Pastors and Their Strangely Attractive Scars

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An intimate look at the joys and regrets of those who shepherd God’s flock.

There’s something about the art of pastoring souls that can’t be codified and taught in a classroom. Ministry is best learned in context. Just as medical doctors move through rotations during their hospital internships, so physicians of souls accumulate practical wisdom by serving the people of God patiently over the years. You don’t master this craft overnight; nor can you adequately sum it up in a how-to manual.

M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, has done us all a favor, whether or not we are pastors. His book, Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry, provides a unique picture of what it means to pastor people with sensitivity and grace. No, this is not a how-to manual, but that is its saving grace. We don’t need any more how-to manuals on ministry. Nor do we need yet another book tracing the latest trends of the day and forecasting how pastors and churches will need to scramble to reinvent themselves in the image and likeness of an ever-shifting culture.

Instead, Barnes’s book takes the long view on ministry. It takes seriously the formative impact of sheep on their shepherds over time. It traces the grooves of God’s grace worn deep in a pastor’s soul as he invests himself in caring for people through good times and bad. Those grooves do not appear overnight; there is no shortcut to sensitive and effective ministry in Jesus’ name. This book is the personal legacy of an academic whose first love is clearly the parish. Here he bares his soul for all to see, and so enriches us all.

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Barnes notes in his preface that the old-timers—old Pietists, to be exact—used to speak a great deal more than we …

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