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Sage Advice for the New Pastor: A Review Article

Allen C. Tomlinson

Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry, by Charles Malcolm Wingard. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2018, xvii + 206 pages, $14.99.

Dr. Charles Wingard is one of the most earnest and efficient pastors I have had the privilege to know. We served in the same presbytery for several years while he pastored two churches in New England. I heard him preach on several occasions, including twice to my own congregation. I can still remember his exhortation to the presbytery on 1 Timothy 2:24–26. That was many, many years ago, and I still remember his sermon, not because I have a good memory (I don’t!), but because he is such a powerful preacher of the Word of God. Dr. Wingard is perhaps the most hardworking pastor I have ever known. He spoke on “pastoral visitation” to our Granite State Reformed Ministers Fellowship during that time he lived in New England. Though I had always thought of pastoral visitation as one of my strengths, Charlie’s goal and practice in this area shone through his presentation making me reevaluate how efficient a job I had been doing. I do not believe I have ever known any pastor more efficient in his use of time or more energetic or more sincerely zealous for the gospel of Christ and for the church of Christ.

So when I picked up this new book, I was both excited, because of my admiration of God’s grace in Charlie’s ministerial labors, but also I felt some trepidation for the sake of the young men who might read this book. With his unusual zeal, energy, earnestness and consistency in all the above, would these new pastors feel intimidated and develop some kind of self-esteem crisis? Or, would they try to imitate this incredibly gifted, experienced, and hardworking pastor and collapse, unable to keep pace with such an “Olympian”?

My excitement was right on target, and my trepidation was wasted energy. This is a wonderful book, which I now plan to assign to any ministerial intern I have the privilege to work with. How I could have used this book for my first year, or even my first ten years in the Gospel ministry! The experienced pastor I did have as my senior pastor the first year I was in full time ministry taught me a good number of the lessons Dr. Wingard covers in this book. However, it would have been helpful to have a written summary of these important and practical lessons, and there are some lessons in this book which I had to learn the hard way. I believe my readers know what I mean by “the hard way.” By trial and error (Often it seemed like more error than trial!). This book could have saved me, and more importantly saved my poor charges whom I was pastoring, many mistakes on my part.

When I began as an assistant pastor back in 1976 in rural Illinois, the senior pastor told me the first day,

Don’t start out working so hard that you are unable to keep up such an impossible pace. Also, the people might expect you to keep working that hard always, and you might not have the physical or emotional strength. Work hard, but pace yourself and remember you have other obligations such as family.

Dr. Wingard does not word it the same way, but he makes the same point very forcibly. For example,

What is inexcusable is to permit routine ministerial duties—committee meetings, pastoral visitation, administrative work, and sermon preparation—to take you away from time with your family. Schedule time to be with family, and when you are, give them your full attention. Put away the computer and the smartphone. Focus on the folks at hand—the most important sheep in the flock—your family. (174)

Not only does the book consider the family (and personal) needs of the young minister, as far as not “overbooking” one’s life, but Dr. Wingard also counsels young ministers to not put unbiblical and impossible pressure on church members.

Also, be careful not to wrongfully bind the consciences of your congregation’s members, obligating them to attack social evils. When I was a boy in the rural South, it was the anti-liquor crusade. Other issues have taken its place. I have served as vice president of a crisis pregnancy center, but I do not think any believer is obligated to work in the pro-life movement or to ameliorate any of the myriad of social evils of the day. Let your members work out their commitments in these areas as they take into account their giftings, duties, and interests. For many, caring for their family, tending to their work, and attending public worship are all they can and should handle. Don’t crush them with burdens they were never intended to bear. (46–47)

That is great stuff, considering the moralism and the “practical application” sermons that are heard throughout our land today, that continually place God’s people under heavy burdens of which even the first century Pharisees would have been fearful. What sound advice for young ministers of the gospel!

This book begins at the beginning: your call to the ministry and understanding what that call is biblically. That is chapter one. In chapters 2–18 we have the most important areas of pastoral ministry examined. In chapters 2–4 the topics are:

  • Preparing for the pulpit (chapter 2)
  • Preparing and delivering the sermon (chapter 3)
  • Practical advice on preaching (chapter 4)

Chapter 4 includes: length of sermon, biblical books to preach through first, the purpose of preaching, the need to love the people and not to be impatient when they need to hear the same things again and again. There is more, and all of it very helpful. We are warned to not stir up needless political or social controversy, such as on a blog or Facebook, for, “You are a pastor, not a controversialist.” The topics in chapters 5–7 are:

  • Leading worship (chapter 5)
  • The sacraments (chapter 6)
  • Church administration (chapter 7)

In chapter 7 we are warned not to underestimate the necessity of doing efficient administration, without neglecting our higher priority of proclaiming the Word. If you neglect the necessary administrative duties, it will eventually have a negative effect on your preaching and other more directly spiritual labors. The next chapter deals with:

  • Growing through conflict (chapter 8)

The entire book is worth reading for just chapter 8! It took me some time before I realized how much I could grow spiritually and ministerially if I learned the lessons I needed to learn while going through conflicts. For me, and perhaps for most of us, conflict with the other leaders or members of the church is one of the most difficult experiences in the ministry. However, if such conflict is handled properly, i.e., biblically, we can actually grow closer to many of those with whom we have had conflict. In chapters 9–15 the topics are:

  • Home visitation (chapter 9)
  • Practicing hospitality (chapter 10)
  • Counseling (chapter 11)
  • Weddings (chapter 12)
  • Hospital and hospice care (chapter13)
  • Funerals (chapter 14)
  • Denominational duties (chapter 15)

All these chapters give very important and practical advice for the minister to seize these opportunities (weddings, hospice care, and funerals) to minister Christ’s love to his people. The pastor and people draw close to one another when we minister God’s Word in such times, “striking while the iron is hot.”

Dr. Wingard closes the book with important counsel for the minster’s personal walk with God and faithfulness in Gospel ministry. Chapters 16–18 speak to:

  • The character and habits of effective ministry (chapter 16)
  • Small things that yield big results (chapter 17)
  • A long and fruitful ministry (chapter 18)

Think of the wise counsel given in the following quotations:

Make sure you praise what is praiseworthy, encourage where you see evidences of grace, and speak words of compassion where needed. You want the number of these interactions to far exceed the number that are focused on controversy. (88)

Your first church is the place to establish habits that will increase your effectiveness in lifelong service to Christ’s church. Reflect on the disciplines you will need for the long haul, and make acquiring them a nonnegotiable priority. (174)

. . . for a long and fruitful ministry, you must intercede for your congregation in your secret prayers. (183)

The frequency and intensity of our prayers for ourselves and for our congregations are known only to us and to God. Yet I doubt there is any greater measure of ministerial godliness. If we attempt to carry on a ministry without earnestly praying for our congregations, then we will find ourselves on perilous ground. (184)

. . . you must speak affectionately both to your congregation and about your congregation. (185)

Appendix 1 gives “Advice to Student Preachers.” How should you dress for preaching? When should you arrive, how long ahead of the announced service? There are many other useful hints.

Appendix 2 is “Tips for Seeking a Pastoral Position.” How should you engage with the search committee, write your resume and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

There is so much sound and useful counsel in this book. Should you try to “resolve conflict by email or text”? How important is it to consult with your wife when you want to practice hospitality as the pastor? How should you organize your time?

My only divergence from the book, not really a disagreement, is that two of his suggestions just have not been needed or workable for me in my years in the ministry. First, a more direct involvement in working with the church budget. The charges I have had did not need financial expertise on my part, for there were godly accountants and others who really knew their stuff. My main job was to teach them what God’s Word said about the church’s purpose, and how that purpose affects our use of the church’s monies; and to teach them about how and why we give as God’s people. However, that is the kind of difference that might be found in our different circumstances. At a startup or a very small church, I can see the importance of what Dr. Wingard suggests.

Second, Charlie encourages the young pastor to join at least one or two community organizations for contact with outsiders. I agree that this is ideal. However, when I have tried it, especially where I have been ministering the last thirty-two years, I am unable to keep up with such commitments due to special needs at the church that continually arise. Again, varying circumstances, and I suggest (perhaps) varying personalities, might make a difference from one man to another.

This is an easy book to read and a very important book for its intended audience. And a great review of sound practices for those of us who have been preaching the Gospel for a long time! I highly recommend this book.

Allen C. Tomlinson is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of the First Church of Merrimack (OPC) in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, May 2020.

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