The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Pastoral Ministry

R. Kent Hughes. The Pastor's Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Pastoral Ministry. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway,  2015. 598 pp., cloth.

Unless he is tutored by a master craftsman, the young pastor’s ministry toolkit is likely to be a hodgepodge of tools acquired as the exigencies of ministry arise. For that pastor Kent Hughes’ The Pastor’s Book is a comprehensive tool chest from which he can confidently bring the wisdom of decades and “the pattern of sound words” to faithfully and fruitfully do the work of a minister. Its scope and usefulness fully accomplish the promise of its subtitle – A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry. With contributions of Douglas O’Donnell (chapters 1, 6, 7 and the paedobaptist section of chapter 8) and Robert Evans (chapter 10), it deserves the status of a pastor’s “must have” for the craft of pastoral ministry.

Hughes, the long-time pastor of College Church in Wheaton, prolific pastoral author, and now Professor of Practical Theological at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), has made accessible the wisdom of his four decades of pastoral experience through his eminently accessible writing style to enable pastors to anticipate, navigate, plan, and carry out the vast range of responsibilities which belong to the cure of souls. This comes in three parts with numerous detailed topics under each. Part 1 is a catalog of the most common public gatherings of the church – public worship, weddings, funerals, and seasonal services – on which Hughes offers insights, explanations and examples for each. Each section offers explanations, wisdom, rationale, and examples for those pastoral staples. Part 2 starts with the case for the vital importance of public prayer as a part of pastoral ministry and then provides historical and personal examples. From prayer he proceeds to creeds and ventures boldly but wisely and graciously into the subject of worship music. Hughes’ guidance on choosing music for worship will provide the reader a sound framework for doing so and give greater confidence to pastors in engaging musicians and others on an often-touchy subject. Hughes will remind us as pastors that more than searching for the perfect “worship guy” to enliven and lead worship, we will begin to say and believe that we, as ministers of word and sacrament, are the “worship guy.”

Part 3 on ministerial duties addresses pastoral counseling (as distinguished from pastoral care on the one hand and clinical counseling on the other) and visitation of the sick. The section on pastoral counseling contributed by Evans, is highly practical and occupies that often unfilled middle space between the day-to-day pastoral conversation and counsel and the more chronic, long-term care that the best of clinicians are better equipped to provide. The advice on visitation of the sick is even more accessible and will help a young pastor to be more confident as he begins to carry out this important and essential pastoral responsibility.

The chapter on baptism generously includes a section on infant baptism contributed by O’Donnell as well as Hughes’ initial treatment of believer’s baptism. Both are instructive and contain helpful advice. O’Donnell appropriately does not attempt to provide a full articulation and defense of infant baptism. Heeding his appeal for pre-baptismal counseling with parents would go a long way toward reducing the nominalism that gives credo-baptists a basis to critique paedobaptism. Lacking is what is almost universally missing in the infant baptisms I regularly witness, which is an earnest application of Larger Catechism 167 – the “needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.”[1] Paedo-baptists often yield the field of combat on this issue by limiting their arguments to the moment of administration. WLC 167 cries “No!” Full pastoral advice on the administration of baptism to covenant children should include instructions to all who are present to improve upon their own baptisms by “seeing” the gospel as it is enacted.[2]

There will be points where the discerning Reformed reader will recognize some differences with the Reformed practice of ministry. One of those areas is in how one employs scripture in considering and planning worship. In making the legitimate point that there is freedom in ordering biblical worship, O’Donnell states, “There is no command in the New Testament to gather on Sunday.” (45) Similarly, “[t]here are no longer any sacred times or sacred places.” (27)[3] These assertions reflect a hermeneutical difference with the Reformed tradition in which the Old Testament law is believed to be an expression of the unchanging revealed will of God. (WCF 19.2, 3, 5) The issue is one of continuity/discontinuity between the testaments. One is reminded the statement often attributed to Luther – “there is no New Testament version of Leviticus.” Reformed worship might reply that there is no need for a New Testament Leviticus since we still have the Old Testament one! That is, a Reformed hermeneutic does not limit itself to the New Testament when considering how, for example, to worship, do ethics, perform sacraments, or preach the gospel. Reformed worship would readily recognize the greater freedom of the New Covenant and acknowledge the discontinuity attributable to the progress of redemption and organic growth of revelation, yet it would also look to the Old Testament as being foundational to worship. Apostolic practice as well as teaching would lead us to rely upon the Old Testament in this way. Although Hughes/O’Donnell make a strong appeal for the authority of scripture in thinking about and planning worship – “Our worship should be regulated tota et sola Scriptura (44) – there is a relative difference with Reformed worship which professes that God is not to be worshiped in “any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” (WCF 21.1)

Besides this hermeneutical distinction, the other – which is related to some extent to the first – is in the shape of worship. From a distance, what Hughes has elsewhere acknowledged as “free church worship,”[4] might seem indistinguishable from Reformed worship. And the commonality of the two worship traditions must be emphasized as the context for comparison. However, Reformed worship’s relatively warmer embrace of forms and greater variety of (biblical) elements in worship should not be lost or overlooked by the pastor who reads and applies Hughes’s very helpful and practical work.[5] In the simplest terms, Reformed worship might be termed more liturgy-friendly with a greater variety of movements and elements in worship.[6]

In addition to providing an invaluable resource for pastoral ministry, Hughes has provided pastors an opportunity for something much more profound, though commonly neglected at present. That is, an impetus to study the ministry. To return to the toolbox metaphor, many of us pastors approach ministry piecemeal. We schedule a wedding and then look for wedding resources. Someone dies, then we rush to find funeral resources. Sunday after Sunday present themselves to us and we grasp for worship tools, techniques, and resources. But we may never get around to studying the ministry qua ministry. The Pastor’s Book shows us what a consciously-assembled, coherent set of tools looks like – it is, in fact, a craftsman’s toolbox. Consequently, the pastor who acquires, reads, and absorbs what is in the text and between the lines will find that this resource will always be on a shelf within reach.

[1] WLCQ. 167. How is our Baptism to be improved by us? A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

[2] For more on the neglect of improving our baptism, see the reviewer’s “One Baptism – NIB” at

[3] “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17) The church – the people not the building – being a temple of the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22) can rightfully lay claim to the promises to Zion now fulfilled. (Heb 12:22; cf., e.g., Ps 48). For the continuing force of the fourth commandment, see Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God,” in Pressing toward the Mark, ed. C. Dennison & R. Gamble (Philadelphia: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 33-52.

[4] “Free Church Worship: The Challenge of Freedom,” in Worship by the Book, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 136-92.

[5] For a sense of the distinction between free and Reformed worship, see Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, ed. Philip Graham Ryken (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2003), especially chapters 2, 3, 16 and 17 as well as Timothy J. Keller, “Reformed Worship in the Global City” in Worship by the Book, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 193-239.

[6] The work of Hughes Oliphant Old in Worship Reformed according to Scripture, Rev. ed (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002); Leading in Prayer (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995); and Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, ed. Jon D. Payne (Powder Springs, GA: Tolle Lege Press, 2013) provides a comprehensive account of those elements.

Michael J. Glodo
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando