Bibliographic Entry

MacArthur, John, and the Master’s Seminary Faculty. 2005. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Summary

In Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, John MacArthur and the faculty of Master’s Seminary provide a series of twenty-two vignettes in the form of chapters that address a broad spectrum of topics related to pastoral ministry. With the stated goal of preparing men for pastoring the local church (MacArthur 2005, vii), the authors’ purpose is to identify the biblical philosophy, qualifications, and priorities of pastoral ministry (MacArthur 2005, viii). In this highly accessible and practical book, the authors highlight three overarching pastoral themes that reappear through all the chapters: a caring heart, impeccable character, and a diverse skillset. These themes illuminate numerous ministry principles and envelop the concepts of ministry call, pastoral training, and deployment.

The first theme is pastors must have a caring heart. From the start, MacArthur (2005, 22) asserts that a proper philosophy of ministry rests on the biblical definition of spiritual leadership, which is a shepherd caring for his flock. Thus, the heart of a pastor overflows into activities that focus on the health of the flock, such as teaching, oversight, and leading by example (MacArthur 2005, 21-24). Even as a pastor assesses his call to ministry, a primary ingredient is a pastor’s desire or longing to serve and care for those in his flock, rather than a desire for authority or status (MacArthur 2005, 89-90). Finally, a pastor’s heart must naturally flow into prayer as a spiritual weapon against the power of darkness, which is necessary to maintain personal pastoral health and protect the flock against the enemy (MacArthur 2005, 136-143, 149-153).

The second theme is pastors must have impeccable character. Leaning primarily on Titus 1:6-8, MacArthur (2005, 67-80) asserts that a pastor’s character must be above reproach in attitude and conduct, especially in the areas of sexual misconduct and family leadership. James George emphasizes biblical morality by maintaining that a pastoral call assessment must include an analysis of whether he is morally qualified to shepherd a flock (MacArthur, 2005, 90-91). Furthermore, godly character is a key ingredient in the ordination process, and it is critically important to the ongoing training and lifestyle of the minister (MacArthur 2005, 92-97, 115).

The third theme is pastors must have a diverse skillset. James Stitzinger explains that the New Testament presents five terms that refer to the same pastoral office, which include elder, overseer, shepherd, preacher, and teacher (MacArthur 2005, 30-32). Accordingly, George contends that a proper assessment of talent and abilities is necessary to confirm a pastor’s call to ministry (MacArthur 2005, 86-89). Further, Irvin Busenitz notes that the breadth of training for ministry must be wide enough to match the plurality of necessary skills (MacArthur 2005, 97-106). Finally, the activities of pastoral ministry must align with the five terms that identify the pastoral office. MacArthur et. al. (2005, 189-313) suggest these pastoral activities include preaching, modeling, leading, evangelism, discipling, warning, worshipping, and observing communion and baptism. In sum, a pastor’s caring heart, impeccable character, and diverse skillet must drive the principles of pastoral call, training, and ministry deployment. 

Critique

MacArthur’s work exhibits several strengths. First, Pastoral Ministry provides a good starting point for potential pastors to assess the possibility of entering vocational ministry. Individuals may sense a desire to become pastors based only on their experience of participating in church activities, without any experience in shepherding, overseeing, or administrating. Disillusion may quickly set in as new pastors experience the pressure of living up to the moral and performance expectations of modern-day vocational ministry. Accordingly, MacArthur’s work provides a transparent guide to the challenges a new pastor should expect regarding moral standards and the diversity of talent needed to meet the demands of ministry.

Second, Pastoral Ministry provides an unapologetic approach to the necessity of strong personal character. Unfortunately, several highly publicized scandals continue to plague the Christian community. From the child abuse of the Roman Catholics, to the abuse of power by evangelicals such as Mark Driscoll, the perception of pastoral ministry suffers each time lapses occur within the Christian community. MacArthur’s effort candidly and unabashedly addresses the importance of impeccable moral character.

Third, Pastoral Ministry provides an appropriate critique against the modern consumer-oriented and market-driven approach to ministry (MacArthur 2005, 13-14). In this regard, it is the absence of material that stands out. Readers will not find marketing systems, attractional gimmicks, or manipulative church growth initiatives. Instead, numerical growth is de-emphasized as the authors attempt to align the pastoral role solely with Scripture.

Several weaknesses also exist. First, although MacArthur appropriately eschews a market-driven approach to ministry, the presupposition that church is an “institution” continues to exist (MacArthur 2005, xi). MacArthur (2005, 304) gives lip service to the church being a community of believers, but the content of the book aligns with an approach to ministry that makes preaching at an event on Sunday morning the highest priority (MacArthur 2005, xiii, 204). However, Neil Cole points out that prioritizing a centralized institutional event misses the point of the New Testament church (Cole 2005, 34-45).

Second, MacArthur admirably highlights the importance of morality, but his dogmatic approach poses certain risks. First, MacArthur (2005, 67-73) appears to identify specific automatic disqualifications, while leaving other attributes ambiguous as to their force. Next, focusing on disqualifying behaviors (MacArthur 2005, 69) without an equal emphasis on the inner self, may increase the risk that pastors will not assign enough emphasis to unhealthy thoughts and emotions. Third, MacArthur asserts that a rebellious child disqualifies a pastor, but ignores how the meaning of Titus 1:6 may be interpreted differently today than during the “honor and shame framework of first-century Mediterranean culture” (Towner 2006, 682). Fourth, MacArthur’s considerable emphasis on behavior without consistently explaining its relationship to the gospel misses the mark, which may lead to posing and sin-management. As Gordon Fee (1987, 391) explains, immorality is always a “misunderstanding of the gospel.”

The third weakness is the understatement of the primary purpose of pastoral ministry, which, according to James Thompson (2006, 20), is “participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith.” Research has shown that church activities do not necessarily lead to transformed lives (Hawkins and Parkinson 2011, 17). Thus, assuming MacArthur’s list of pastoral priorities, such as preaching, teaching, leading etc. will automatically accomplish the purpose of transforming lives is a mistake. MacArthur’s heavy emphasis on ministerial effort, without directly connecting each activity to the purpose of pastoral ministry, detracts from the book’s impact.

Evaluation

A recent mantra of organizational life is that “everything rises and falls on leadership” (Maxwell 1999, xi). Accordingly, a biblical approach to pastoral leadership is critical for the health of every church community. MacArthur’s book attempts to provide biblical and practical guidance to potential and current pastors. The value of MacArthur’s work in its larger academic context is its contribution to a holistic approach to pastoral ministry, which includes a philosophy of ministry built on shepherding, qualifications of ministry built on impeccable character, and priorities of ministry built on the skills of the pastor. Although certain weaknesses detract, Pastoral Ministry provides a beneficial starting point for anyone exploring vocational ministry or desiring to expand their understanding of pastoral ministry.

Young pastors, individuals exploring the possibility of ministry, and even lay pastors looking to expand their knowledge of a biblical approach to pastoral ministry will benefit from the efforts of John MacArthur and his faculty. The work is highly accessible, straightforward, and generously cited to encourage additional study. Although seasoned pastors may obtain a few insights and words of wisdom from the vignettes, most of the content will be familiar. Alternatively, Pastoral Ministry will leave scholars and academic oriented readers frustrated. The authors provide conclusions based on the Master’s Seminary theological assumptions, but do not provide possible alternative views. Presuppositions are not overtly stated, but are also not opaque. Conclusions regarding specific Scripture verses are often not adequately supported by their cultural or literary context, and language analysis is limited. However, the book was not written for scholars, so if readers are looking to explore one seminary faculty’s attempt at providing a biblical approach to pastoral ministry, they will not be disappointed.

 

References

Cole, Neil. 2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fee, Gordon D. 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Hawkins, Greg L., and Cally Parkinson. 2011. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

MacArthur, John, and the Master’s Seminary Faculty. 2005. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, John. 1999. 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Thompson, James W. 2006. Pastoral Ministry According to Paul. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Towner, Philip H. 2006. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.