Christian Ministry Resoures
Pastoral Theology for Church Leaders
- Theologies Based on the Ministry and Work of Jesus
- Theologies Based on the Ministry of Paul
- Theologies Based on Other Biblical Characters
- Theologies Based on Social Backgrounds and Biblical Metaphors
- Theologies Based on Classical Traditions
- Theologies Based on the Tasks of Ministry
- Theologies for those New to Ministry
- Related Areas
First, let’s define the term. Many whose training has been more pragmatic and “skills-based” (which is good, but not adequate in itself) may be unfamiliar with pastoral theology. Others who are more theologically trained may prefer the term “practical theology” over “pastoral theology.” Not all would draw a distinction between the two, but the literature of the field usually does.
As used on LifeandLeadership.com, practical theology, sometimes called “applied theology,” applies the classic theological truths of Christianity to the practices of the church such as worship, mission, preaching, etc. A theology of preaching is a practical theology, as would be a theology of pastoral care, etc. Pastoral theology is a kind of practical theology, but with a narrower focus on the role of Christian leaders. As pastoral theology, it reflects theologically on work of “pastoring” or “shepherding” the flock. Authors often use the terms practical and pastoral theology interchangeably, and there is enough common ground between them to merit this. But when categorizing the literature, especially that which comes from the United States, it often helps to separate them.
There are many other sections of practical theology on this site. Please refer to the bottom of the page for related resource listings. See especially the closely related guide on Strengthening and Renewing the Ministry Call.
Introductions to the Importance of Theological Work
- Anthony B. Robinson, What’s Theology Got to Do with It?: Convictions, Vitality, and the Church – A very popular book on “practical” theology. Suggests congregations should be able to grasp a clear understanding of the Christian story, navigate responsibly through Scripture, and articulate bedrock Christian beliefs.
- Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke, How to Think Theologically – This is a primer on “practical” theology with the main purpose to equip readers on how to do ongoing theological reflection about real-life situations, including congregational matters. It is a non-technical invitation to a theologically reflective life.
- Miroslav Volf and Dorothy Bass, Editors, Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life – Informative essays by 13 first-rate theologians from diverse traditions explore the relationship between Christian theology and practice in the daily lives, ministry, and education of believers.
Introduction and Overview of Pastoral Theology
- Jackson W. Carroll, God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations — A well-researched statement on the state of ministry in contemporary society. It is based on one of the most extensive surveys of Protestant and Catholic ministers ever undertaken as part of the Pulpit and Pew project.
- John Patton, James Woodward, and Stephen Pattison, Editors, The Blackwell Reader in Pastoral and Practical Theology (Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology) – An anthology of select articles that provide meaning to specific areas of ministerial practice. It is divided into sections that cover the history, approaches/methods, integration of theory and practice, and evaluating pastoral and practical theology.
General Works on Pastoral Theology
- Ray Sherman Anderson, The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People — An excellent refinement of years of teaching and reflection from one of the most respected professors of practical theology. Built on the foundation that the ministry of God is to the world, for the sake of the world, and it is in the world that the continuing ministry of Christ is carried out by the people of God.
- Ray Sherman Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry With Theological Praxis — Highly respected text stressing the nature of practical theology as the Word of God being brought to bear on the work of God.
- David G. Benner, Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel — Focused on theology of pastoral care, and stresses the importance of pastors as caregivers of souls and not quasi-therapists.
- David W. Bennett, Metaphors of Ministry: Biblical Images for Leaders and Followers – An often referenced scholarly work on the images used in the New Testament for leadership and followership. Examines virtually every term (over 30) Jesus used in the Gospels to refer to his disciples, classifies them, and describes the larger themes of Jesus’ teachings about leadership.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community – Written out of Bonhoeffer’s experience of leading an underground seminary during the rise of the Nazi regime in pre-WWII Germany, it is one of the most inspiring pictures of Christian community ever written.
- Dave Early and Ben Guitierrez, Ministry Is…How to Serve Jesus with Passion and Confidence — A foundational look at the meaning, motives, essentials, manner, and methods of ministry.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society – Presents a hopeful model of ministry that compassionately identifies with the fundamental woundedness of human nature.
- Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir — This is the magnum opus of one of the most thoughtful authors in pastoral theology. It is my top recommendation
- John Piper and D. A. Carson, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life in Ministry – A pastor-scholar and a scholar-pastor team up to discuss the healthy blending of these two callings.
- William C. Placher, Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation – An anthology of classic writers over the centuries who have addressed the notion of life calling. It is not limited to the “ministerial call,” but encompasses all walks of life with the challenge to see what they do as an expression of God’s mission.
- Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life – The modern classic on the subject of discerning and living out God’s call for one’s life.
Theologies Based on the Ministry of Jesus
- Efrain Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul – A work of biblical scholarship that looks at how Jesus and Paul demonstrated servant leadership, primarily with the poor and oppressed, through lives of hard work and sacrifice.
- John A. Berntsen, Cross-Shaped Leadership: On the Rough and Tumble of Parish Practice — A theology of pastoral leadership, written from the standpoint of the theology of the cross. Bernsten derives six affirmations on the nature of cross-shaped ministry.
- Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry – A deeply thoughtful series of devotional reflections on ministry that reflects the characteristics of Christ.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections of Christian Leadership – Discouragement in ministry often comes from a minister’s perceived inabilities or failures in the quest to be relevant, popular, and influential. Nouwen treats each of these quests as serious temptations that must be overcome by God’s healing grace. Based on Jesus’ temptation narrative.
- Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation — Challenges pastoral theologies that come out of a “clinical, psychotherapeutic, or, more generally, social-scientific direction rather than a theological or doctrinal direction.” He believes these have resulted not only in the loss of theological grounding but also in the domination of “secular goals and techniques of care.” Thus he raises the question: “What makes pastoral work Christian?”
- Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry – The first in a series that is followed by The Resurrection of Ministry (2007). It would be hard to find a more powerful combination for anyone wanting to revive their ministry by deepening it. Here, he theologically unpacks an approach to ministry characterized as participation in Christ. Purves is by far the most inspiring academic pastoral theologian, a close second to Eugene Peterson as a practitioner-theologian.
- Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord — Excellent theology that builds upon the nature of the resurrection as a theological basis for renewing one’s hope and sense of calling. A sequel to Purves’ The Crucifixion of Ministry.
Theologies Based on the Ministry of Paul
- Richard S. Ascough and Charles A. Cotton, Passionate Visionary: Leadership Lessons from the Apostle Paul — A fascinating collaboration of a two professors, one in New Testament and the other in business, seeing Paul through the rubric of the contemporary theory of “chaordic leadership.” They look at Paul’s four major leadership practices as revealed through sixteen carefully selected passages from his epistles.
- Efrain Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul – A work of biblical scholarship that looks at how Jesus and Paul demonstrated servant leadership, primarily with the poor and oppressed, through lives of hard work and sacrifice. An application of liberation theology.
- D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lesson from 1 Corinthians – An excellent treatise on the nature of Christian ministry drawn from Paul’s emphasis on the cross in Corinthians.
- Neil Cole, Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) – Describes Paul as an example of how to lead “throughout a lifetime, increasing significance all along so that one finishes strong and leaves a legacy of leaders to carry on the work.” Makes use of Clinton Leadership Emergence Theory.
- Brian Dodd, Empowered Church Leadership: Ministry in the Spirit According to Paul — Calls leaders to a ministry that is done by the power of the Spirit rather than the power of the flesh. A firm call away from success-driven, self-reliance on managerial techniques, and toward submission to the Holy Spirit, humility, and intentional missional partnerships with others.
- David Fisher, The 21st Century Pastor: A Vision Based on the Ministry of Paul — Offers a theology for contemporary ministry that it inspired by the apostle Paul. Similar to Thompson’s Pastoral Ministry to Paul, Thompson looks at Paul in terms of his goal of transforming communities of faith. Fisher focuses less on the goal but on the metaphors Paul used that communicated his self-identity.
- Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Thessalonians: The Philosophic Tradition of Pastoral Care — Describes the rich images of Paul’s pastoral role as found in 1 Thessalonians, showing their connection to the type of relationship ancient philosophers enjoyed with their students.
- James W. Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul — Echoes the refrain that ministerial training tends to focus on the skills for maintaining the church and caring for troubled people. In response, he reflects on the letters of the Apostle Paul to reveal this consistent understanding: ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is ‘blameless’ at the coming of Christ.
- Steven Walton, Leadership and Lifestyle: The Portrait of Paul in the Miletus Speech and 1 Thessalonians — Highly academic. Offers a clear, thoughtful portrait of early Christian understandings of leadership by studying Paul’s speech at Miletus (Acts 20.18b-35).
Theologies Based on Other Biblical Characters
- Don N. Howell, Jr., Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership — A very substantive survey of both Old and New Testaments on the nature of biblical ministry.
- Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness — Works from Jonah to develop a strong practical theology of the pastoral vocation.
- Derek Tidball, Ministry By the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership – Looks at how each New Testament writer reflected his theology in his respective pastoral work. Upholds varied ministry without insisting on one model such as leader, spiritual director, counselor, social prophet, etc.
Theologies Based on Social Backgrounds and Biblical Metaphors
- Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century — By far the most compelling, practical, and biblically rich description of the elder-shepherd role.
- Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep, Part 2: Leading with the Heart of a Shepherd — The sequel to his first volume. In the first volume, Lynn describes spiritual leadership through the biblical metaphors of shepherding, mentoring, and equipping. In the second volume, he describes the kind of person who can do this work, but more importantly who they are from deep within, from the heart.
- Andrew D. Clarke, Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers (First-Century Christians in the Graeco-Roman World) – This is a very thorough investigation of the leadership roles of the early churches set in the social context of Graeco-Roman society.
- Timothy Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Tradition and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology, and While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks: Rediscovering Biblical Leadership – These are two separate texts, one that is highly academic and the other that is more practical and devotional. Shepherds After My Own Heart is perhaps the most extensive scholarly treatment available of the biblical metaphor of the shepherd-leader. While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks is a collection of forty daily reflections on biblical leadership according to the shepherd metaphor.
- Richard R. Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction – Emphasizes three metaphors of Old Testament leadership – priest, king, and prophet – and follows them into the ministry of Christ. Shows how the Reformers emphasized this threefold office. Constructs a pastoral theology of congregational leadership based on four tasks of priestly listening, sagely wisdom, prophetic discernment, and servant leadership.
Theologies Based on Classical Traditions
- Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry — A detailed and comprehensive look at the most respected early historical traditions concerning the pastoral role with the intent of arriving at a consensus.
- Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition – Shows how the Greek Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and others were more theological in orientation than is found in most contemporary understandings of the pastoral role.
Theologies Based on the Tasks of Ministry
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care — A classic. Bonhoeffer says spiritual care is a function of the congregation and that it is an aspect of the broader, more encompassing activity of proclamation.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen, Creative Ministry – Reflects on how to engage five of the most common tasks of ministry as spiritual acts of laying down one’s life, and not strictly as an expression of professionalism. Covers teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating.
- Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Calls ministers back to three acts: praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.
- Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work – Proposes five smooth stones (based on five Old Testament books) to help reestablish biblical priorities to the pastoral role in a time when it has been hijacked by so many lesser emphases. These include prayer-directing, story-making, pain-sharing, nay-saying, and community-building.
- Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction — Reframes “Sunday work” and “between Sunday” day-to-day roles as prayerful reflections
- David Rohrer, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry: Preparing a People for the Presence of the Lord – Elevates the central place of preaching in the pastoral role.
- William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, Also, Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry – The first volume draws upon Scripture and enduring Christian tradition to provide theological grounding for the common tasks ministers engage. The second volume is a collection of the best voices from 20 centuries of Christian pastors and leaders, introducing what they have to say on the tasks of ministry.
Theologies for those New to Ministry
- Allan Hugh Cole, Editor, From Midterms to Ministry: Practical Theologians on Pastoral Beginnings — A collection of essays on “pastoral” theology for persons who are moving from Bible college or seminary to the world of ministry.
- Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Marty, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic – Remains one of the most widely recommended books to help young ministers find meaning in some of the mundane and discomforting realities of ministry.
Related Ministry Resources
See Other Resources on Minister Self-Care and Preventing Burnout:
- Burnout and Self-Care in Church Leaders – Index
- Self-Care for Church Leaders
- Burnout in Church Leaders – Preventing and Overcoming
- Support Systems for Church Leaders
- Strengthening and Renewing the Call to Christian Ministry
See Other Resources on Christian Leadership:
See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry: