As pastors, we’ve all been there … Somewhere in the second or third week you begin to experience a little panic. You come to the jarring conclusion that you are not quite the “Master of Divinity” your diploma says you are.
Pastoral ministry is a high calling, rewarding, and filled with joyful moments seeing the Lord work in and through you for the sake of His Church. But it is certainly not without its challenges. With this high calling come hardships, various difficulties, and immense burdens. Even a seasoned pastor would admit that there are still things he is learning to work through and balance in relation to his pastoral ministry.
An important question, then, is how do we train and prepare young men entering into the ministry as a “new pastor”? Seminary and formal theological education is, of course, absolutely essential. But there are many things that you do not learn in seminary that you must learn “on the job” when you begin your first pastorate.
To help prepare these new pastors, Jason Helopoulos has written a very helpful new book: The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry. Jason, himself an associate pastor at University Reformed Church in MI, does not write as someone claiming to be an “authority” or expert on pastoring. He does not have 5 decades of ministry under his belt to speak from. Rather, he says: “I am an ordinary pastor continuing to grow in the pastorate who loves the church, loves my fellow brothers in the ministry, and passionately desires to help men at the beginning of this glorious calling” (20).
I appreciated the author’s honesty and transparency regarding his dilemma in not feeling like an “authority” to be able to speak on the subject. But I believe that he, as a younger pastor, is in a unique place to write to young, new pastors — many of these lessons that he learned are still fresh on his mind, enabling him to connect with the reader in a fresh and relatable way.
So what is the book about?
The book is split into 5 major Parts. Part 1 is titled “The Beginning,” and offers 3 short chapters on how you know whether you have been called to the ministry.
Part 2, titled “Starting Out Strong,” offers 4 chapters, each written to a specific group of “new” ministers. The author offers tailored thoughts on starting strong in the ministry as (1) a senior or solo pastor, (2) an assistant pastor, (3) a youth pastor, and (4) a church planter. Each of these 4 pastors face unique challenges in beginning their ministry, and Helopoulos offers very wise and helpful thoughts to each group.
Part 3 is the “bulk” of the book. Titled “Encouragements,” this third section offers 24 short chapters on various topics that the new pastor should have on his radar. There are chapters on the value of reading widely, the importance of personal holiness, time management, and leadership, and how to conduct weddings, funerals, and hospital visitations, along with dozens of other helpful topics.
Part 4, titled “Pitfalls of Young Pastors,” looks at 13 potential pitfalls that the new pastor should be on the lookout for. Some of these pitfalls include discouragement, theological hobby-horses, lecture sermons, and pastor envy. Each of these pitfalls are sources of temptation and potential problems for pastors of all ages and experience, but are especially prevalent and dangerous for new pastors.
But the book does not end on the gloomy note of pitfalls. Rather, part 5, titled “Joys of Ministry,” leaves the new pastor with 4 incredible joys that come along with this incredibly high calling.
As a new pastor myself (less than 3 years), this book was incredibly helpful for me. I can tell you that I wish I had this book 3 years ago before starting in my first ministry position. However, it was still a great help for me. At just 200 pages and almost 50 chapters, the book is short, concise, and each chapter (around 4 pages each) gets straight to the point. I found the book very readable and engaging, suitable for pastors of any age or experience.
If you are a new pastor, get this book for yourself: Though you’ve already started, it will still be a great help to you in your ministry.
If you are planning for the ministry, go ahead and get a copy NOW. Work through each chapter, asking the Lord to teach you and prepare you for this great task that lies ahead of you.
If you are a seasoned pastor, or a seminary/college professor, consider getting a copy of this book for young men in your congregation (or classroom) that are thinking about preparing for the ministry. I would love to see this be required reading for every pastoral ministry class in Christian colleges and seminaries. Though there are still some things that just flat-out must be learned “on the field,” this book will help equip young men to be ready for the road that lies ahead and prepare accordingly.
I am thankful to Pastor Jason for his help to new pastors in this book. I believe that many young men will be helped by his wise and practical encouragements and warnings concerning pastoral ministry.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Baker Books for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.