Book Review: The Pastor's Soul, by Brian Croft
Brian Croft and Jim Savastio, The Pastor’s Soul: The Call and Care of an Undershepherd. EP Books, 2018. 160 pages.
I’m guessing you’ve heard any of a number of stories about pastors leaving their wives, exploding churches, or even abandoning Christ himself in recent years. Pastors of every theological stripe fall from ministry—some have fallen from the faith altogether.
Brother-pastor, how do you process these stories? Do you feel impervious from these dangers? The Pastor’s Soul arrives as a timely and much-needed resource to challenge every pastor to prioritize the care of his own soul so that they can more effectively care for others.
Authors Brian Croft and Jim Savastio draw from their combined decades of pastoral experience at their respective churches. Each clearly demonstrates a concern for the souls of pastors. These men also write as those who have experienced brokenness as pastors. Croft shares that when his ministry seemed to be flourishing most, his soul was dying (79). Reading this book feels like visiting a church office with Croft and Savastio, listening to each run diagnostic tests on your soul.
What’s it About?
The introduction defines soul care as advocating for “the engagement of four primary areas of care that need to be engaged for lasting results: biblical, pastoral, spiritual, and physical” (19). These four areas reflect the four-part structure of the book with Croft and Savastio tagging in and out for each.
In Part 1, Savastio unpacks “The Biblical Commands Concerning a Pastor,” who needs to pay close attention to his life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). He says, watch “Your Self” (chapter 1), “Your Doctrine” (Chapter 2), “Your Flock” (chapter 3), “Because it Matters” (chapter 4).
Croft picks up in Part 2: “Pastoral Call Upon a Pastor” emphasizing the need of a pastor to be awakened spiritually and pastorally as the foundation for his work (chapter 5), that a pastor’s strength is “showing up as weak and needy” (76) before the church he shepherds (chapter 6) and that a pastor “deeply loves in such a way that he is able to care well for his own soul and the souls under his care” (86).
Savastio tags in for Part 3, “Spiritual Care of a Pastor” encouraging shepherds to remember that they are sheep too, in need of receiving the public means of grace (chapter 8) like the preaching of the Word from other brothers, and embracing the private means of grace (chapter 9) like personal devotions and prayer.
In Part 4, “Physical Care for a Pastor,” Croft focuses on pastors needing to care for what they eat (chapter 10), how much sleep they get (chapter 11), exercising (chapter 12), having meaningful friendship inside and outside of the church (chapter 13), scheduling times of silence to meditate on Scripture (chapter 14), and regular opportunities for rest including a day off, using vacation time, and planning a sabbatical (chapter 15).
Full of Wisdom
Croft and Savastio offer wise counsel and a wakeup call to any pastor who might have neglected his own soul for too long. Throughout, Savastio and Croft write as “every pastor,” offering stories most any pastor could or will someday be able to relate to. In that respect, a sweet and welcome humility permeates the book that exposes brief vignettes and snapshots of the unique struggles pastors face coupled with practical theology. For instance, as Savastio reminds the pastor of his humanity:
There are times you have not succeeded as you desired simply because you are a man. The wayward member of the flock did not come back; the families that struggled to get alone left the church; the couple with the troubled marriage divorced. Not every story is a triumph of grace . . . and when God sees that we are not God he is not angry or frustrated. He knows you are but dust—yes, glorious, articulated and Spirit indwelt dust— but dust nonetheless. (28)
Savastio emphasizes the importance of shepherding out of a love for Christ’s sheep. He writes:
It is a common sin among pastors to get together and share war stories about how bad some of the people in their flock are. Like men comparing scars and how they got them, they will seek to top one another with the odd, wayward, and stubborn folks who made up their flock. Would someone listening to this group of pastors have the notion that pastoring is something that you love to do? (53).
I also found Chapter 6: “Strength,” particularly refreshing. The whole chapter actually centers on weakness. Croft encourages the pastor to embrace his humanity by looking to the all-sufficient Christ: “Christ’s presence is most cultivated in us when we embrace the reality of our weakness, sinfulness, and humanity. In Christ, we find true strength, not despite our weakness, but in our weakness. A courageous pastor embraces his weakness and finds divine strength” (77).
A Minor Quibble
It’s hard to find any criticism to level against The Pastor’s Soul. My only quibble is that the brevity did leave me wanting more in places. For instance, in chapter 1 Savastio offers two reasons pastors fail to take heed to their souls—busyness and professionalism. Are those the only reasons pastors do not take heed to their own souls? What about pride or pity? Couldn’t busyness really be the pursuit of a deeper longing for acknowledgment? Or could pride lead one to think they are above the need to pay heed to the very applications they preach to their congregations week in and week out?
Pastor, Care for Your Soul
Pastors need to attend to their souls. I’m grateful that Savastio and Croft wrote this book. I would encourage vocational pastors to read this and ask themselves after each chapter if they have someone that is holding them accountable in each of these areas. If not, they should. In addition, this book should be seen as a jump-starter for a larger conversation with your wife, your elders, fellow staff pastors, trusted pastor friends outside of your church, etc. A “strong, authentic, and powerful ministry” really does come “first from an intentional commitment to care for one’s self before caring for others” (19).