do for the least of them, we do for the Master.

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005, 363 pp. $29.99 (Hardback).

Bibliography

Grace Church Website, https://www.gracechurch.org/leader/MacArthur/John (accessed August 18, 2016)

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005

Pulliam, Sarah. Christianity Today Website. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2009/august/women-pastors-remain-scarce.html (accessed August 18, 2016).


[1] Grace Church Website, https://www.gracechurch.org/leader/MacArthur/John (accessed August 18, 2016)

[2] John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005), 50.

[3] II Timothy 4:2

[4] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 94.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Ibid., 91.

[7] Ibid., 274.

[8] Sarah Pulliam, Christianity Today Website, http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2009/august/women-pastors-remain-scarce.html (accessed August 18, 2016).

[9] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 124.

[10] Ibid., 123.

[11] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 147.

[12] Ibid., 199.

[13] Ibid., 301.

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