Pastoral Theology, Volume 3: The Man of God: His Shepherding, Evangelizing, and Counseling Labors

Albert N. Martin, Pastoral Theology, Volume 3: The Man of God: His Shepherding, Evangelizing, and Counseling Labors. Montville, NJ: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2020. $35.95, cloth.

I’m keen on Puritan and Reformed works in pastoral theology. At their best, they never separate three indissolubly linked areas of ministerial life: personal piety, preaching, and pastoral care. Albert N. Martin’s three volume work is a notable contribution to this great tradition.

Since volume one appeared in 2018, I have made volume one, The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life, a required text in my first-year Pastoral Ministry course, and have found helpful lecture materials in volume two, The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors (links to both reviews in Reformed Faith & Practice provided). Martin’s knowledge and use of classic texts in pastoral theology is extensive. I tell students that were they to write down the texts he cites and quotes, they would have a comprehensive reading list suitable for a lifetime of study.

A strength of these volumes is the author’s patience. Before proceeding to offer practical counsel, he first explores his understanding of the biblical basis for the various responsibilities of the pastor. Only after the scriptural foundation is laid does he move on to practical application. It should go without saying that readers need not be persuaded at every point that the author has interpreted the text correctly to value this approach; it is commendable, and the way pastoral theology should be done.  Volume three, The Man of God: His Shepherding, Evangelizing, and Counseling Labors concludes Martin’s studies on the shepherding office with three units: church government, corporate worship, and evangelism and counseling.

The church government section examines the relationship between shepherd and polity, and includes interpretation of relevant biblical passages and practical counsel on the attitudes of the shepherd, his relationships with elders and deacons, the purpose and exercise of corrective discipline, and nurturing the corporate ministry of the church. Martin contends that a pastor must teach the congregation about the biblical basis of his own pastoral work (5). Expectations of both pastors and congregations must be biblically shaped and shared. For faithful ministry to take place, a pastor must understand how to spend his time and energy in the work to which God has called him; his congregation should share that same understanding. Problems are inevitable when expectations between pastor and flock diverge.

As we expect from someone with nearly five decades of hands-on ministry in one congregation, Martin understands the costliness of pastoral ministry and the internal forces that work against its faithful discharge. He observes that

“There is in our remaining corruption a pocket of selfishness that does not welcome receiving the pain that comes from genuinely caring for others. We are self-protective by nature. At least, I know I am, and I think that you most likely have a similar pocket of corruption. It costs us to have an open heart. It costs us to be vulnerable to feel human need and respond in a godly way. (25)”

The author affirms the parity and plurality of elders within a local congregation, and devotes considerable time to describing their qualifications, diversity of function, responsibilities to the congregation, and responsibilities to fellow elders.

The office of deacon receives ample attention and numerous practical issues are addressed. Among them is diaconal assistance, including forms of non-monetary assistance (141-42). These kinds of practical matters do not often appear in pastoral theology texts. Students preparing for ministry will do well to give thought to such before they begin service at their first church. Ministry leadership is intensely personal and concrete, a fact that can be lost amidst the rigors of academic preparation in seminary.

Few matters require as much sensitivity, skill, and resolve as corrective discipline. The nature, purpose, and types of discipline are considered. Of course, how these principles are applied in actual cases demands discernment and wisdom. In a volume of this length, it is too much to expect detailed case studies – but if I had time with the author, I would ask many questions about his experience with the administration and outcome of church discipline in his own congregation.

Chapters on the “Corporate Ministry of the Body to Itself” includes a masterful exposition of the New Testament’s “one-anothering” commandments and the attitudes that must attend them.

The prayers at the end of each chapter remind seminary professors that theological instruction is a powerfully spiritual work. We conduct our labors in union with our Savior, who said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Presbyterian readers will differ with the author in polity and sacrament (baptism). As we would expect from a faithful Baptist, the author is committed to the independency of the local church (as opposed to Presbyterianism, see pages 67-68, 71, and 239) and to credo-baptism. That said, the author is uniformly respectful of Presbyterians, demonstrates a careful study of their positions, and cites their most able pastoral theologians regularly and appreciatively.

Still, views on polity and sacrament must be taught primarily from the theological convictions of the pastor’s denomination. In my case, that means Presbyterian polity – including the elder’s responsibility to judicatories beyond the local church – and the administration of baptism to both believers and their covenant children. For this reason, I will not use this volume as a principal text for my students, the majority of whom are preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian tradition. I will include it, however, as a helpful ancillary text.

Adherents to the regulative principle will find instruction on corporate worship to be biblically informed and reverent. All young ministers would do well to heed his counsel: “I confess to you as an older man, that if I had it to do all over again I would, early in my ministry, discipline myself to read extensively, exploring the history of Evangelical and Protestant and Reformed forms of worship” (321). Seminary worship courses serve as an introduction to a lifelong study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship.

Martin’s valuable chapter on public prayer provides a wealth of edifying reflection. Pastors must cultivate the gift of public prayer lest their prayers become stale, repetitive, and predictable. Prayer meetings, once considered vital, have become an endangered species of congregational life. In three chapters devoted to the subject, readers will find encouragements for sustaining and leading prayer meetings.

Additional chapters include the administration of the sacraments and officiating at weddings and funerals.

As in any work that offers an abundance of practical counsel, readers may find themselves shaking their head in disagreement. I did. But the book is provocative in the best sense of the word – it invites reflection on pastoral convictions and the way ministerial duties are discharged.

Roughly 100 pages are devoted to the pastor as evangelist and the evangelistic outreach of the church. Throughout these pages pastors are reminded of their duties. Among his exhortations: “Reflect often on the brevity of life,” “reflect on the horror of hell,” and “have a proper valuation of the worth of a man’s soul” (538-39). Evangelism is a spiritual labor. Therefore, the pastor prays before, during, and after his preaching (556). Throughout the pages, I was continually reminded of the evangelistic responsibilities I assumed when I entered pastoral ministry and found myself renewed in my motivation.

This volume concludes with a lengthy series of chapters on the weighty responsibility of pastoral counseling.  Young pastors will be challenged to reflect deeply on what it means to offer pastoral counsel. They must take to heart the fact that developing these skills is a process that takes time and can only be obtained by experience (619).  Also, the importance of the pastor’s demeanor – his tone of voice, posture, and general appearance – are rightly noted (684). Good pastors are good listeners, and the exhortations to attentive listening and the asking of probing questions are much needed.

Despite numerous helpful points, this section left me with many concerns that I deem serious. The criticism of integrationist Christian counselling is severe. Fair enough; this is a contested issue. However, what the author means by integration needs clearer definition, and he fails to interact meaningfully with integrationist literature. Martin relies heavily on Jay Adam’s Competent to Counsel in assessing non-nouthetic counseling approaches (669-72). Much has changed in the world of Christian counseling, nouthetic and otherwise, since 1970. The author himself recognizes that significant modifications have taken place within the nouthetic counseling movement through the years (712-13). A few general changes are mentioned, but additional specifics and further explanation are needed. Some assertions attack strawmen. For example, “we must bury the notion that an effective pastoral counselor must be a mind reader or a super-psychologist, knowledgeable in the latest pronouncements of the psychiatric and psychological gurus” (616). In four decades of ministry, I have never heard any pastor make that claim.

At several places, his specific counsel raised, to my mind, red flags. For example, refusing to meet with a wife who wants counsel about her husband’s sin before she has followed the steps of Matthew 18:15-17 is problematic (688-89). What kind of sin? Is she in danger? Does she need help in knowing how to bring a matter up with her husband? The information supplied is insufficient for this counsel to be useful.

Including one’s wife in an initial counseling session for the purpose of demonstrating that he, the pastor, is a “one-women man” (696) is fraught with questionable assumptions – ranging from what if the pastor is single, to unfounded suspicions of the counselee’s motives, to the qualifications and preparedness of the pastor’s wife, to the pastoral ethics of creating this kind of counseling session.

When Martin advises, “do not allow the demands of pastoral counseling with people who have chronic problems to erode the time available for positive, constructive pastoral counsel with others” (630), I sympathize with his concern. But perhaps here is where a professional Christian counselor, with expertise in specific areas, can prove a valuable resource in assisting the pastor. After all, he is far more likely to have seen the troubling behaviors frequently and obtained expertise that can help the person to make progress in his sanctification.  Specialized training and experience can prove an asset. Dealing with bulimia by threat of public church discipline is, frankly, disturbing (736).

My concerns stated, I am in agreement when Martin writes, “The pastor who labors in preaching and teaching does not suddenly become a different person in a different office with a different function when he enters a counseling session. He is still an elder, still a shepherd, still ministering the Word of God, only now in a private counseling setting. There should be no radical disjunction between the two situations of ministry, the public and the private.” (617) I was encouraged to see the author acknowledge psychiatric and medical resources available to pastors in their counseling labors (713), but more space needs to be given to this critically important subject.

I recommend Albert N. Martin’ three-volume Pastoral Theology. In my reviews, I have indicated that seminarians and young pastors, with a lifetime of ministry before them, will benefit from reading them. By God’s grace, they should endeavor to set a good and godly course from the start. But these books will also be a fine addition to the libraries of seasoned pastors. Young and old alike need to be brought repeatedly to the touchstone of scripture lest they stray. Every pastor will profit from the godly exhortations of this older pastor who has stayed the course.

Charles Malcolm Wingard
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson