Book Review: Dear Timothy Letters On Pastoral Ministry

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Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry edited by Tom Ascol. Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2004. 384 pages.

Many times in life we wish we had a practical “how to” guide for the various activities of which we are involved (i.e. new job, volunteer work). Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry edited by Thomas Ascol is a book that could certainly be characterized as a “how to” for pastoral ministry. The book is not a “how to” in the sense of giving answers for every single issue a pastor might face. However, it does cover a wide range of that will help equip the pastor when he must deal with various issues. While this book is “written from experienced, active pastors to a young, inexperienced pastor” (10) it could be a great reference book for the experienced pastor. Much encouragement can be found from the advice of the 19 different pastors who authored the chapters.

The authors offer a full range of practical advice for pastoral ministry. The topics cover many areas of the pastors life from daily scheduling, loving his family and flock to preaching, training others and worship. This variety of topics really show that the pastors life is much more than just preparing sermons and then preaching them on Sunday.

One of the things that makes this book unique is that it is written in letter format. Taking its cue from the Apostle Paul writing letters of pastoral instruction to Timothy the book has a very personal feel and is easy to read. This style of writing is very helpful for a book like this that gives practical advice. In this format the advice seems much easier to heed. The authors themselves show by example how to graciously approach the “Timothys” to whom they wrote.

Even in their gracious approach they unapologetically express the challenges pastors face in their lives. The depth and responsibilities of a pastor are far greater than anyone on the outside can imagine. Those responsibilities are laid out and what it takes to handle them is explained. The charge for the pastor to apply to his own life the same biblical truths he leads others in are found throughout the book. Pastors should be an example for their flock. Part of this example is being spiritually healthy. The importance of the health of the pastor’s own spiritual life is well stated and dealt with throughout each chapter. The authors make this practical connection well.

The first chapter, for example, encourages pastors to set priorities in their own lives. Immediately, the author explains that a pastor’s balanced life is “one of the greatest ongoing challenges” (23). Helping others understand God’s priorities for their lives starts with understanding one’s own. This chapter will help the new pastor develop priorities in his life explaining how he is, in order: a Christian, husband, father, pastor. This is a very helpful advice by which to assess one’s self and not get bogged down in pastoral affairs leaving one’s family at bay.

This book starts with core spiritual foundations for the pastors life. For example, chapter two moves right into the charge that the pastor must watch his own life closely. This is so even for the gifted pastor whose handling of Scripture is “head and shoulders above an average preacher” because there is nothing more important than “self-watch” (38). The emphasis here is that the pastor is also a Christian in Christ’s flock. He too must constantly draw near to God and establish disciplines in his life. The book continues in this manner of touching on the major issues a pastor faces with many underlying minor issues.

Especially helpful was the first of two chapters by Joel Beeke which included several pages on how to meditate on Scripture. Meditation in the United States is often portrayed in the manner of Eastern religious type of practice i.e. sitting with ones legs crossed either silently or humming a certain word. Dr. Beeke’s first chapter takes the reader through the puritan practice of meditating on Scripture. It’s a very good section that not only lays out the process, but explains it along the way. He even offers advice on follow-up and application. This puritan process fits nicely into the framework of really seeking God in ones personal and quiet times.

Explaining how to meditate ties right back into the books emphasis on the importance of the pastors personal spiritual life. The importance of the pastors personal life is either explicit or implicit in each chapter. This really broadened and deepened my view of the work of the ministry in a pastors life. Not only is the pastor responsible for his flock, but he too must be aware of his own spiritual health. The health of the pastors personal life is deeply connected to the health of his flock. The reader should come away with a great respect for the work a pastor does day in and day out. If the reader takes this book to heart he might more clearly understand why the pastorate is not a vocation for everyone.

The material presented in this book is straight forward, honest and challenging. This makes it all the more worthwhile and applicable to young pastors who are the target audience. I would certainly recommend it to them. However, I would also recommend it to those aspiring to the office of pastor as well as those seasoned pastors. The simple yet practicalness of this book make for great reminders for all around self-examination. It is also an easy read with its letter format and personal approach. There is one more group of people I would recommend this book to, any church member. The understanding a member of the flock would gain would be nothing but beneficial for the body of Christ. By all means give it a read and be encouraged.

For the Kingdom…

Mark

Isaiah 24:23 NIV The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously.

The full moon will be covered up, the bright sun will be darkened; for the Lord who commands armies will rule on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the presence of his assembly, in majestic splendor.

Intent: To stir up emotions to worship Christ by showing His beauty and glory above all else by relying on the Gospel.

I. Opening – (MOVE) The verse for our devotion tonight comes from Isaiah 24. It is page     in the pew Bible. Before I give the verse I want you to picture something with me.

A. Intro story – Have you ever seen the moon? Picture a full moon up in the sky. You know the kind that is to clear and detailed. Just wonder of the beauty of the moon as it lights the dark sky. And now picture the sun. What an amazing creation. So much life depends on this amazing star. It’s heat and brilliance is unmatched.

B. Tie in devotional verse to story – Tonight we’re going to talk about something…Someone Who is more beautiful than the moon. More brilliant, life giving and sustaining than the sun. This brings us to our verse for tonight. Verse 23. (Read verse)

C. Very brief overview of Isaiah – The big picture of Isaiah is the story of our coming Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ coming to save His people. Any easy way to remember this is by the definition of the name of Isaiah which means “God is salvation”. Our verse tonight is speaking to the return of Jesus when He is reigning.

D. Topic: Gospel & worship in light of Christ’s reign now and then. – Great prophetic and historical record. It is an ancient writing about a future event and we can trust it. Why? It is from the infallible and inspired word of God. When you think what God’s word says in v. 23 does it stir up in you? Are you excited about this future? What does this tell us now?

II. Body – Gospel

A.   Moon and sun, abashed and ashamed. Why? – Remember the picture of the moon and sun we began with. Our verse says The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed. These glorious creations that rule the night and day will be put to shame when our Savior returns. Though we being made in the image of God the moon and sun are sights to behold. And they have nothing on Jesus’ majesty. They are humbled. Are you humbled? I know we will all be humbled at that time. But what about today? Jesus is reigning now in the heavens. There are those in times past who worshiped the sun and moon as idols. How different are we today? You say – I’ve never worshiped the sun or the moon. Me neither, but I’ve worshipped other things. We’ve all had idols in our lives and probably still do.

Is our answer just to be ashamed and try harder? Or shall we be like the moon and the sun in our shame? Think! What did the moon and the sun do? The recognized the glorious light of Jesus Christ. Their lights were turned out and they relied on the light of Christ. When Jesus saves us through His Gospel that’s what we do. There is no trying harder to do better or to out shine Jesus. We realize there is nothing we can do because He’s done it all for us. We worship Jesus today looking forward to v. 23 when Christ comes again. We wait with our brothers and sisters of times past who looked forward to Jesus’ first coming.

B.    Glory before elders. – Again, v. 23 for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously. Jesus will reign before His elders in majestic splendor as the NET Bible puts it. All those saints before Jesus since the beginning of time will be there. Now, I don’t know if they are anticipating this the same way we are or not. Since I don’t know exactly what it’s like in Heaven. I don’t know if we will know everything instantly or if we will get to learn from the older brothers and sisters. We can certainly learn from them today though.

What drove them to look forward to Jesus first coming? To the bringing of the Gospel? The promises of God! They trusted in God and His grace through faith. Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Isaiah all trusted God. The same thing we are doing by trusting in Christ’s Gospel. They acted on faith in God. How much more should we be doing the same thing not that the Messiah has come and redeemed us? We see part of God’s glory now as we look forward to His full glory in Jesus establishing His earthly Kingdom.

C.    Christ’s reign is the reason for A & B then. Now

III. Closing – Gospel

A.   Christ is reigning today.

B.    Ashamed?

C.    Hope & looking forward to v. 23.

Challenge: Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

At the end of our worship service such as this morning or this evening. Think about this question: Who should be thankful at the end of a service, God or us?

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The above article was posted on August 17, 2009 by Mark Lamprecht.
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