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Thursday, May 16, 2013

"What Every Pastor Should Know" (Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn)

TITLE: What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church
AUTHOR: Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (272 pages).

It is common knowledge that pastoral ministry is among the toughest place to work. At the same time, it can be extremely enriching and satisfying when one sees lives change for God. It is not about making money. It is about touching lives. It is not about material success, but spiritual growth. It is not about self-accomplishment, but about humble service. Like all organizations, the pastoral ministry is also about leadership, with the pastor as a crucial member of the leadership structure. While some churches are more hierarchical than the rest, and others are less, the importance of the pastor cannot be overstated. The Scriptures remind us that if we are blind, we may very well be part of the blind-leading-the-blind movement. Here is where this book shines. Containing 101 and "indispensable rules of thumb" for Church leaders, it covers 15 major aspects of Church. There are rules for:

  1. Evangelism and Outreach
  2. Visitors and how to welcome them
  3. Worship
  4. Connecting with newcomers
  5. Small groups
  6. Christian Education
  7. Care
  8. Volunteer Matters
  9. Programs and Planning
  10. Staff and Leadership
  11. Facilities and Maintenance
  12. Finances
  13. Change
  14. Revitalization
  15. Demographical awareness and Strategies
Designed for the busy pastor and church leader, the chapters are brief and to the point. Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn, both experienced in the pastoral ministry have come together to merge their expertise, knowledge, and in-depth personal encounters on all things church, to give us a book that contains the best tips for pastoral work. They have combed many seminars and consultations, researched and even written on such matters in the past, and condensed many of the best ideas into this one book. Every chapter begins with a stated objective or "rule." It introduces the purpose, the problem, and the promise. It explains the different ways that challenges can be dealt with. The step-by-step description ensures that the reader do not lose track of the thought process. Filled with biblical references and applications, the book overflows with practical ideas. Five things are particularly important.

First, clarity is emphasized, with clearly identified steps and explanations. Not only is the ministry aspect clearly stated up-front in the title and in each introduction, the point-by-point ideas can stimulate readers to come out with their own ideas too. This is a mark of clarity. For instance, in the ministry of evangelism and outreach, the authors provide 5 guidelines on how to go about with evangelism matters. After passing the third idea, I find my creative juices freely flowing.

Second., brevity is beauty. Some guidebooks can become too lengthy. Just like a good dissertation, a good book need not be the size of an encyclopedia. Pastors themselves are already equipped to some degree, and many mainly require a key to unlock their mountain of knowledge, learned over the years. Most of the tips are about 2-5 pages long, and will appeal very much to the busy pastor.

Third, the diagrams, tables, and illustrations make this book a pleasure to read. As the saying goes, a picture speaks more than a thousand words. In this book, a visual can lead to many more thoughts. For example, in the chapter on Christian Education, the simple diagram of the relationships between teachers and students allows readers to add in their own take on how to work with the teacher-student ratio as well as to plan it across age groups. Even the statistics given can help us be more aware and discerning in situating our local church with the statistical outcomes. Knowing that every church is different, there is no harm in understanding what other churches are encountering as well. We can avoid re-inventing the wheel or avoid the pitfalls of certain strategies.

Four, the coverage is broad. Leading a Church can be very complex. There are many issues to deal with. The book covers not just buildings and budgets, it shows readers about the nitty-gritty of management, leadership, relationships, biblical perspectives, and core church ministries. For example, the chapter on small groups not only show us that there are many different types of small groups, it shines a light forward on how to lead them.

Five, this guidebook can be a primer for readers to do their own research into any one area of ministry. Granted that different churches have different needs, not everyone will benefit from all 101 rules. As a reference, I am amazed at the amount of information packed into a small footprint. Only experienced people are able to consolidate them well. 

Having said that, let me offer three ideas for improvement.  First, have a bigger bibliography that contains the best of pastoral resources. This enables interested readers with little time to do their own research. Second, more alternative views can help. This book is written more from a North American perspective. I appreciate the chapter on demographics and ethnic identity, and feel that these are increasingly more important in a globalizing economy and world immigration patterns. My third suggestion is a more practical one. What about having tabs on the book to make it something easy to refer to?

Unlike John Bisagno's "Pastor's Handbook," this book tends to focus more on strategies and methods. Bisagno's book is more complete in the sense that it not only deals with the what or how to, it deals with the person and the spiritual side of the pastor as well. Here lies the biggest flaw in this book. As much as pastoral ministry is important, it is equally, if not more important to understand the pastor. Anyone can do pastoral ministry. Not everyone can do it "pastorally." This book is high on the rules, but low on the person doing the work. I suspect that this is a "given" already. Let me suggest that readers supplement this book with Bisagno's or Eugene Peterson's writings about the pastoral ministry.

That said, you do not need to be a "pastor" in order to benefit from reading this book. What about buying this for your pastor? You can also learn to understand what pastors have to face everyday. At the same time, this book can also help readers pray for their pastor, support them, and in the process, help the Church to grow. 

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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