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…