The heart of the pastor's ministry is his preaching, but every pastor first serves the Lord and then serves the church, and must do all things with integrity of heart as well as skillfulness of hand.
Bryant and Brunson have added a volume into the pastor's library that will guide him in his preparation for and work in ministry. The authors' clear intention was for this book to be practical and helpful to the pastor. The introduction suggests this book could be used as a seminary textbook or given as a gift to a pastor. The goal seems to be to put a volume in the pastor's hand that will educate and encourage him.
The topics covered include some expected ones such as ministry preparation, the church ordinances, prayer, preaching, church leadership, weddings, and funerals. However, The New Guidebook for Pastors includes some contemporary topics that give it a refreshing element that makes it unique from other pastor's handbooks. Those topics include discussions on technology in the church, pastors and politics, retirement, and the final chapter that addresses the pastor's reward.
The book sets a high, serious tone by beginning with a discussion of the pastor's calling to ministry. The authors do not shy away from making bold, truthful statements such as saying if a man can do anything other than ministry, he should. They are firm in saying that if God has not called a man, then he should have the integrity to leave the ministry. Viewing the pastor's calling to shepherd God's flock so seriously lets the reader know that all of the content should be taken seriously and humbly considered as the authors share their wisdom on relevant topics.
As Bryant and Brunson navigate through the heart of the pastor's work, they use Scripture and personal examples to teach the reader. Many chapters teach through passages of Scripture that relate to the topic, often explaining the biblical languages and their applications. The chapters on the pastor's calling, preparation, and family life nearly present an exposition of biblical texts, which gives more authority to the writing.
The authors achieved their purpose for this book to be practical and helpful to the pastor. Pastors could read this volume and find necessary instruction and helpful ideas to assist them at any stage in their work. The man considering ministry work would be greatly aided by the chapters on the calling and preparation for ministry, as well as thoughts on going to his first church. The inexperienced pastor could learn how to organize his staff better, conduct a wedding ceremony, and visit a family who just lost a loved one. The experienced pastor would gain ideas in leading his church's evangelistic efforts, counseling church members, and even gaining wisdom if he is changing churches. Older pastors would benefit from the chapter on retirement, and possibly could be aided by the chapter on technology if they are uncomfortable with some of the newer technologies they are seeing in their church. All pastors will benefit visiting all pages of this book.
A unique factor in this volume is Bryant and Brunson's down-to-earth, personal writing. Overall, it is easy to read through this book without having to deal with difficult language or difficulty in the content's flow. Even the scriptural teachings are explained in ways that are biblically accurate and are not worded in ways that require the aid of Bible dictionaries.
However, one repeated wording that occasionally broke the smooth flow of the book is "this author. . ." Using first-person references would be preferred over third-person references to fit the personal theme of writing throughout the book. The repetition of third-person references is baffling because there are many first-person references throughout the book as well. Consistency in first-person references would have improved the flow, but the book is written in a style that makes the reader feel like the authors are talking directly to him with a helpful spirit.
The personal stories illustrating the authors' content leaves the reader persuaded that this volume could assist him in his ministry. For example, when Brunson writes that a church should have a strategy for evangelistic visitation, he does not just command it but he shares the strategy of his church's Sunday School being grouped by zip code to provide an idea and prove that he is speaking from experience (page 120-121). Providing the resources in the appendix also persuade the pastor that he would benefit from this writing because the authors have taken this specific measure to be helpful. Pastors will not just read that they should conduct funeral services, but they will receive a sample order of such service. Readers would understand the authors' love for him and desire for him to be well in his ministry when viewing the appendix resource called "Where Does A Pastor Go For Personal Counseling?"
A negative quality of The New Guidebook for Pastors is that it is unable to provide comprehensive discussions on its topics. Incomprehensiveness could partly be expected since it is a handbook, and the authors do not boast their volume to be exhaustive in all topics, but there are chapters that would leave a pastor wanting to go further. For example, the second chapter on preparation addresses the role of the Holy Spirit in the pastor's work. While it is informative and accurate, there are entire books written on the Holy Spirit's power in our lives. The same is true of the chapters on prayer, preaching, missions, ethics, and others.
Although the content is not exhaustive, a positive quality of this book is that it presents new information instead of a summary of similar content that other books would offer on the same topics. For example, the chapter on leadership presents seven instructions of how pastors lead most effectively (pages 78-82). This specific application of leadership to the pastor distinguishes this chapter on leadership from other writings on leadership. Similarly, the chapter on preaching includes a simplified list of the steps of exegesis (pages 38-39) that is appreciated when books on preaching would take a longer approach in providing similar content.
Scripture is used well throughout the book as the basis for the authors' content, giving the pastor assurance that he is reading solid biblical content to inform his methods. However, there are some parts of the book that state unnecessary opinions as if they are scriptural. On page 111, the authors write, "use digital audio boards." It was not presented as an opinion, but just stated, and there are other types of audio boards that could be effective. Such a statement seems unwarranted. Another example is on page 134 where the authors state that the pastor and deacon chairman should have chairs behind the Lord's Supper table. The Lord's Supper can be served in many ways, but the authors state it in a way that an inexperienced pastor might think it was the only way to serve communion.
The unwarranted statements could stem from the author's obvious bias toward Pastor W.A. Criswell, and the geographic region of the American southern states. The constant mention of Criswell and the location of the authors' ministries (south) can be disadvantageous in two ways: first, relying on Criswell leaves the book lacking more diverse viewpoints on methods. Secondly, the authors' southern mentality might not be applicable to a reader in other regions of America. Church culture in the South differs from the church cultures of other American regions. As with any reading, the pastor must discern the content of this book and apply it to his church setting.
The New Guidebook for Pastors should be added to any pastor's library. It might be educational, helpful, and even refreshing for any pastor to read through. The chapter contents and appendix resources are practical, easily readable, and biblically faithful, making it a resource pastors can revisit throughout their ministries. Bryant and Brunson should be commended for their contribution to pastoral ministry.
The New Guidebook for Pastors by Dr. James W. Bryant and Dr. Mac Brunson provides a well-spring of fresh encouragement for those pursuing the high and holy calling to preach the Word. In the pages of this book the pastor will find helpful information and heavenly inspiration. These two men of God share their experience, education and enthusiasm for the ministry of the Gospel with the reader. I highly recommend it! Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, Alabama, teacher, mentor, writer, author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice