This book comprises 20 short letters written by the author to students at various US seminaries where he has taught over the years. Men preparing for ministry are clearly the target readership, though ministers of all ages would benefit from the book.
The letters cover a variety of subjects (only the fourth letter is specifically on the subject indicated by the book’s title) and are of varying length and quality. At their best, they contain much wise counsel.
The chapter on ‘The secret life of the pastor’, for example, warns would-be pastors that a broken heart is an integral part of pastoral ministry if we are to have Christ-like compassion for souls.
He counsels against viewing the removal of ‘problem people’ as ‘divine subtractions’. Reflecting on his own experience, he writes: ‘Their nasty emails and their thoughtless barbs were so often the cloaked cries of wounded spirits. And I withdrew. Oh, how I would go back a thousand times to hold them until the stiffness went away’ (p.31).
The longest and, arguably, the finest is the twelfth letter: a fine defence of expository preaching, in which the author gives eight reasons why this is ‘the power of the pastorate’. The short chapter that follows (on the preparation of the pastoral prayer) is also very helpful.
Scattered throughout the book are a number of pithy sayings containing valuable advice: ‘a pastor must love God, God’s Word and God’s people’ (p.28); ‘there would be no pain, of course, if there were no love’ (p.32); ‘be a shepherd, not a CEO’ (p.61); ‘no supernatural goals can be achieved without the supernatural work of God’ (p.97); ‘let other things go, but pray first’ (p.99).
One or two chapters are less helpful. For example, one hopes that not too many paedobaptist friends would agree with the claim that there is ‘no greater joy in the Christian ministry’ than to baptise babies (p.53). Regardless of one’s views on baptism, it should surely be a greater joy to see spiritual children walking in the truth (3 John 3)!
Though it is hyperbolic to describe this read as ‘a modern version of C. H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my students’ (as the blurb on the back cover claims), this stands in its own right as a warm-hearted book containing much useful counsel.