Reviewed by: Michael F. Grasso
Weak Pastor, Strong Christ: Developing a Christ-Shaped Gospel Ministry, by Reuben Bredenhof. Reformation Heritage, 2021. Paperback, 144 pages, $9.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Michael F. Grasso.
Bredenhof’s Weak Pastor, Strong Christ is a popularization of his ThM thesis on Paul’s pastoral relationship to the Corinthian church (ix). His goal is to provide a model for pastoral ministry based on Paul’s example. He notes that often people go to the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) for such guidance, but Bredenhof argues that there is much that can be gleaned from 2 Corinthians that is fruitful for understanding the role and function of pastors in the church (2). This is because there is a “basic continuity between Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians and the modern-day pastor’s relationship with a congregation” (5). I personally found this book to be very helpful. Bredenhof has a great grasp of 2 Corinthians, and his insights and organization of the material are helpful for understanding what it means to be a pastor.
According to Bredenhof the first thing a pastor needs to understand is what a pastor is. In chapters 2 and 3, Bredenhof analyzes the terms used by Paul to describe his role as a pastor. He notes three in chapter 2: apostle, ambassador, and slave. Though pastors are not apostles in the sense Paul was, Bredenhof notes that when Paul emphasizes his apostleship, it is not to lord it over the Corinthians, but rather to highlight his sufferings for them (21). In the same way, pastors must be willing to suffer for their people.
In chapter 3, he highlights the fatherly care pastors are to have for their people. This means that pastors must be highly invested in the faith of individual members. Bredenhof writes, “He [Paul] identifies so closely with the Corinthians that their weaknesses and strengths, struggles and labors, become his own . . . while their progress is a sure reason for his delight” (39). Such descriptions in 2 Corinthians remind ministers of the need to cultivate genuine love for members in the congregation, even though such love may often lead to great suffering (46).
Bredenhof then discusses preaching (ch. 4) and facing criticism (ch. 5). He reminds us of the need to preach Christ rather than ourselves (57). This was balanced in Paul’s situation by a need to defend his own personal ministry against criticism. Sometimes pastors are called to defend themselves, not for their own sake, but rather that there might be no obstacle to faith for others (64).
Bredenhof also touches on practical questions concerning the use of money, pulling from 2 Corinthians 8–9 (ch. 6) and reminds pastors to labor for the kingdom of God in light of the glorious return of Christ (ch. 8).
Overall, this book is very helpful. Bredenhof’s treatment of Paul’s pastoral ministry is both challenging and encouraging. May it be that God would raise up many pastors like Paul, who will preach Christ, love their congregations, be above reproach, and labor to present all complete in Christ.
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