Considering Pastoral Ministry? Here are Some Helpful Reads
We (Tony, Lou, and Thabiti) love having conversations up on The Front Porch. It’s an honor to ask and answer questions of y’all and to sharpen one another. One brother recently brought up his desire to enter pastoral ministry. He asked about which books he should read to best prepare him for it. We thought the reasons he gave for asking were not only good, but common for a lot of people who come on the porch. He said hungers for good books because:
“1. There’s a lack of expositional preaching in my local area.
2. There’s a lack of a Reformed churches (particularly of the Baptist stream) in my area.
3. I have a strong desire to be an overseer.
4. Before I can become an overseer, I’d like to be trained by an expositional preacher with pastoral experience.
5. I’m hungry for this training, and until I can get it personally, I’d like to learn from men who have mentored me from afar.”
So we knocked our heads together and came up with our top three (or so) books that shaped and influenced each of our ministries. We also threw in some suggestions about what you might read on expository preaching. We pray these titles bless you as they did us — here are our suggestions for what they’re worth:
Louis Love’s Top 3 Books:
1. Lectures to My Students by C. H. Spurgeon
This is a classic must-read for anyone looking to enter pastoral ministry. Spurgeon’s work has stood the test of time. He writes as a pastor who is actually engaged in training men for ministry. His pastoral wisdom is priceless.
2. Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell
I like Bryan Chapell’s approach. His book is really hands on and great for the beginning preacher or one who wants to do exposition more faithfully. His book is quite accessible. Also his course on Christ Centered Preaching is offered for free online.
3. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy
I wish I had this book in the early days of my attempts at preaching. Goldsworthy comes at the preaching task as a Biblical theologian. His aim is to ensure that preaching is done within the framework of the Bible’s message of redemption centered on Christ. He’s similar to Chapell with his emphasis on interpretation rather than structure.
4. Him We Proclaim by Dennis E. Johnson
Johnson is similar to Chapell and Goldsworthy. He emphasizes doing Biblical interpretation the way Jesus and the Apostles did it. He’s got great insight and easy to remember principles for interpreting Scripture. This book is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and Johnson’s writing style is engaging.
Tony Carter’s Top 3 Books:
1. The Bible
The first resource I would recommend is the Bible. The one thing I regret not mentioning in the discussion on preaching is the need to have a growing familiarity with the Scriptures. I have found and continue to find that the more familiar I am with the Word — the more I grow in my knowledge and understanding of God’s word, the more effective preacher I become. Read the Bible. Bible intake is indispensable.
2. A Good Systematic Theology
Next to knowing the Scriptures, a good preacher needs to know theology. It not only informs his preaching, but keeps it within the parameters of the truth of the church. My personal favorite is The Christians Reasonable Service (4 vols.) by Wilhelmus a’ Brakel. Of course, no study of theology is complete without mentioning The Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin. I also would recommend the contemporary Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and even the recently published Systematic Theology by John Frame.
3. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy
I have read it several times and use it in encouraging younger preachers. The title says it all. Seeing the Scriptures as not only inspired by God, but also pointing to the person and work of Christ from beginning to end, is key to faithfully proclaiming what the Spirit of God is saying to the church.
This list is only limited by the number of resources requested. Nevertheless, it could and should be expanded to include such important works as The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching by various authors, Doctrine that Dances by Robert Smith, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper, and many more.
Thabiti Anyabwile’s Top 3 Books:
1. The Christian Ministry: With an Inquiry Into the Causes of Its Inefficiency by Charles Bridges
I return to portions of this book every couple years. It is a searching study of what makes a minister and ministry ineffective with excellent sections on calling, study and preparation, and the minister’s character. The language is dated, but reading it aloud helps.
2. Leading with Love by Alexander Strauch
Many will point to Strauch’s Biblical Eldership as a must-read—and it is. But I really appreciate the warm meditation on and application of for pastoral ministry. One fatal weakness of some ministries and preaching is an absence of love. Without love we are nothing, clanging gongs.
When it comes to expositional preaching, it’s difficult to choose just one book in this category since there are so many good ones. Let me quickly mention three:
Between Two Worlds by John Stott
Buy this for the opening couple of essays alone. This book refreshed my commitment to preaching at a time when I didn’t know how tired I was.
Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell
This deserves reading and re-reading. It’s clear, accessible, practical, and full of personality. I wouldn’t come down as decisively as the authors on the issue of sermon length, but apart from that it’s a wonderful contemporary manual.
The Archer and the Arrow by Paul Grimmond and Phillip Jensen.
Gotta include this on the list when it comes to expository preaching. Go get it!
We’ve only mentioned book-length titles, but if you can get your hands on the booklet Ten Reasons for Expositional Preaching by E. K. Bailey, you’ll find some good motivation and justifications there. May the Lord bless your ministry!
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)