In his book Preaching and Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The preacher’s first, and the most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon” (166). As I wrote in a previous review, pastoring is more than just writing and preaching a sermon. It’s 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. Rick Reed serves as president of Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Prior to that he pastored in California and Ontario and has over thirty years of pastoral experience. It is one thing to teach preaching, it is another to survive ministry with the character of a shepherd. It is not enough to craft a sermon; you must also be crafting your heart.
Part One: The Challenges Your Heart Will Face
In Part One of this book, Reed lays out fifteen tests preachers will face. Reed shows how your heart will likely want to respond and, by looking to Scripture, how it should respond to these tests.
Some of these tests will be ambition and boasting, insignificance and stagnating, fear, criticism, failure, and quitting. As Bryan Chapell notes in the Foreword, it isn’t only fatigue that causes burnout; it’s a whole list of challenges and vices. Combining fatigue with frustration (which is guaranteed to come) then both your energy and commitment will turn up empty. Laziness means using only commentaries to write your sermon notes the night before you preach. Sermons need to be slow-cooked, and pastors need to simmer in the text. Ambition blinds us into thinking we should be celebrities instead of servants. Insignificance says, “It’s hard to be famous when nobody knows who you are” (27, 28). But when we feel insignificant (perhaps our ministries aren’t growing like we think, people in town still don’t know us, people still fall asleep in our sermons), we need to remind ourselves “that it is too soon to know the significance of our service” (33).
Part Two: Strengthening Your Heart
In Part Two he gives ten ways you can strengthen your heart to face ministry’s challenges. Pastors need to practice personal soul care. We need to avoid sin at all costs. According to Sam Storms, sin is like “spiritual novocaine, numbing one’s heart to the horror of self-centeredness and rebellion against God” (130). Preachers need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction, and smaller, more nuanced sins will require focused attention. Is reading a certain novel causing you to neglect your conscience? Are you too absorbed in the successes and failures of your favorite sports team, thinking about it even during communion (as Reed relays happened to him once)? Reed isn’t trying to impose legalistic standards on you, but he wants you to be careful what you put into your system.
Pastors need to have the right-sized expectations. The amount of fruit that is produced in your congregants during your ministry will vary. Know that your prayers and God’s word do have an impact, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d hoped. (And if it does, remember that there were four different kinds of soil in the Parable of the Sower. Many may respond well, but there is still a lot of work to be done.) You need both to develop internal security (know your calling and the One in whom your identity rests) and to listen to the advice of your closest ally (your wife!). Don’t kill the horse (get exercise and take a break!), and keep your first love. Feed Christ’s sheep because you follow Christ, your Shepherd, who died and gave himself for you, your family, your church, your town, and the world.
This book is a very easy read and is very practical. Both knowing the challenges and where to turn in the Bible will help pastors guard against the upcoming tests. Part Two is like insurance. You prepare and save up ahead of time to be a shepherd who knows his Shepherd and can be the strong tree whose leaf does not whither during the attacks, the dry seasons, and the humdrum of ministry. This book is specifically for pastors, and I would encourage you to pick up this book. It is a true help.
- Author: Rick Reed
- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (October 9, 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.