Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shepherding at Home

Brian and Cara Croft, The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. 171pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw

Today, the phrase, “the pastor’s kid,” often conjures images in our minds of a child who make unchurched children look tame. It is too easy to blame this phenomenon on the doctrine of election. While it is true that there are Esaus in the church as well as Jacobs, it is also true (if we may believe the Crofts’ testimony) that many ministers spend little time with their wives and children, neglect family worship, and do not set parameters for the church to respect in order to protect their families. Governing his own household and training obedient children are some of the primary qualifications for any man who is called to the pastoral ministry. Brian and Cara Croft’s little book on The Pastor’s Family sets a finger on the pulse-beat of today’s ministry and offers a much-needed call to encouragement and repentance.

The Croft Family
The authors – with interspersed comments from a few of their friends along the way – divide the difficulties facing the pastor’s family into three areas: the pastor’s heart, the pastor’s wife, and the pastor’s children. The ways in which the Crofts search readers hearts is greatly needed. The way in which they describe the trials that church members unintentionally create for their pastors’ families will shock many church members. This book can also help pastors indirectly if church members take the time to read it in order to know better how to assist their ministers in this vital area. Some of the solutions that the Crofts propose, such as spending time with each child individually each week, are very much needed. Others reveal the low ebb to which the ministry has fallen. For example, the authors say they now commit to practicing family worship at least three times a week. I have found that such irregular goals with regard to family worship can exasperate children by making the practice sporadic, inconsistent, and easier to neglect. However, the basic premise of the book is that ministers are called to minister to their wives and their families, even before they are called to minister to the church. In this regard, even great men who left wives and children behind and whom God used to spread the gospel far and wide were wrong and their families suffered for it. The Crofts give us a jump-start back in the right direction.

In the late seventeenth century, William Perkins urged pastors to make the ministry attractive to their sons so that more of them would desire to serve in the ministry themselves. His desire was often realized in Reformed families multi-generationally. Now it is common for a pastor’s children in many circles not only to avoid the ministry like the plague, but perhaps even the church itself. We must always hope in the grace of God to do what we cannot do in the hearts of wayward children. But we must also take up God’s call to use the divinely appointed means of grace in the lives of our children. Woe to us if we trust those means, but woe to us if we neglect them. Brian and Cara Croft, in this book, have given the church a clear call to reset the priorities of the pastor and of the church with regard to the pastor’s family. May we listen to and build upon it.

This review first appeared in the August 2014 edition of New Horizons.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Ministry of a Pastor's Wife

Catherine J Stewart, ed., Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2013. 286pp. Paperback

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Contrary to the attitude of some, being a pastor’s wife is not an official position in the church. I have always told my wife that she is not a pastor’s wife, but the wife of a man who happens to be a pastor. Her calling, as with that of all “pastor’s wives,” is to trust in the Spirit’s help, to serve the Father, where He has placed her in Christ’s church. She is to be no more, and no less, than a faithful Christian woman.

Although the “pastor’s wife” is not a church officer, women who are married to pastors face trials that result from their husband’s callings. The authors of Letter’s to Pastors’ Wives address eighteen areas that affect such women. This book presents excellent counsel in relation to all areas of ministry. It is a must-read not only for pastor’s wives, but for pastors, other members of the family, and, especially, church members, who need to realize that the unbiblical expectations they often place on these women sometimes result from a failure to practice many of the principles of godliness treated in this volume.

The book is divided into issues related to personal piety, practical counsel, and various circumstances in ministry. The resources included here are so insightful that it is difficult to summarize them effectively. The authors press readers to make the right priorities in life with humility and guarded speech. They address improper self-imposed expectations, hospitality, friendship, respect, conflict, mothering, the Lord’s Day and many other areas of practical responsibility. The last three chapters address special circumstances in life, including addressing a husband who is living in sin, ministering in a foreign culture, and life in campus ministry.

There is a subjective element to which chapters will stand out to which readers. There are flaws in some chapters, such as Betty Jane Adams suggesting that women should cut off all former friendships when their husbands take a new call. This hardly matches Paul’s description of his relationship with church members in the New Testament. However, such flaws are few. Some of the chapters that my wife and I found most helpful were those on setting our priorities straight, humility, hospitality, handling criticism, dealing with conflict in the church, and ministering to a different culture. It will be tempting for some readers to skip those chapters that do not seem to be immediately applicable to them, but this is a mistake. For example, while we have never labored in ministry in another country, the chapter treating ministry on the mission field gave us some of the best advice that we received in order to help us settle into a new pastoral charge in this country.

Reviewer Ryan McGraw and his
wife Krista
While this reviewer cannot commend this book too strongly, my wife and I have been surprised by how some others have responded to it. Some have called the practical chapters, such as those on making priorities, hospitality, and the Lord’s Day “legalistic.” How we use this term often reveals more about ourselves than it does the views that we are describing. Many of these chapters are specific and suggestive. They are specific because most of us fail to understand how to implement biblical principles without concrete examples. They are suggestive because they properly distinguish between biblical principles and a wide array of possible ways to implement these principles. Being “legalistic” does not mean specific or strict. Jesus Christ was more specific and strict in his application of the law than the Scribes and Pharisees were, yet he was not “legalistic” while they were. Do not Christ’s free grace and the Father’s great love to us demand that we should never be content with a general piety?

We should desire to bring every thought captive in obedience to Christ. This book includes wise counsel from eighteen godly women who will help you do this, both in light of Scripture and the from the suggestive wisdom that comes only through the experience of godly living under great trials.

This review was previously published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, July 2014