As a pastor, I’m also a student. That is, I constantly want to learn; I always want to be taught so I can grow in various Christian ways. For this reason, I try to read pastoral type books several times a year. One that I recently picked up is The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes and Douglas O’Donnell. The subtitle of the book tells what it is about: “A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry.” I did have several excellent pastoral courses in seminary, but I can always use a refresher! Here are my thoughts on this pastoral resource.
First, the strengths: This book is indeed comprehensive. It just under 600 pages, it covers the topics of worship, public prayer, creeds, songs, baptism, communion, and non-Sunday services (weddings, funerals, Good Friday, Christmas, etc.). There are also shorter sections on counseling and hospital visitation. I also appreciate the authors’ emphasis on the importance of biblical, gospel centered ministry that finds roots in historic Christianity. It was also helpful to see a discussion on the importance of liturgy along with some examples of Christian liturgy. Very clearly the authors are committed to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as it intersects with Christian worship and the pastoral ministry. The bulk of the book is about leading public worship; it doesn’t talk much about the pastor’s private life.
Second, the weaknesses: Since I did have training in the pastoral ministry, and since I have read two or three other books on the pastoral ministry, big sections of this book were simply review. In other words, a few other books I own cover the same topics. Also, in my opinion there are too many samples of liturgies, prayers, and other parts of the liturgy. Two examples: there are 10 wedding homilies which take up around 30 pages and there are around 30 pages of sample public prayers. The same could be said for other parts of the liturgy. I don’t mind a few examples, but after 10-15 pages, I thought there were just too many and I didn’t read nearly all of them. These examples make it seem like the book is aimed at pastors who haven’t experienced many public worship services and aren’t very familiar with liturgies, weddings, and funerals.
As a final note, this book is written from a free church perspective. It’s not really a resource for Reformed pastors in confessional churches, but at Baptist or free church pastors. I only note this to help pastors decide if they want the book or not. To be honest, even though this is a pretty good resource, a seasoned pastor in a confessional Reformed church probably doesn’t need it (unless he didn’t receive good training and hasn’t read other pastoral books). For me, sections of this book were not applicable because I’m a confessional Presbyterian; other parts were basic things I learned in seminary and read in other books.
In my opinion, this book would be a great one for young Baptist or free church pastors, especially those who need more training and want a solid, detailed resource for pastoral ministry (especially the aspect of leading worship). If that describes you, I recommend this one: R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Pastor’s Book (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).