The book by my good friend Hal Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart, is the winner in the category of Church/Pastoral Leadership in the 2020 Christianity Today Book Awards! It also tied for the best book on Ministry in the Gospel Coalition Book Awards.
I wrote about this book earlier this year in my blog post A Book Every Pastor Should Read. Rev. Senkbeil, who has extensive experience in all kinds of parishes and as a seminary professor, has a ministry to pastors called Doxology, which helps them deal with the problems they may face in the ministry today face (such as discouragement, burnout, temptations) and teaches them the art of pastoral care and the cure of souls (which is not the same as psychological counseling!). This book does the same.
As such, it would make the perfect Christmas present for your pastor! (You can buy it here.)
Here is the citation for the Christianity Today Book Award:
The Church / Pastoral Leadership
Harold Senkbeil (Lexham Press)
“I will be returning to this book again, to read it carefully and slowly. The rhythms and the wisdom in The Care of Souls reminded me of the books by Eugene Peterson that shaped my soul as a young pastor—books that God, in his mercy, used to keep me from boarding my own ship to Tarshish. Senkbeil’s images and analogies aren’t drawn from boardrooms but from agrarian themes of shepherding, sheep dogs, and farming, all of which are far closer not only to biblical images but also to the realities of pastoral life, in which anything good grows slowly and follows the contours of a particular place. Many books on pastoral ministry convey information; this book renewed my joy in being a pastor and, every once in a while, traced a tear at the corner of my eye.” —Timothy Paul Jones, professor of family ministry, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Here is the citation for the Gospel Coalition Book Award:
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Lexham Press)
Preaching typically gets the most ink under the category of pastoral ministry, but there’s far more to shepherding a congregation than writing and executing sermons—important as that work is. Harold Senkbeil has spent five decades preaching, but also shepherding the people of God, and The Care of Souls is a product of wisdom treasured up during his half-century in local church ministry. Having grown up on a dairy farm in the Midwest, Senkbeil builds this compelling manual for loving church members around insights gained taking care of animals and crops. The result is a well-written book on shepherding that gives equal time to the care of souls and the pastor’s own pursuit of holiness. This will be a must-read for young pastors for years to come.
A pastor is not primarily a psychologist, an entrepreneur, or a C.E.O. According to classical Christianity, a pastor is a physician of souls. What physicians do for their patients—give them long-term care for their physical health and specific treatments when disease strikes—pastors do for their congregations, offering on-going spiritual care in their relationship with God and curing their souls in times of trial. This book recovers that dimension of the pastoral office, showing how to diagnose spiritual problems and how to treat them.
Drawing on vivid personal examples from his own ministry, Rev. Senkbeil covers the whole range of what pastors are called to do (from evangelism to ministry to the dying, from mundane administration to spiritual warfare) and the problems pastors must struggle with, both in their members and in themselves (sexual sin, spiritual boredom, burnout).
Rev. Senkbeil also takes the pressure off by reminding pastors that their ministry does not rest on their own doing, but that, by virtue of their office, Christ Himself is working through them.
You don’t have to be a Lutheran to learn from this Lutheran pastor. And you don’t have to be a pastor to find this book inspiring. As a layman, I found that this book opens up what all of my pastors have done for me.
And read this review by Zack Eswine: What If Pastors Were More Like Doctors, which begins with this:
Imagine a doctor who greets you and offers to come fix your kitchen sink. “No thanks,” you say. “I have a plumber for that. I’m here because I’m sick.”
Then the doctor offers to tie your shoes or make you lunch. “Thank you,” you say, “but I can manage the shoes, and I have others who can help me with lunch. I’m here to see you because I’m sick, and you are a doctor.”
As the doctor offers to paint a portrait of you, frustration wells up. What good is a doctor who avoids a doctor’s work?!
In this book, Harold Senkbeil—executive director of Doxology: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care—uses a half-century of pastoral experience to help pastors better do their work. To begin, Senkbeil wants pastors to remember that “identity defines activity” (16). Who God calls us to be determines the kind of work God calls us to do. If a pastor is a coach, CEO, religious-activity director, conflict manager, or motivational speaker, his job description will morph accordingly. But what description of our work emerges when “carer of souls” forges our pastoral identity?
Illustration from Lexham Press, via Amazon.com