By James Tarrance
I remember the impression Phil’s example made on me – the example of a consistent devotional life in the spiritual disciplines. Even on busy Lord’s Day mornings, he would eagerly share fresh insights or encouragements he gleaned from early time with the Lord before coming to the busy schedule at church. (To this he alludes on page 73 under “Shepherd the flock with the Word.”) Another impression came during the preaching event. Phil would direct our attention to the text of Scripture to follow, but he very often would look up at the congregation and cite the respective verses from memory. He had soaked in the text so intentionally that he had the passage largely memorized.
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.
To view Part One, click here.
James: In the opening chapter, Phil emphasizes this critical point of maintaining our individual walk with Jesus. How do each of you do this in your respective seasons of life? How can a mentor help a mentee in this area?
Phil: I spend time in my 40 Questions About Pastoral Ministry detailing how to develop your devotional life. So, I’d refer to that book for more details. But the short of it, we need the Word to wash over us daily. Reading substantive passages, meditating on them, praying them, journaling them, and then seeing opportunities to share them, seems to be the best pattern for me. I try to read through the OT twice, NT 4-5 times, and the Psalms-Song of Solomon 5 times yearly. I have my own plan mapped out that has nurtured my soul. I try to journal a few times a week as well as memorize passages that I’m working on to teach or preach. I also have a daily prayer list of church members as well as others in ministry, along with family that I seek to do.
A mentor can model, listen to what a younger pastor is doing, then give some reasonable counsel on how to make adjustments in his devotion time. I think sometimes we get under condemnation because we don’t do devotions the way someone else does. I’m able to spend more time in devotions now than when we had 5 kids at home. Make adjustments but be consistent. Stay in the Word until it warms your heart.
Rich: Like you said, the emphasis from a mentor on maintaining a consistent devotional life is crucial. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “doing ministry” and grow distant from the Lord. Having a plan is essential to the consistency of a devotional life. Right now, I am reading a Psalm a day in the morning and meditating on it throughout the day. I also try to take the passage of Scripture that I am preaching each Sunday and meditate on it all week. I want it to transform my own heart before I preach it. Having four young kids, I try to spend time with the Lord early in the morning. The day gets hectic quickly!
James: Can you give us an example of a situation you faced in ministry where you acted without the guidance or input of a mentor which ended with disastrous results?
Phil: Yes, I corrected a guy for something he said, which in hindsight was not a big deal, but it ended up fracturing my relationship with him. Another brother mediated between us, and I apologized profusely, but what and how I said what I did offended him, and he left the church. I could have used some good counsel to chill.
Rich: Yes! I remember one particular instance when I wanted to change our Wednesday evening prayer meeting to an actual prayer meeting. It was basically a Bible study, which is great. But we called it a prayer meeting, so I wanted to do that. Ironically, I didn’t pray about it, and I didn’t seek counsel about how to move toward this change. I rushed it and took on a heart posture of correction when I should have exercised patience. The attendance dropped from forty-five to about fifteen on Wednesday evenings.
James: Can you give us an example of a situation you faced in ministry where a mentor’s encouragement or advice made all the difference?
Phil: In every move that I’ve made, I’ve had mentors speak into my life. They have been enormous help. During a time when I had complaints about my expository preaching, Stephen Olford, one of my mentors, helped me through and gave good counsel that ended up helping through that period.
Rich: There was one particular instance when I was being accused of holding to a theological position that was in opposition to the church’s theological position, primarily concerning the doctrine of salvation. Phil had encouraged me to refer to our statement of faith whenever facing theological opposition. (The New Hampshire Confession) It’s a great teaching tool to remind the church of what the Scriptures teach. I remember in a meeting that this issue came up, and I pointed out that this particular member raising the issue was actually the one in opposition the church’s position. The response was silence. It proved to be a pivotal moment that showed my desire to return the church to its biblical, theological roots.
James: Are there more book ideas simmering on the stovetop? Might we expect another joint effort from you two in the future?
Phil: We’ve not talked about another one yet. Haha! We have to get this one into folks’ hands first. I have several things on my mind but nothing that I’m ready to be public about. Let’s just say that one is a joint book with two other brothers on an area of ministry, another is a book for the local church that can be put into the hands of members, and another is a potential devotional work. But nothing is happening yet. I have too many other short pieces that I’m working on or editing to get to work on it.
Rich: Not sure. We haven’t talked about that. Do you have any ideas?
Questions for Phil
James: Among the deluge of pastoral ministry books flooding bookstores, what is unique about your project?
Phil: It’s solid theologically without being technical; it’s pastorally rich without being stuffy; it’s warm without being sentimental; it’s practical without being pragmatic. I think the book speaks to pastors at the point of a massive need.
James: Among the long-standing contributions of pastorally-minded writers such as Charles Spurgeon, Charles Bridges, and Richard Baxter, or contemporary helps like those by Brian Croft and H.B. Charles, where does your book settle?
Phil: Those are great writers and great books! Our book is different in that it is a conversation between us, unlike the other pastoral works you mentioned. It is also geared more narrowly in helping pastors to think about mentoring as an ongoing need and practice.
Our book, like some of Brian’s and H.B.’s books, avoids the pop-style to provide a theologically driven, gospel-centered work. We’re influenced by Spurgeon, Bridges, Baxter, Lloyd-Jones, John Newton, and many others in what we’re writing. I suppose the closest thing is John Newton’s Wise Counsel, where he mentored John Ryland Jr. through letters. Our book is not letters but an ongoing conversation on critical issues in pastoral life.
James: Are there any foundational considerations in the life and ministry of pastors that you presuppose as you move into your subject matter?
Phil: We presuppose conversion. We don’t spend much time talking to guys about conversion although we do talk about the gospel throughout. We don’t spend time discussing a call to ministry, but we presume most of those reading it will have some sense of a divine call to ministry or at least be interested in those who do.
James: I have had a privilege of a sneak peek, but for those who have not read it yet, what is your main goal? To ask it another way using the words of Dr. Stephen Olford, what is the dominating theme of this book?
Phil: Younger pastors (and those maturing) will best endure in faithful, healthy pastoral ministry by learning to listen to and be helped by experienced pastoral mentors.
James: How is the book organized towards the unfolding of this dominating theme for the reader?
Phil: We have four parts that track through the first ten-years of pastoring. What Rich faced is no different than what a lot face, just different characters, personalities, and setting. We look at what it means to be sent out, what to concentrate on in the early years, how to face tumultuous times, and how to make the most of fruitful times.
Questions for Rich
James: The opening chapters of some books to pastors address the pastoral call to ministry, biblical qualifications, etc. Others open with guidance to the new pastor on his first day in the pastorate. What is “Act 1, Scene 1” of your project?
Rich: Act 1, Scene 1 of this book walks the reader through the importance of having mentors to help train pastors before ever being sent out. Seminary is important and very helpful. But it is insufficient on its own. Aspiring pastors need the pastors of a local church to train and prepare for ministry. We try to convey this in chapter one.
James: Rich and I attended the same seminary and sat at the feet of many of the same professors. I can remember professors trying to prepare us for the trials of ministry by saying, “There have been times when the only two things I was certain of was 1) the Lord has saved me, and 2) He called me to preach. Everything else was up in the air.” We were challenged to cling doggedly to these two as anchors amidst ministry trials.
Do attitudes or convictions like these provide adequate stability in ministry? Do they produce a Christ- like shepherd’s heart for ministering to Jesus’ sheep?
Rich: I understand the intent of these statements, I think. But God has so designed the church that our gifts are recognized when living life in the midst of a local church community. It is no different for pastors. We do need what some call the “internal call” of the Lord. I think Paul is getting at this in 1 Timothy 3:1. If a man aspires to the office, he desires a noble task. As we seek things that are above where Christ is (Col. 3:1), our desires are conformed to Christ’s desires. The Holy Spirit gives us the good desire to shepherd Christ’s church. But I think the language, “He called me to preach” is often equated with God’s calling of a prophet. The office of pastor and the office of prophet are two different offices at two different periods in redemptive history. They really shouldn’t be equated.
Having said that, if a man does desire the office of elder/pastor, others in the church should give affirmation that this is from the Lord. Then, when pastoral ministry gets challenging, there are others who can speak into your life and encourage you that you should endure as a pastor.
James: Do you offer an alternative perspective on longevity in pastoral ministry?
Rich: If you are driven by “ministry success” you’ll live and die by what others deem successful. That’s living in the fear of man. Instead, just use the ordinary means of grace that God has given us and pray that He will bless your faithfulness. If you are faithful to God’s way and trust Him with the results, your soul will find rest, and God will give you the grace to endure.
James: What would you say to the young pastor who reads your book, gets excited, and says for himself, “Yes! I’m going to go get (well-known famous pastor) to mentor me?” Who would you say might better mentor this young pastor?
Rich: A Christ-like pastor (likely not a “celebrity pastor”) who faithfully follows Jesus, who loves his wife and kids well, and who has worked really hard to build his ministry on the word and prayer. Hopefully this will be the pastor who is already shepherding you if you’re a member of a church. But if you’re already pastoring, look for a pastor that fits the above description and invite him to lunch. Build a relationship with him, ask questions, be teachable, and see where it goes.
Thank you, brothers, for sharing your mentoring journey and using it to invest in other under-shepherds. May it be useful to bless fellow pastors in the weighty joy of Christian ministry, and to help each of us be found faithfully serving when the Master appears (Matt. 24:46)!
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.