Good Books to Strengthen Pastoral Ministry

March 12, 2019 by Joe Small

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?

Suggestion for March reading:

Cindy Rigby asks, “Why is theology in general, and the discussion of Christian doctrines in particular, often thought of as irrelevant?” First, she answers, they are not explained in ways that communicate clearly to non-experts. Second, doctrine is associated with close-minded certainty that fails to respect and engage others. And third, in our crazy-busy culture it is hard to find time and space to explore them.

If those are general reasons for Christians to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant to the life of faith, Holding Faith is an answer to the first two. In her remarkable book, Cindy Rigby holds a conversation with us, engaging us by speaking clearly in terms that acknowledge our questions and doubts. She uses the shared familiarity of television, novels, movies, and songs, as well as riches of the church’s centuries of theological thinking to explain central tenets of Christian faith and life. She shares personal experiences with her students and children to open up the lived experience of doctrines such as incarnation, resurrection, and even ascension. Throughout the book the tone is personal, always speaking of “we” and “us” rather than as an abstract author lecturing an anonymous audience.

But do not mistake personal conversation for condescension or “dumbing down.” Cindy Rigby is able to explain doctrines clearly because she has a sophisticated grasp of theology’s sweep across time and space. A keen theological mind engages us in talk about doctrines that are important because what we believe shapes how we live. And because they shape what we believe and how we live, we are led below the surface into their deep meaning.

The table of contents illustrates the approach of Holding Faith. Each chapter is framed by a simple question that prompts exploration of a central Christian doctrine. For example:

“How Can We Speak of God?” – The Doctrine of Revelation

“Where Does God Meet Us?” – The Doctrine of the Incarnation

“Who Is God Making Us Into?” – The Doctrines of Sin and Salvation

“Where Are We Headed?” – The Doctrine of Christian Hope

Each chapter is a conversation about the question, and the conversation does not end at the chapter’s conclusion. Holding Faith is meant to begin an extended conversation of faith, so an appendix suggests discussions that can continue conversation, either personally or, better yet, with others.

But what about Cindy Rigby’s third reason why theology and its doctrines are thought to be irrelevant? In our busy world it is hard to find time to explore them. That objection to doctrine can only be answered by beginning to read Holding Faith. Once begun, it will be easier (although still not easy) to find the time.

This is a book every pastor should read in order to discover fresh ways of talking with church members about central truths of Christian faith and life . . . in sermons, in teaching, in pastoral care, and in casual conversations. Adult classes and college seminary students may find it instructive and inspiring as well. I’m glad I read it.

2019 Webinar Series

The Presbyterian Foundation is offering a series of five webinars in 2019 on engaging church givers in stewardship and money-related conversations. Pastors, business administrators, stewardship chairs, treasurers, session clerks, and others involved in the financial life of the church are invited to register. The workshops are free. The next session is on March 20, and will be on How to Endow One's Pledge.

Stewardship Navigator

The Stewardship Navigator is a resource, provided by the Presbyterian Foundation at no cost to your congregation, to assist in planning year-round stewardship. The resources include usable templates, year-round guidance, a stewardship calendar, and assistance from MROs.