Book Review: The Man of God: Volume 3, by Albert Martin
Albert N. Martin, The Man of God: His Shepherding, Evangelizing, and Counseling Labors: Volume 3 of Pastoral Theology. Trinity Pulpit Press, 2020. 801 pages.
I was trained at a seminary that taught me the centrality and importance of expository preaching. Most young and naïve seminary students like me probably thought, “If I only preach faithful expositional sermons, my church will grow like pastor X (name your favorite podcast preacher with the growing church).” Preaching the Bible is absolutely essential to growing a church, but there are more factors (or marks) that contribute to a pastor’s faithfulness.
If you want the church to flourish under your ministry, you must be more than just a preacher. Preaching is one of the fundamental duties of pastoral ministry, but it is not the only duty of pastoral ministry. Albert Martin’s third and final volume in his pastoral trilogy reminded me that there is more to being a pastor than just being a preacher. His first book examined the Man of God’s calling and life in the pastoral office, the second book explores the Man of God’s preaching and teaching in the pastoral office, and his final volume of his pastoral trilogy examines the man of God’s shepherding, evangelizing, and counseling ministry.
A PRELIMINARY OBSERVATION
Martin quotes extensively from pastors and books that have shaped his own ministry. The book is also 801 pages divided into three units. Each unit can really be a book on its own. Because the book is so rich in biblical explanation, quotations, and practical wisdom, it would be helpful to read slowly, take down notes, and revisit it repeatedly over the years to pray and think through a particular subject matter in pastoral ministry.
SHEPHERDING THROUGH CHURCH GOVERNMENT
The first unit deals with the shepherd’s disposition, leadership, corrective discipline, corporate church life, and fellowship among like-minded churches. When my mentor was alive, he always reminded me that I needed to have a “pastor’s heart.” In other words, I must care and love God’s people with the heartbeat of our Savior. Martin would agree, “The charge is to ‘shepherd the flock’ of God, which comprehends all that is involved in that task, not simply feeding.” (6) He continues, “the task of a pastor involves paying constant attention to all the people of God under his care” (7). A shepherd must be courageous, humble, gentle, and a compassionate servant to the people as modeled by our Lord and the Apostles.
Martin also believes that it is a pastor’s job to order the life of the church according to the Scriptures (1 Tim. 3:14–16). He believes that “the function of biblically qualified overseers is a matter of crucial importance for the well-being of the church” (63). These men must be examined and tested according to 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 if they are going to be effective examples to the flock. Deacons must also be examined according to the Scriptures, so that they may labor alongside the elders in caring for the flock. Their role is to care for the poor and needy, minister to the whole man, and promote order and unity in the church. Deacons “become an extension of the heart, hands, and will of the elders to those in the church who need diaconal service” (140).
A healthy church will also be a disciplined church. Discipline, generally, refers to training. Martin believes that both formative and corrective discipline are needed to grow a healthy church. Sin will kill a church and bring dishonor to God, so corrective discipline is needed “to maintain the honor of God in His Church” (179). He writes, “If therefore we are to have healthy churches, they must be holy churches. Forms of corrective discipline will be necessary to advance the purity and health of the church” (185).
The purpose of discipline is to restore church members, advance purity, deter others from sinning, prevent Christ’s judgment on the church, and maintain our corporate witness. The body also maintains its health by continuing to obey the one another passages in the New Testament and cooperating with other like-minded churches for the glory of God and the advancement of the Great Commission.
SHEPHERDING THROUGH CORPORATE WORSHIP
The second unit deals with how the man of God plans and leads corporate worship. He gives wise counsel through the different aspects of corporate worship (ex. pastoral prayers, public reading of Scripture, prayer meetings, Lord’s Supper, baptismal services). Martin believes that a pastor should have “a well-grounded conviction of the regulative principle as it relates to the corporate worship of the people of God” (267). Corporate worship must always be guided and grounded in what God has revealed in the Scriptures. Reformed confessions such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Westminster Confession have helped clarify for Martin what is meant by the regulative principle of worship.
Because the pastor is the lead worshipper, he has to “create and maintain a climate consistent with the great realities of New Covenant worship” (307). The pastor must be devoted to prayer because the “man called by God to give primary leadership to the public gatherings of the people of God will have already manifested some measure of a divinely imported gift of utterance in prayer” (323). What convicted me in this section was a reminder that if our private prayers are poor, it will demonstrate itself in public worship. He adds, “Brethren, if we do not experience engagement with these things in the secret place of private prayer, it is very unlikely that we will experience them in public” (332).
The pastor also teaches the congregation how to pray in the worship services. Our public prayers should reflect the diverse prayers of the Bible. Martin counsels, “Our prayers should be comprehensive, with invocation, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, and supplication” (339). The pastor must also give himself to the public reading of the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13) and leading the church to pray together in such a way that leads to maximum edification and glory to God.
Finally, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism must be observed biblically and corporately. Only confessed disciples of Christ are to be baptized and receive the Lord’s supper. He concludes his second section with some practical wisdom on handling weddings and funerals. Weddings and funerals are great opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). He writes, “In our respective cultural settings, assuming the responsibility to lead a funeral or a wedding gives us a marvelous opportunity to proclaim the gospel, advance the cause of Christ, and serve as Christ’s bondslaves” (467).
SHEPHERDING THROUGH EVANGELISM AND COUNSELING
The final unit of his book deals with the man of God’s evangelism and pastoral counseling. We must plead with people to believe in Christ and respond to him. Martin explains, “The man of God is constantly to proclaim the substance of the evangel, the gospel, distinctly and clearly with a view to persuading sinners to repent and follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior” (515). A faithful pastor will know how to use the law as an instrument of conviction to prepare the hearers to respond to the gospel of grace. He exhorts, “Use God’s law to expose sin, define men as sinners, and then declare to them that Christ came to save sinners!” (522). The gospel always demands a response because “the gospel is not morally neutral news, but a declaration accompanied with an ethical demand that requires that the hearer accept it” (530).
Not only should a faithful pastor shepherd through evangelism, he should also shepherd his flock through pastoral counseling. Pastoral counseling is an extension of the man of God’s preaching and teaching labors in the individual lives of the people he ministers to. He defines pastoral counseling as “a personalized dimension of shepherding the flock of God, conducted as a ministry of the Word by a properly recognized elder, and ordinarily with a church member, to see Christ more fully formed in them by helping them deal with the problems and sins which they bring.” (618). Because “pastors are like physicians, but they work primarily with the spiritual dimension of the lives of the sheep” (618). The pastor must pay attention to his own soul as he cares for those entrusted to him:
We are constantly reminded that the reformed church is the reforming church, just as the reformed pastor is always the reforming pastor. His is always incorporating into his preaching and counseling the fruit of his own devotional life, his general reading, and his growing experience as a Christian man and a shepherd of God’s sheep. (687)
This book helped me understand the multi-faceted work of the ministry, reflect on my own shortcomings as a pastor, and pray that God would make be a better and faithful pastor. The greatest strength of these three volumes is Martin’s faithfulness to the Bible. We must always examine our lives and churches in the light of God’s Word. The Bible should not only regulate our worship, but regulate our living. Martin’s life and experience testifies to a life seeking to be mastered by the Bible. He reflects:
My desire is that the Holy Spirit will use the truths contained in these volumes to bring pastors and teachers to more biblically ordered thinking and practice across the full spectrum of what constitutes a Bible-based, Spirit-empowered, and Christ-centered New Covenant pastoral ministry. (750)
I plan to give and read these rich books with our elders and aspiring leaders. I also plan to use these books to disciple men who are considering the call of God and those seeking to remain faithful in the pastoral office.
We would have healthier pastors and churches if every pastor read, listened, and applied the principles laid out in Martin’s pastoral trilogy. Get these three volumes and revisit these books again and again because of the timeless truth and experience that has been distilled in writings through a lifetime of reflection on pastoral ministry.