AN ANALYSIS OF: REDISCOVERING PASTORAL MINISTRY

AN ANALYSIS OF: REDISCOVERING PASTORAL MINISTRY

 With the publication of Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry,[1] pastor John Mac Arthur Jr. has allowed his memorable and vast experience as a pastor and Seminarian to influence the world of pastoral theology.  This book serves as thesis statement for the Seminary MacArthur serves in the guise of President.  MacArthur also fills the role of Senior Pastor at GraceCommunityChurch in Sun Valley, California.

Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry could quite possibly be viewed as a summary statement, or synopsis, of the Master’s Seminary curriculum on pastoral theology.  The book itself looks at the role of the minister, the qualifications a pastor must aspire to fulfill, both the private and the public aspects of ministerial service, and most of the significant aspects of church ministry.  As such, this tome offers the reader fresh and unique insights into the world of pastoral ministry from MacArthur’s team vantage point.  Although the particular slant of the book can be dogmatic and opinionated at times, it is nevertheless a marvelously practical work on the inner functions of the modern preacher.

While reminiscent of such authors as John Owens the eminent Puritan preacher, or J. Oswald Sanders, author of Spiritual Leadership,[2] Mac Arthur chooses to bypass the more ethereal aspects of pastoral ministry.  Rather than focusing on the philosophical aspects of pastoral ministry and calling, or a broad stroke approach to the particular issues of pastoring that sets it within generalizations, MacArthur forces the reader to examine the practical aspects of ministry, honing in on the mundane and routine aspects of the modern preachers task as he fleshes out the unique challenges and difficulties that are typically associated with the office of pastor.

Some may read this book and walk away with a feeling that MacArthur is simply trying to establish carbon copies of his personal ministry sphere.  To make a mistake of this magnitude would be a grave gaffe and would limit the reader to a shallow view of Pastoral Ministry’s true contribution to the field of pastoral theology.  This is a brilliant exposition that expands far beyond the boundaries of Grace Community and Master’s Seminary.  The practical truths and nuggets of wisdom found within this book’s covers are truly plentiful; even though the exact manner in which they are employed by MacArthur may not serve all churches.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the book is the manner in which it is written.  It is, for the most part, a non-technical manual, written in a style that almost anyone could appreciate and understand.  Thus it could easily serve as an introductory work with the intent of educating laity on the over arching complexities of pastoral ministry.  There is an even deeper application for this work however, if the neophyte is willing to glean its messages intent.  MacArthur uses this comprehensive work to extol his high view of Scripture and its integral place within the life of the church.  This is a truly refreshing aspect of Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry.

Regardless of theme or task, MacArthur and company bring the scriptural mandate into the conversation. If the Bible requires either performance or attitude; this book will challenge the reader to examine what Scripture says in a way that demands obedience through a desire to serve.  MacArthur’s teachings could be confused with a theology of conscription, but this isn’t the true heart of the matter.  Rather, this book causes the cleric to examine the source of personal motivation and to then determine whether it proceeds from the wellspring of God’s calling or the baser aspects of personal desire, as he points the minister to understand the dual application of all ministries: the church is an institution made up of living beings.

This is a good focal point as the church serves on two fronts: as an organization and as an organism.  In Mastering Church Management, an important point is made about the priorities of the ministry that coincides with Mac Arthur’s purpose.  Prayer and the exposition of Scripture are seen as dominating themes, but the authors point out that: “A church is both an organization and an organism. As it grows, the importance of proper structure grows with it.  This demands careful attention to make sure power is properly channeled.  That’s one of the key functions of church management.[3]”    The authors continue to say that: “As pastors, our first concern is to preach and pray, but we dare not remove ourselves from paying heed to the structure of the church.  Good structure… is a fundamental of the stewardship of power… and in a church, the stewardship of power is more important than the stewardship of money (p. 32)[4].”

If there are weaknesses within this book, the reader would be wise to overlook them and add this volume to whatever library may already be in their possession, as this should be an oft consulted reference work on the task of pastoring.  MacArthur has set forth a splendid recitation of the task of pastoring that is generally adaptable to most church settings.  This is seen in his thrust for an understanding in the churches primary task of advancing the mission of Christ, which he correctly sees as permanent and unchangeable.

As with any work, the bias and predilections of the author occasionally bleed through the text.  This is most apparent when MacArthur leans on his Reformed perspective by advocating an elder form of church government that distinctly divides the office of the elders into two separate categories: the ruling elder versus the teaching elder.  by propagating John Calvin’s system of government instead of examining it to see if it is need of reform, MacArthur misses a sterling opportunity  to re-address the issue of church offices and titular positions.  But, MacArthur stays true to the theological school that he espouses his allegiance to, by continuing to advance Calvin’s model of church structure.

Another point of difficulty that arises within the text is the issue of accountability.  MacArthur develops his view of personal accountability by establishing a five pronged approach to the subject.  He advocates accountability first to God; then to his home environment of wife and children; third, to men that he labors with and views as friends; fourth is an accountability to the pulpit, using the discipline of study as a corrective force in his life; and fifth, there is a sphere of the godly, devout men who look to him for input and guidance.  All of these points of accountability are good and should be firmly entrenched within the life of the minister.  There is no wisdom in disputing these arguments.  However, apart from the personal accountability to God, all of the other prongs manifest in relationships that are dependent upon MacArthur in varying degrees of force.  It seems that there are no external voices that have a measure of authority with the ability to influence accountability in his ministry in practical ways, with force and determination if necessary.

This seems to be the bane of the modern move toward independent existence within the leadership of the church.  When the only relationships that exist for accountabilities sake are dependant ones in areas such as emotional fulfillment, financial remuneration, direction and spiritual nurture, a potential blind spot appears in the mirror of the soul.  Great care and caution must be exercised in this aspect of accountability, and the topic of ministerial associations may once again rise out of necessity, in order to protect both the pastor and the churches they oversee.

The theme of Pastoral Ministry is stated as a threefold purpose found within the preface.  Mac Arthur declares: “More specifically, the threefold aim of Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry is:

1) To validate the biblical absolutes required by God for pastoral ministry, i.e., to

answer the question, “What is one’s authority for establishing a philosophy of             ministry?”

2) To elucidate the biblical qualifications for church pastors, i.e., to answer the question, “Whom has God authorized to be undershephards of Christ’s flock?”

3) To delineate the biblical priorities for pastoral ministry, i.e., to answer the              question, “What does a scripturally based pastoral ministry involve?” (p. x)

MacArthur achieves his stated goal as he and his team examines items such as the calling of God, prayer, personal priorities, worship, study, preaching, outreach, discipleship, training, ordination, and a host of other positions of focus.  The chapter on Observing Ordinances is a superb analysis of the Lord’s Table and Baptism, and should be a must read for all ministers.  The precision of MacArthur’s arguments for these two institutions are lucid and precise.  This is particularly telling as MacArthur’s view of Communion as a memorial action is held up against the belief of Transubstantiation.  Rather than advancing a notion of mystical union or mystical presence, MacArthur eloquently advances the notion of Communion as an anticipatory celebration of the Lord’s imminent return. By placing the emphasis on the Greek verb ‘estin,’ the confusion over a literal presence of the Lord’s body is mitigated with the proper referral to the frequent meaning ‘represents’ as a proper interpretation. (p. 356). This acknowledgment of the common ploy utilized by Jesus and other biblical exegetes of using figurative motifs as a means of advancing an understanding of spiritual concepts is appropriate, if not necessary.

Another significant area of contribution to the Christian through process is the chapter on Leadership (17), written by Alex Montoya.  Leadership skills and abilities are necessary commodities for the church today, particularly in the dynamics of purpose and direction.  Montoya is correct in his assertion that: “Leadership is essential to the life and mission of the church” (p. 281), and “The pastor is the one called to provide ultimate leadership for the church regardless of church polity” (p. 282). This notion of pastoral responsibility is immense and correct.  Montoya presents and articulate thesis for a biblically based understanding of leadership principles that is rooted in a correct belief system about God and the living organism that is called church.

One of the greatest challenges found in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry is contained in the portion of the book that is dedicated to leadership concepts.  Truth is espoused in the borrowed statement that simply says: “Leadership in the church is different from leadership in the world” (p. 287, taken from: Gangel Feeding and Leading[5], p. 35).  It is a very tempting proposition in the modern church world to borrow systems, styles and models of structure from the business world and to then super-impose these structures as overlays upon the church.  Although this may work as a temporary fix that helps the church to appear relevant in modern cultural expressions, inherent dangers lurk within this model of worldly adaptation.  Rather that formulating a community that is based on human skill with the intended aim of commonality of purpose (p. 283), the pastor is to be a spiritual leader who is formed in the gorge of God’s purifying fires.

As a leader who transcends the natural surrounding to which the minister is bound, the churchman is charged with a  heavenly mandate that calls for incarnational representation and as servants who prove themselves trustworthy in the fulfilling of heavens call.  When the church rests solely on a worldly method of business, a significant portion of the churches raw essence is lost.  Even the great Apostle Paul’s contributions to the Corpus Christi would be jeopardized if such a standard were implemented, as Montoya astutely points out by stating that: “Paul himself, a failure by today’s standards, tells the true test of successful ministry: ‘It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy’ (p. 287, quoting I Cor. 4:2).”

There is a biblical standard that is outlined in I Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-8 that tells us what the normative qualifiers are for biblical leadership are.  These points of origin aren’t simply entry portals, however.  They exist as a standard that continues to cast a shadow of protection over the minister, serving as shields that guard against sins corruptive influence.  All of this is rooted in the axiom: “God uses spiritual leaders to accomplish spiritual purposes.  He does not violate this axiom.” (p. 287)

By basing the qualifications for Christian leadership exclusively on biblically expounded concepts, Pastoral Ministry elevates the leader into the task of servanthood.  Thus, greatness is achieved not by dominating the landscape.  Rather, greatness is achieved through the common means of vesting efforts into the lives the leader is graced with.  Aspiring to fulfill the mandate of servant leadership is the loftiest of goals for the minister, as it is the deepest form of emulation possible concerning Jesus.  Servant leadership is the paradigm that Jesus presented as His expected model of ministry as a format.

 

This doesn’t open the door for churches to abuse the designated leader of the congregation; however, To the contrary, servant leadership places the issue of accountability squarely in the hands of Jesus, not the church.  This waylays the possible abuses that can follow a mindset that allows the congregational structure to hold sway over the laborer in the field of the Lord’s given task.  Montoya aptly states that: “A servant leader is not the church’s errand boy” (p. 289).  None of this is viable without the servant being immersed in Holy Spirit’s presence though.  This is a fitting critique and standard within the confines of the church, as it is the Holy Spirit who leads, guides, and empowers the church and its residents.  Thus, it is emphatically important for the churchmen to be sufficiently filled with the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in order to lead the body of Christ.

Wisdom rings from this book in another aspect of its presentation when it focuses on the minister’s home life.  The growing trends in America that have threatened the home in general, such as financial pressures, non-traditional couples, divorce, career challenges, and multi-parental homes are threatening the fabric of the biblical ideal of family.  These pressures are also seen in the clergy and addressed in this book, as Pastoral Ministry points out that: “No thinking person can deny that the ministry is potentially hazardous to a pastor’s marriage and family (p. 155).”

This view is echoed in Church Administration Handbook, as the author makes a statement that coincides with the major themes found in the section of Mac Arthur’s book that deals with the pastor’s home in relation to the task of building solid support foundations into the marriage as an enhancer of the calling into ministry.  The point is made that: “Effective ministry requires effective support-system management… (Because) ministry is a stressful, wear and tear calling and because ministry is a vocation of attrition for ministers and their families…[6]” Ministry can be very hazardous to the minister couples who embrace the calling to the pulpit.

Robert Dale, the author of the chapter, Managing the Minister’s Personal Life in Church Administration brings out the truth that there are three main aspects of managing the personal dynamics of ministry.  They are succinct and fully comply with the advice given in Pastoral Ministry, but deserve recognition for their insightful promotion of biblical ideals relating to marriage and the pressures pastoral couples face.  These focal points of help are: “marriage and family relationships, career development, and the general elements of a well-constructed ministry support system.”  The author builds a case for managing the personal issues of marriage by focusing in on the topics of:

  • Enriching your marriage and family living
  • Handling family stress
  • Charting your career path
  • Planning for career growth
  • Discovering the stages in a minister’s career cycle
  • Balancing your support network
  • Managing personal and professional stress
  • Avoiding burnout

The author gives sound, practical advice that includes preventative measures that help the clergy to avoid the traps of failed marriages (Church Administration, p. 284-87).  Ideas such as approaching family living as a life long prospect coupled with an ongoing commitment to renew the vows of marriage and family as an unending process are particularly helpful, and serve as a viable addendum to Rediscovering pastoral Ministries sound guidance.

In deference to the practical applications of leadership qualities, Pastoral Ministry advances seven key 7 key points: 1) Good leaders make good decisions; 2) Good leaders self-manage well; 3) Good leaders communicate effectively; 4) Good leaders maintain good leadership skills; 5) Good leaders are amenable; 6) Good leaders are inspirational; and 7) Good leaders do what it takes to lead (pp. 290-296).”  These principles were included into the book with the express intent of leading the pastor’s who plumb the depths of Mac Arthur’s work into a mindset that makes maximum room for success to be achieved.

This is a reasonable assumption, as the readers are challenged to implement ideals such as obedience to the Word as a primary factor of life.  This concept is then coupled with an exhortation to be diligent in the area of skill acquisition in order to lead the pastor into a realm that integrates the practical matters of ministry with the spiritual aspects of the Christian experience.  As an insidious challenge to the modern, indifferent approach, to ministering to the Lord’s church that is expressed within the portals of the clergy, Mac Arthur seems to be calling the modern minister into a mindset that accepts the notion that hard work will pay off in the end.

Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry is an effective deterrent to the confusion that has settled into the role and function of ministerial efforts.  It’s advancement of ideals in training and deployment is commendable.  The theological premise of the book is sound, and MacArthur’s desire to “be about the Father’s business” is noble.  Employing the various principles and standards may not guarantee happiness and peace within the confines of ministry, but it will help to nudge the reader along that path.



[1] Mac Arthur, John, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, W Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson, Nashville TN, 1995 (p. 287)

[2] Sanders, J. Oswald, Spiritual Leadership, Moody Press, ChicagoILL, 1967, 1980, 1984

[3] Cousins, Don, Leith Anderson, Arthur DeKruyter, Mastering Church Management, Multnomah Press, Portland Ore, 1990, p. 32

[4]____  ibid., p.32

[5] Gangel, Kenneth, Feeding and Leading, Wheaton,: Victor, 1989, p.35

[6] Powers, Bruce, Editor, Church Administration Handbook, Broadman Press, NashvilleTN, 1985, p.285

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