Book Review: Pastoral Leadership Is…, by Dave Earley

Review
04.15.2013

Dave Earley, Pastoral Leadership Is . . . Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012. 320 pages. $20.00.

 

Something is wrong with pastoral ministry—at least Dave Earley thinks so. Introducing his book Pastoral Leadership Is, he laments that in the Western world we have “adopted an unbiblical model on pastoral leadership, that is killing our churches and harming our people” (1). Pastors have become “chaplains.” In truth, God has called them to be “spiritual warriors, missional leaders, and multiplying mentors.” The situation is dire, but the solution is at hand. We must return to “what the Bible says about pastoral leadership” (2).

BACK TO THE BIBLE

The book divides into five parts that collectively form an understanding of the pastorate. Pastoral ministry is “being a man of God,” “praying with power,” “teaching the word of God,” “equipping and leading others,” and “shepherding God’s flock.” These five major divisions are further subdivided into six smaller chapters apiece, which explore the larger theme in detail.

Earley makes good on his promise to plant our noses in the Bible. Scriptural references are copious throughout, and the ministries of Moses, Jesus and Paul—understood as paradigmatic for pastors—are prominent. These ministries involved three central responsibilities: prayer, the ministry of the Word, and equipping others to serve. These tasks are the essence of pastoral work. They are tasks which “every effective shepherd simply must do” (12).

At the same time, Earley does not overlook the character of the pastor: “Personal integrity and godly character are the foundations for authentic, God-blessed pastoral leadership.” (28).

COMMENDATION

Dave Earley’s book is commendable on many levels.

1. Clarifying

First, it clarifies the calling of pastoral ministry. Especially for the novice, pastoral ministry can seem bewilderingly complex. Demands push and pull us. There are a thousand and one things to do—and only twenty four hours in the day. It is therefore clarifying to be reminded of our most essential responsibilities as pastors. I need to be reminded that when the apostle Paul instructs Timothy concerning the ministry, “Paul says nothing about committee meetings, hospital visitation or funeral services” (11). On the other hand, he does tell him to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), train “other men” (2 Tim. 2:2) and pray (1 Tim. 2:1).

Earley makes an interesting practical suggestion that pastors devote 25 percent of their time to prayer, 25 percent to teaching preparation, and 25 percent to equipping the saints and developing leaders. Whether we agree with the exact percentages is not the point. The question we should ask is, “Am I entangled in peripheral duties, or engaged in the essential duties of biblical ministry?”

2. Equipping

Second, Earley rightly highlights pastors’ responsibility to equip their people. Probably the strongest section of the book is part four, on equipping the saints. Earley believes that “many Christians are like the Dead Sea”: they have no outlet. It is the responsibility of pastors to teach, train, and direct believers into areas of service. Building on Ephesians 4:11–12, Earley comments: “If the church is not growing, it is because the saints are not doing ministry. If the saints are not doing ministry, it is because pastors have failed to equip them to do so” (194). But the author does not merely point out the problem. He also unpacks the solution in biblical and practical terms.

3. Layout

Third, this really is a well thought-out book in terms of its structure. Its thirty one chapters lend themselves to reading the book over the course of a month. At the end of every chapter, the What now? feature calls for further reflection. One could easily imagine this book being studied in a collaborate setting.

STICKING TO THE BIBLE CLOSELY ENOUGH?

Despite these positive features, I do have some concerns about the book.

Finer Details: Less Biblically Tethered?

Although he sticks closely to the Bible when describing the main responsibilities of pastoral ministry, Earley offers less biblical support in many of the finer details. For instance, he recommends “prayer walking” (113) and stresses the necessity of “healthy holistic small groups” (203). Likewise, pastors are encouraged toward “leading a sinner’s prayer,” inviting people “to come to an altar and kneel as an act of bringing their brokenness to God” (174), and allowing “a minute or two of silence” in a sermon when they sense that God is speaking (185). Certainly there is space in a church for practices of prudence, but the further you push down this road, the more biblically untethered things become.

Supporters of the regulative principle will also find Earley’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper somewhat troubling. Earley claims that “there is no one right way to do it” (278) and goes on to suggest occasionally preceding the Lord’s table with foot-washing. He also proposes “using banners, unique lighting, video clips, dramatic presentations, and even concerts to get people’s attention focused on the cross” (278). He further recommends joyous music and “Jewish dance” as appropriate elements in celebrating the Lord’s Table.

However, I would argue that adding such elements is a distraction from the visual aid Jesus has already given. Why should we seek to improve upon Jesus’ own method for remembering his death: the bread and the wine?

Numbers

A second quibble I had with the book was what seemed to be a strong interest in large numbers and sizeable churches. Almost every church illustration in the book was drawn from large churches such as Yoida Full Gospel Church (the largest church in the world), the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Spurgeon’s day, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and Thomas Road Baptist Church. In each case, an explanation was given of the numbers involved and how they grew in size through doing X or Y (praying, small group organization, and so on). And here is where recommending something prudential goes to far—when growth is attributed to something unbiblical, as if to say, “Too bad the Holy Spirit didn’t think of this idea!

While every pastor should aim to multiply his ministry, we must allow room for a variety of factors that can limit the size and scope of a man’s ministry, including his personal giftedness, ministry location, and the sovereign hand of God. Organising our churches into cell groups, or calling the church to fervent prayer, will not necessarily guarantee significant growth. We must remember that even during the early church period there were places where churches grew rapidly (Jerusalem) and there were other places where the church developed more slowly (Athens). But the goal is always to be faithful to the biblical practices, no matter what we see with our eyes. I would have liked to see more balanced examples that reflect the variety of sizes and shapes of the churches in God’s kingdom.

Discernment

One of the things I appreciate in Pastoral Ministry Is… is its stress on biblical teaching. In the chapter “Feeding God’s Sheep” Earley commends protecting the flock through doctrinal teaching and warns that “sheep need protection from . . . false teachers” (153).

I was rather surprised, then, to note several illustrations which Earley uses in his book. For example, the ministry of Paul Y. Cho is repeatedly held up as a model. Not only is Paul Cho quoted (79), but his church is repeatedly held up as an illustration for others to follow (113, 123, 124). Here is a typical paragraph:

The Yoida Full Gospel Church of Seoul, South Korea is the largest church in the world with over 500,000 members. At one point it was growing at a rate of twelve thousand new converts a month. What is the secret? They are a house of prayer. (123)

This all sounds great until you realize that this particular church has questionable and well-known views on the subject of divine healing. In a section of their website entitled the threefold blessing, they write: “Now, we must base our lives on the redemption of Christ, and claim our right to health and divine healing” (emphasis mine).[1] If we are advocating a biblical model of pastoral ministry, then surely the examples of it we hold up need to be as biblical as possible.

A NUDGE ELSEWHERE

Any young or future pastor will certainly find much to help him in this book. If a pastor follows the main lines of Earley’s arguments, he will not go far wrong in the ministry.

That said, I might nudge that young pastor to some other books before this one. The Master Plan of Evangelism, The Trellis and the Vine, and The Deliberate Church all capture well the essential aspects of biblical ministry. And they are devoid of the quirks that make this book a little less satisfying than it might have been.

[1] Quoted from their website. http://english.fgtv.com/gospel/threefold.html

By:
Colin Adams

Colin Adams is the pastor of Ballymoney Baptist Church in Northern Ireland.