Book Reviews

Book Review: The Care of Souls (Harold Senkbeil)

Pastoring is more than just preaching a sermon, more than having board meetings, planning events, having Bible studies, counseling members, or visiting the sick. One can’t do all of this without being in a close relationship with God, which means that they have to change. Harold Senkbeil, who has almost fifty years of pastoral experience, has written the award-winning The Care of Souls, a book about cultivating a pastor’s heart. The pastor preaches and lives out God’s word and seeks to orient others to live according to his Word. 

2020 Christianity Today Book Award Winner for Church/Pastoral Leadership
2019 TGC Ministry Book of the Year Winner
2020 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner for Ministry Resources.

Senkbeil covers topics like how the pastor diagnoses (ch 3) and treats (and cares for) souls (4), how he shepherds (5), how he draws near to God (8), how he fights the spiritual battle (9), evangelizes (10), and how he remains steady (12) and remains joyous in the office (conclusion). 

Senkbeil, a “Lutheran in conviction and confession,” begins his book giving background to his childhood. He grew up on a small farm, and life was difficult. Farm life simply isn’t easy. It’s grueling work all day long, and sometimes in the night too. This was the school that helped Senkbeil hone is craft, or at least which worked the soil for the future ministry he would have. Farming isn’t just about having a lot of knowledge about how pigs work. Farming is an art. It takes true skill to understand animal husbandry and plant genetics. Senkbeil writes about how his father “could tell just by biting a kernel of oats or wheat between his teeth if it was ready for harvest” (21). 

Likewise, pastors need to develop a habitus. Through a long involvement shepherding and leading God’s people, through the hard work pastor’s will develop their habitus, both a Spirit-given gift and skills “honed and developed through deliberate and diligent interaction with the people of God” (19). Pastors will develop their own art of pastoring, making it their own as they follow God’s Word. They know they can’t do the work on their own, not with their own strength or reason (33). 

The pastor can no more grow God’s church than he can an ear of corn. Pastors do the work, but God gives the increase (34). This also means that pastors can rest! They don’t need to think their ministry is worthy because they are busy and work hard. the anchor is the word of God. Being craftsmen, the pastor is to know his congregation enough so that he can shape his sermons “with sensitive discernment” to fit their situations “with faithful application” (41). God’s word is an anchor because his “word is performative speech. Just as God created something out of nothing… by his declaration: ‘Let there be light,’ so he continues to create new realities by the force of his sheer word” (48). 

Concerning the role of the pastor, there are many different ways in which one can pastor. Pastors could conform their approaches into the ever-rolling river that moves without any concern for them, or they can “stand on solid ground to bring something to people caught in all the flotsam and jetsam” (61). You can either reconfigure and recalibrate your approach every six months to fit the new generation, or you can follow the classical model of pastoral care. You will always have something to give to care for people’s genuine needs, both care in general worship and specific cure in private meetings. You pay attention to give them an accurate diagnosis of their spiritual problem, and then you give intentional treatment (pastoral care/cure). This is part of the pastoral art–knowing your sheep acutely and how to care for them accurately through prayer and God’s word.

But we cannot wrap up our church members in our own strength (94). We are only instruments in God’s hands (95), and we bring God’s word to them. God cares for his people by strengthening them through his Word and his Spirit. A pastor’s care for his church members is not based on his likeability or charisma, but it relies on “God’s living and abiding word” (96).

Recommended?

There is so much more that I could write, but throughout his book Senkbeil reminds pastors about the power of God’s word (though as a Lutheran he also gives more emphasis to the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper than I do. I also disagree with him on the pastor being able to absolve someone of their sins.) God reveals himself to us through his Word, and pastors need to know it well if they are going to provide accurate care for their members’ acute needs. This book is not at all a textbook. It is more like having Senkbeil himself sitting there talking to you. The details he adds to stories aren’t necessary, but they are appreciated. It is like having my grandfather with me telling me about his ministry as a pastor to his congregation. While that means this isn’t a book you should try to read in one sitting, it is one that is written with warmth and wisdom. The pastorate isn’t a job. It is a service under God, one that you get to (and must) craft. Senkbeil’s book, an encouragement for many pastors already, will help you see and understand that.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Harold L. Senkbeil
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 26, 2019)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

5 comments

  1. Appreciate this review. Others are finding this book helpful for considering how God is active in pastoral ministry, not just a human endeavor funded by “strategic” programs, demographic targeting, and tech-driven decision-making.

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