Book Review: On Pastoring, by H. B. Charles
H. B. Charles, On Pastoring: A Short Guide to Living, Leading, and Ministering. Moody Publishers, 2016. 208 pps, $12.99.
Have you ever wanted to sit down with a trusted pastor, ask lots of questions, and listen to the answers he’s gleaned over 25 years of pastoral ministry experience? Well, now you can. On Pastoring: A Short Guide to Living, Leading, and Ministering as a Pastor is your opportunity to sit down with H. B. Charles and learn from what the Lord has taught him through Scripture, mentors, fellow pastors, and two different congregations over the past 25+ years.
THREE-PART PASTORAL CONVERSATION
On Pastoring is a personal conversation with a pastor written in three parts. Charles begins in part 1 by addressing the importance of the heart of the pastor. He reminds us that “the details of your calling are purposeful, not accidental,” (24) and that “your life story is a strategic part of your ministerial call” (25). In other words, God uses our lives to shape us into the men he’s called us to be. But, warns Charles, “the fact that you are spiritually gifted does not make you qualified to be a pastor” (35). When it comes to pastoral qualifications, Charles reminds us the scriptural emphasis is on character, not gifting. Ultimately, the purpose of our pastoral call is to glorify God.
Having established the glory of God as the focus of our pastoral call, Charles next deals with how a pastor leads the church. In part 2, our mentor and guide answers basic ministry questions—from how to handle interruptions to your schedule to taking risks on younger men seeking to serve in pastoral ministry. In addition, he reminds us of ways we may maintain our ministry effectiveness, encouraging pastors to remain in one pastorate for the long haul while making changes slowly over time.
Finally, in part 3, Charles answers many of the questions we were tempted to ask first, those related to the public ministry of the pastor: preaching, leading worship, leading others, as well as other lessons he’s learned along the way.
HUMBLE, HONEST, AND ENGAGING CONVERSATION
As you read this book, you’re not only learning about pastoral ministry, you’re also getting to know a fellow pastor who lovingly serves the church and continually points himself and his people to our glorious God. In every brief chapter (30 in all), Charles shares godly, practical wisdom that’s backed by 25 years of experience. He doesn’t merely highlight his victories; he also allows us to see his failures in order that we too may grow from his mistakes. The result is a humble, honest, and engaging conversation.
BUT, BE CAREFUL!
But we need to remember that On Pastoring is a personal conversation with a fellow pastor, and he is allowing us to learn from his own experiences. While Charles’ fundamental guidance is grounded in what the Scriptures teach about pastoral ministry, he knows that each of us serve in a variety of contexts and that we likely have differing pastoral strengths and weaknesses.
So, keep that in mind when he answers your questions. There will be instances when you and I have the freedom to differ in some of our pastoral practices. Charles is wise enough to avoid presenting a cookie-cutter approach to pastoral ministry; he says up front that he is only sharing how he has learned to approach pastoral ministry.
As just one example, take Charles’ approach to pastoral counseling (chapter 26). As a pastor of a small church, you may not have the same staff and schedule that a pastor at a larger, well-staffed church has. But the principles are the same: “As pastors, our devotion to prayer and the ministry of the Word must govern how we care for hurting, troubled, and confused members who come to us for counsel” (157). All things considered, we must pastor the flock of God among us, not the one we wish we had. Charles would agree.
Pastoring is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, second only to parenting. I’m so glad that H. B. Charles has written On Pastoring. Reading it felt more like sitting down with a trusted pastor who reminded me once again of the importance of diligently guarding the pastor’s heart, humbly practicing the pastor’s leadership, and faithfully preparing for the pastor’s public ministry. For me, On Pastoring has become an essential tool to hand out to men both pursuing and entering pastoral ministry. I hope sitting down with H. B. Charles will be as helpful to you as it has been to me.