By James Tarrance
Motivating. Intriguing. Fortifying. Refreshingly sound and approachable. Eerily familiar. These are a few of the reactions I have to a new volume scheduled for release this month from New Growth Press. The book is titled, Shepherding the Pastor: Help for the Early Years of Ministry, and is authored by two men dear to my heart. Dr. Phil Newton, retired church planter and pastor, and now adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of Pastoral Care and Mentoring at the Pillar Network, joins Dr. Rich Shadden, pastor of Audubon Park Baptist Church in Memphis, TN and adjunct professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary, to provide current and future pastors of all ages a unique tool to complement the tool chest of pastoral ministry books.
I am thankful to New Growth Press for allowing me an early preview of this engaging book which provides an open window into the mentoring relationship between a wise, mature, experienced pastor and a young, inexperienced yet committed pastor entering into a challenging pastorate. At the outset, there are a few commendations I would like to offer. These are followed by a Q&A session conducted with the authors individually.
The writing is precise and coherent with an organization that was helpful to me as I read. Before I even finished the introduction, I encountered “health food” for my soul, and the courses continued to be served chapter after chapter. The writing style is informal, yet the theological content is rigorous and orthodox. This is not a book of colloquial sayings; rather, it is an open conversation undergirded with a commitment to the wisdom of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. That makes it worth its weight in gold, seeing the wise counsel of God’s Word applied in a pastoral mentoring relationship.
Rich provides helpful clarity on the content of each chapter through his engaging illustrations, such as the one on a healthy vs. an unhealthy food diet on pg. 20, and by his analogies, such as the medical doctor analogy on pp. 8ff or the warm fire analogy on p. 100f. Each chapter closes with suggested next steps from Phil as well as rich resources suggested for additional reading. These lists consist of both older and newer publications that have served Protestant pastors well through many centuries into the present.
As one, like Rich, who has served as a young pastor in a challenging setting after having enjoyed a small measure of the same mentoring from Phil that Rich enjoys, I deeply appreciate the value of the mentoring relationship modeled in this book. The Lord in His great kindness has brought mentors into my life at various times to bless this otherwise short-sighted and clueless servant! As I read, I could hear Phil’s deep voice in my mind and see his skillful example eagerly modeled.
My life and those of my family have been blessed by knowing and serving with these two men and their families. Indirectly, Rich is the reason I was introduced to Phil in the first place! He invited me to church at South Woods Baptist when I was a new seminary student in the Memphis area. I can remember being present in the sanctuary of Audubon Park Baptist Church during Rich’s ordination service, and being his neighbor for a time, hearing reports of some of the challenges detailed in this book. I say that to let the reader know I affirm the authenticity of the stories shared and the nature of the mentoring relationship presented. It really can work like the book details!
To purchase a copy of Shepherding the Pastor, click here. To listen to Phil on the Baptist 21 Podcast, click here. To see the review on the 9marks website, click here.
Meeting the Authors
James: Please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us a little about yourself and your family, your past ministry experience, and your current ministry opportunities.
Phil: I grew up in Alabama, came to faith in Christ as a 15-year-old, then sensed a call to ministry a year later. I attended college in Mobile where my spiritual growth took off. I served in a couple of churches, one of which was foundational for my interest in mentoring/discipling. During my time as a college student, one guy I was discipling introduced me to his cousin Karen, whom I married 9-months later. I finished college, and we moved to New Orleans where I did a MDiv at NOBTS.
I started pastoring in SW Mississippi my last year of seminary as a bi-vocational pastor. A couple years later I moved to pastor full-time in SE Alabama. I stayed about two years and moved back to my home area in NW Alabama where I served as pastor for about 5 years. We had three kids by this point.
During that time I began a DMin at Fuller Seminary on church planting. I felt a burden to plant, leading to us moving to Memphis in the fall of 1986 to start the church. We had our first service April 1987. Two more kids were born into our home during the early years in Memphis. I also finished a PhD at SEBTS in Applied Theology. I pastored the church in Memphis for 35 years before retiring from pastoral ministry on May 15, 2022.
Rich: I am thankful that I grew up in a home with Christian parents. I heard the gospel as far back as I can remember, and we were always around our church family. When I was sixteen, I trusted in Christ and began to grow in grace. As my love for Christ grew deeper, my love for his church did as well. The Lord began to work into my heart a desire to shepherd Jesus’s church. I talked with my pastor and some other leaders in the church about this, and they affirmed the Lord’s hand at work in my life. Off to seminary I went!
Not long after starting seminary I met my beautiful wife Kristy. Kristy and I now have four kids and are serving at Audubon Park Church in Memphis, TN. I began serving as Senior Pastor in 2011. We love our church family and are deeply thankful for the genuine fellowship we experience here. I also coordinate the Bethlehem College and Seminary additional location that meets at Audubon Park Church, and teach as an adjunct professor of theology.
James: Give us a peak into your history with one another: How did you meet? How/When did you develop a mentoring relationship? What does your relationship look like now that you have traveled several years down that path?
Phil: Rich and I met about 14 years ago, I think – somewhere in that range. I may have met him during a visit to MABTS but for sure when he and Kristy visited South Woods where I pastored. We hit it off well. I invited him to become part of our pastoral internship, which was an ongoing mentoring of guys interested in ministry, either pastoral, mission, or in our church.
We’ve maintained a strong relationship throughout these years. I’ve had the privilege of continuing the mentoring relationship to Rich when he started pastoring a revitalization work in Memphis.
Rich: My wife and I visited South Woods Baptist Church in 2009. I met Phil that Sunday, and we continued to visit. Phil learned that I was in seminary, and he invited me to start attending the pastoral internship meetings. I’m thankful he and some other elders were willing to invest in us young men. The camaraderie was so enjoyable and we grew in grace together as aspiring pastors.
In 2011, APBC called me to serve as senior pastor. Phil guided me through that entire process with the search committee, and his mentoring continued through the next decade. Every time I would run into a tough situation, I called or met with Phil, and he would take time to talk it through with me. To this day we keep in touch, and I consider Phil more than a mentor. He’s a dear friend.
James: What was the genesis of this book idea?
Phil: Rich came up with the idea, suggesting that other pastors, young and old, might profit from our story. He thought it might spur some others to do the same. I agreed.
Rich: Covid hit us all in 2020. Our church, like many, stopped meeting in person for a time. But I remember preparing my first sermon back. As I did, I couldn’t help but notice how eager I was to be with my church family again. It wasn’t always that way. Some of those early years were tumultuous. As I recounted those early days, it hit me how involved Phil was in each step as a mentor to me. His role proved to be essential in my own growth as a pastor, and the revitalization of APBC. I knew the benefit of having a mentoring relationship, but I knew that many pastors don’t have that. I proposed the idea to Phil about co-writing a book on the value of pastoral mentoring, and it took off from there!
James: Why do you think this is a relevant topic presently, warranting a joint-writing effort?
Phil: Primarily because we’re doing what we’re writing about. Every pastor needs mentoring, whether young or old. I’m still mentored by others, sometimes dead guys through their books, but also through faithful brothers who speak into my life. We think far too many brothers drop out of ministry or live with discouragement because they lack mentors to help them along the way.
Rich: I think too many young pastors plunge into pastoral ministry and quickly suffocate under the pressures that come. Having a mentor say, “This is normal; I’ve been there before,” and help you walk through the challenges is vital to longevity. I also think many older, seasoned pastors have much to offer young pastors and simply need to be asked. We shouldn’t pastor in isolation. I think you see this modeled with Paul and Timothy.
James: What impact do you hope this book will make on Christ’s Church and on men serving or considering serving in pastoral ministry?
Phil: We hope it will spur lots of older guys to seek out younger pastors to serve, and younger pastors to seek out older pastors for mentoring.
Rich: I hope it is used by God as a tool to help create a culture of faithfulness and longevity in pastoral ministry for the good of Christ’s churches and the glory of his name. Too many pastors burn out quickly and never see the fruit of longevity. I think they need mentors coaching them along to help them endure. I know by my own experience that I was ready to call it quits. But in God’s kindness, Phil was a steady voice that encouraged me with biblical counsel.
James: Are there any funny stories or new memories that emerged during the writing of this book that you are willing to share?
Phil: We both had lots of laughter as well as tears in reflecting on our ministries. I had a lot longer to reflect back to 1978 with my first pastorate and before with serving churches from 1973 onward.
One of my best memories is that Karen and I were in the mountains of North Carolina on sabbatical in January 2022. We spent a majority of our time editing the book. I would write, she would read and make corrections, then we’d start over again. I found out that I could do a PDF and put it on my kindle, so she read the kindle while I used my computer. We had a lot of good conversation through that time.
Rich: This is not necessarily funny, but it left an indelible imprint on my life. I was ready to quit and talked with Phil about how to know when it’s time to leave a church. He pointed me to the text in John 10 where Jesus says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. This is a reference to Jesus’s future atoning death. But Jesus is also the model Shepherd for his under-shepherds. I knew at that moment I couldn’t leave. Sacrifice for the good of the flock is the calling of a pastor. Sometimes it is right to leave, particularly if a pastor is losing his family. But generally, staying and enduring will produce good fruit that you would otherwise not see.
James is a thankful servant of Jesus Christ, a husband, and a father of four children. He is a member of North Hills Church in West Monroe, LA. He has served as a pastor, and currently serves his community as a firefighter and paramedic. He is a graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary with an MDiv in Pastoral Ministry.
3 thoughts on “Q&A with Phil Newton and Rich Shadden (Shepherding the Pastor, Part One)”
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This looks like an exciting book! I’m sure it will be useful to many pastors. Could you tell me a bit more about the Q&A session with the authors?
Thank you for your comment and question. What would you like to know about the Q&A? It was conducted via emails and text messages with each author. I know them personally, but we do not live in the same state, so that was an easy way to conduct the interviews and edit the Q&A for online posting. Both men are also very busy with family and ministry activities, so it gave them time to respond as they were able rather than to schedule a time for us all to chat at once. I hope this helps!