Book Review: Shepherding the Pastor, by Phil A. Newton & Rich C. Shadden
Phil A. Newton and Rich C. Shadden, Shepherding the Pastor: Help for the Early Years of Ministry. New Growth Press, 2023. 160 pages.
A few years ago, I traveled to northern Italy for a work event. To guide my trip, I relied on internet reviews and various recommendations, but it quickly became apparent that I had no idea what I was doing. The only person I knew in the area was a ministry friend, whom I finally spent time with on my last day in town. He proceeded to take me all around the city, showing me in great detail its history, beauty, and hidden gems!
The moral of the story: there’s something entirely different about walking alongside someone who has already journeyed somewhere. Left to yourself, how are you to determine what to do, what’s normal or abnormal, and what’s the best approach for navigating the unknown?
It is not just the international traveler who requires this kind of assistance, but also the pastor—particularly the young pastor. These are the motivations behind Shepherding the Pastor: Help for the Early Years of Ministry.
In Shepherding the Pastor, Phil Newton shares over four decades of pastoral wisdom with Pastor Rich Shadden, one of his long-time mentees. Shadden, in turn, demonstrates how Newton’s counsel has guided his own ministry. This co-authored book displays the value of pastoral mentorship and invites readers into their mutually edifying relationship.
Newton and Shadden are not shy about what the book is and is not about. They take care to clarify that this is not a strategy, nor a history, nor a template for mentoring. Rather, its purpose is to display an “ongoing mentoring relationship between a young pastor and a seasoned mentor” so that readers might “value pastoral longevity and see a path toward that goal” (2-3).
Shepherding the Pastor is highly structured and exceptionally practical. It is divided into four parts, each with its own theme. Throughout the chapters, Newton and Shadden provide four keys for enduring each stage of ministry, which involve a deepening walk with Christ, expositional preaching, learning from pastoral mentors, and growing in one’s ability to shepherd the flock.
Each chapter contains four components:
- Shadden shares a pastoral challenge
- Newton provides counsel
- Shadden shows how that counsel has played itself out in his ministry
- Newton offers next step
Excellent resources are also presented for further consideration at the end of every chapter. These are not just your average recommended readings; they contain heart-filled explanations for why these readings were selected and how they can help the young pastor. The recommended resources prove that issues facing new pastors are not new issues, as many pastors take their turn to mentor readers, including the likes of Charles Simeon, Charles Bridges, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Sinclair Ferguson, and Mark Dever.
PLAYING THE LONG GAME
At the heart of Shepherding the Pastor, readers find a few common themes. The first is an honest acknowledgment that longevity in pastoral ministry is a challenging feat. Even more challenging is longevity at a single church.
Throughout, Shadden demonstrates how pivotal Newton’s mentorship has been at every major turn in his ministry, especially over the past decade at Audubon Park Baptist Church. Seminary may get pastors started, but in Newton’s own words, “a diploma on the wall can blind us to our unpreparedness for ministry” (14). A seminary graduate’s zeal without the presence of a mentor is oftentimes like a sponge without water—it is only a matter of time before it dries up.
But the authors know all too well that pastoral mentors aren’t the only factors that help a young man endure. The second factor is a firm conviction that the Word drives everything. Accordingly, each chapter in the book is based on a biblical passage, and an entire chapter is devoted to the importance of expositional preaching. Shepherding the Pastor is a call for Scripture to rule as the heartbeat of one’s ministry. It’s not a book that just gives advice or offers pragmatic counsel.
The third theme worth noting is a robust passion for the development and advancement of biblical, healthy churches. Put another way, young pastors don’t just need a mentor—they need the church. Newton and Shadden are clear that biblical ecclesiology and polity are key to pastoral longevity. God did not intend for his shepherds to regularly burn out and leave the ministry. That’s why he provided them a blueprint for his church in his Word. Newton and Shadden take great care to detail what that blueprint looks like, as well as how one can wisely pursue it (111).
REACHING THE NEXT GENERATION
Shepherding the Pastor is undoubtedly geared toward young pastors. More specifically, it is a beneficial read for young pastors struggling in ministry or isolated pastors who receive little to no encouragement and long for someone to come alongside them. Church planters and revitalizers would especially benefit from Newton’s counsel and Shadden’s experience.
This book is also a word to seminarians who possess a strange sense of sufficiency for ministry, or to the ones with a romanticized or idealistic view of it. In short: ministry is hard. You need the Word. You need the church. And you need a mentor.
Additionally, this book supports seasoned pastors considering how to best invest in the next generation of pastors. It challenges them to steward their time well for the kingdom and convicts anyone who may be guilty of using their young staff to their own ends rather than pouring into them for generational impact. Shepherding the Pastor is worth the time of anyone with a tenured ministry who desires a weighty, biblical legacy.
Finally, this book can help lay people as well, as it establishes a foundational theology for the church and its leaders. In a celebrity church culture filled with fallen leaders, one can be left wondering if real pastors still exist. Newton and Shadden display with their words and lives that, indeed, they do.
Shepherding the Pastor is a wonderful addition to the bookshelf of any young pastor, as well as anyone considering pastoral ministry. I can’t help but immediately associate this book with Paul’s strategy for reaching the next generation with the gospel: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
Without a doubt, Newton and Shadden’s work is a helpful resource in contributing to that end.