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Thursday, May 30, 2019

"Shepherding God's People" (Siang-Yang TAN)

TITLE: Shepherding God's People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang TAN
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (272 pages).

People have often called the pastoral vocation as a special kind of calling. Some even put it as a "higher calling." Some of my friends even joke about the reason for such a "higher calling" (aka high pressure workload and expectations with low or no renumeration). Whatever it is, shepherding a community of people is no easy feat. Working with machines, computers, and systems is far easier than working with people. Thankfully, there have been many who had entered the pastoral vocation and come out with much gratitude. At the same time, there are also rising concerns about the increasing number of people quitting the pastoral vocation. This is how author, professor, pastor, and clinical psychologist, Siang-Yang Tan begins the book. He notes that in a recent conference in Southern California, 90 percent of the pastors had "experienced fatigue and had thoughts of quitting ministry." There is a need to help one be faithful in the ministry and fruitful during the practice of pastoral ministry. This book aims at providing a biblical perspective of the church, on pastoral ministry, and on how to shepherd God's people.

Part One of the book looks at the biblical and theological aspects of pastoral ministry based on five key paradigms:

  1. That the Great Commission is about discipling nations instead of just individuals;
  2. The atonement means redemption for marketplace instead of individuals;
  3. The ministry of the Church is about the people of God being ministers together, not just the individual;
  4. Jesus is the One who builds the Church, and not just a few individuals;
  5. The measurement of fruitfulness is four-dimensional; namely spiritual, relational, motivational, and material.

The theological component is impressive, with Tan covering the doctrines of Church (Ecclesiology), Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Christology, Spirituality, Spiritual Disciplines, Self-care regimens, soulcare, Sabbath, and ways to help one maintain Christ-centered living, etc. Part Two goes into the practice of different areas of pastoral ministry. He begins with the "Preaching and Teaching" aspect, as a primary and most important calling of the pastor. True preaching is the "most urgent need in the Church." While preaching and teaching are not synonymous, they are intertwined and complements each other. Tan goes into the steps and processes of preparing a sermon. I appreciate the way he highlights the need for preaching of messages related to "mental health and mental illness." This is not often talked about. Perhaps, with churches having messages to reach out in such a way would reduce the amount of suicidal thoughts among members of the congregation. There is "Corporate Worship" which is essentially what Sundays are all about. Giving us the steps of preparing a worship service, Tan also lists "six major implications for the practice of worship." The area of "Intentional Disciplemaking and Spiritual Formation" is another major need for the Church. He brings together different schools of thought and practice for the benefit of the reader. In "Evangelism, Missions, and Social Concern," he reminds us that the application of the Great Commission is essentially about bringing transformative love to our neighbours. He shares several good practical examples of evangelism that could be easily applied. Other areas include leadership, mentoring, pastoral care, counseling, weddings, funerals, Church boards relations, small groups, integrity, ethics, leaving and retiring. There are so many applications that one could pretty much treat this book as a pastoral reference handbook.

My Thoughts
Wow. I wish I had such a resource when I was starting up as a pastor. I am amazed that he could pack so much information within 300 pages. Not only are there steps and tips about specific areas of ministry, Tan provides ample scholarship and resources to aid us through. He does the heavy lifting on our behalf so that the busy pastor could just use this resource as a springboard to deeper research. Thank you Siang-Yang Tan for this gift of collection of wise thoughts and practical knowledge. I appreciate the gentle reminder in his epilogue not to become self-driven or self-sufficient. Books alone may help us do some equipping. However, the ministry of the Church needs to be through the Church and with the Church. That means no lone-ranger pastors. At the same time, Tan assures us that failures and negative feedback are to be expected. That is why pastors need to have an adequate sense of inner security found only in Christ. Pastoral vocation is about serving ordinary people through ordinary means, empowered by the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit.

Some books are written by professors from a mostly academic angle. Some are written by practitioners soaked in decades of pastoral experience. Still there are those written by professionals with rich expertise in public settings. What is rare is to have one written by a pastor, a professor, a practitioner, and a passionate believer all rolled into one. Siang-Yang Tan is that guy who possesses all of the above qualities. I recommend this book for all pastors, especially those who are just starting out on the journey of pastoral ministry.

Siang-Yang Tan (PhD, McGill University) is professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church Glendale in Glendale, California. He is a popular speaker and has written numerous books, including Counseling and Psychotherapy and Full Service: Moving from Self-Serve Christianity to Total Servanthood.             

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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