Practical Shepherding

practical shepherding

Pastoral ministry is a calling that is incredibly multi-faceted — requiring training, education, and experience in a whole host of different areas. I believe that one of the most important aspects in that training is seminary education. In seminary, the pastor-in-training receives education relating to centrally important aspects of the ministry, particularly concerning correctly handling the Word of God.

However, try as hard as it may, the classroom is simply unable to fully prepare ministers for the practical hands-on aspects of ministry. Some seminaries are better than others at being intentional in this regard, but all of them, in the end, are a classroom and not “on-the-field” training.

While in Seminary at SBTS, one website that was quickly gaining popularity and was quite helpful to myself in the area of practical ministry was Practical Shepherding, put together by Pastor Brian Croft. The purpose of the website is to provide practical advice and resources for ministers. Well, the Practical Shepherding resources became so popular and influential that Zondervan chose to produce a whole series of books with the same name. There are 5 books in the series thus far:

  1. Visit The Sick
  2. Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals
  3. Prepare Them To Shepherd
  4. Gather God’s People
  5. Comfort the Grieving

And two more are on the way, scheduled to release this August: Oversee God’s People and Pray for the Flock

Each of these books are small (around 100 pages each), but are packed with helpful and practical advice concerning the particular aspect of ministry that they are addressing. For example, the volume on conducting gospel-centered funerals contains practical advice on how long you should preach, how you are to work with the funeral director, where you should park at the funeral home, etc.

To be fair, a book cannot sufficiently prepare a minister for all of the practical aspects of the ministry either … Nothing other than hands-on experience can really do that. However, the book format does allow the new pastor to have this practical advice at his finger tips in a very accessible way.

At just around $10 each, I believe that every one of these volumes should be on the shelf of any new (or even seasoned) pastor. They are packed with incredibly helpful and important practical tips from wise and seasoned pastors. I would recommend that you at least grab one of them today and give it a shot. Odds are, you’ll be ordering the whole series not long afterwards.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Zondervan Publishers for providing me with review copies of these books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

On Guard

On GuardSome books you just don’t want to read, but you sincerely need to. Deepak Reju’s new book on child abuse was such a book for me. On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church is a book that few will necessarily want to read or enjoy reading, but one that should be required reading for anyone in any level of ministry in the local church.

Deepak Reju is the Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, where Mark Dever serves as the senior pastor. He has been a contributing author to a few books on the topic of biblical counseling, but this is the first book that he has been the sole author of (other than a children’s book on the kings in the Bible). And it is a much needed one.

As you read the book, you will become quickly aware that the church is a very vulnerable place, and child abusers attack that vulnerability. Sadly, but truly, many churches hear about child abuse cases throughout the nation, even in churches, but still think, “It could never happen at my church.” Sadly, it’s just not true. It can. It most certainly can.

“Sexual offenders are not dumb. They are deliberate and calculating. The very thing Christians see as strengths — love for others, a trusting disposition — perpetrators see as weaknesses on which they can prey … Why do you think that sexual offenders try to infiltrate churches? Because many know that most churches don’t even bother checking criminal records. They’re too busy. They’re small enough that they feel they know everyone. They don’t think that convicted sexual offenders will come to their church. Why bother checking criminal records when the person is a nice, respectable guy?” (9).

The Structure

So how is the book structured? There are three sections in the book. In Section 1, Reju lays out the nature of the problem, the incredible responsibility that we as parents, pastors, and leaders have to protect our children, some of the false assumptions we make, etc. In short, the first part is just laying the foundation, showing the reader that this is a problem in our world, and this is a danger for our churches. We must not take this lightly. We must not think it couldn’t happen to us. The minute that we think that is the minute that we are at our most vulnerable.

In Section 2, the author offers 8 strategies for protecting against child abuse. This is the meat of the book, in that it helps churches take concrete, practical steps in making their church a safer place for children. The 8 strategies that Reju offers are:

  1. Creating and Implementing a Child Protection Policy
  2. A Check-In and Checkout Process
  3. Membership
  4. Screening and Verification
  5. Building Design
  6. Training Your Staff and Volunteers
  7. Preparing Church Leaders, Parents, Children, and Teens Before Abuse Happens
  8. Getting to Know the People and Resources in Your Community

Finally, Part 3 offers the church 3 strategies for responding to child abuse. The simple fact of the matter is that as churches, we can (and should) do absolutely everything that we can to prevent against child abuse; however, with the sinful world that we live in, we will never be able to protect perfectly. So the church needs to know what to do and how to respond if a case a child abuse were to happen. And how does the church counsel and help the congregation as a whole and the victims in particular in the wake of a case of child abuse? All of these things are covered in Part 3.

Then at the very end of the book, the author offers some very helpful appendices with guides and examples related to the 8 strategies offered in part 2. These include a guide to writing a child protection policy and an example of a screening application. These will serve as some helpful, practical tools for a church to begin to implement some of the strategies laid out in the book.


The topic of child abuse is one that disturbs me, as it should. as I was reading this book this last week, I came across the video below, which you may have already seen, that even further brought the need for this book home to me. Now this is not in the context of a church, but it is an illustration of just how easily it is for our kids to be lured away by predators

Honestly, this book disturbed me. It was hard for me to read. But it was incredibly good for me to read. As someone who is about to become a parent here in the next week or two, it terrifies me to think about this sort of abuse potentially happening in my church. I have to admit: I would be among those that would (wrongly) think, “I know it happens … but not in my church.” This book definitely opened my eyes to be a better informed and alert parent and pastor. And for that, I am incredibly thankful for this book. Thankfully, we have quite a few of the strategies that the author recommends in place at our church. But that does not mean we are perfect, and we need to constantly be on guard to make sure that we are protecting our children at our church as we are called to do. And so do you.

I would encourage you, if you are a pastor or ministry leader of any kind, to not only get a copy of this book for yourself, but for your whole pastoral and leadership team. This is a serious matter, and one that we cannot (and should not) put off for one more day. We have been given an incredible and weighty responsibility to protect our children. This book will be a great resource for you as you seek to do just that.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank New Growth Press for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Bitesize Biographies: Ulrich Zwingli

ulrich zwingliMartin Luther — That’s a name that I’m sure you are familiar with, and I’m sure you know something of the central role he played in the Reformation.

And John Calvin. Well I’m sure you know a bit about him as well.

But what about Ulrich Zwingli? What do you know about him? Anything? Odds are, you’ve probably never heard of him. And if you have, it’s more than likely only been in relation to your study of the Lord’s Supper and how Zwingli’s view differed from that of both Calvin & Luther.

Well, if that’s you, and you have either never heard of Zwingli or know very little about him, let me encourage you to check out a new book by William Boekestein called, Bitesize Biographies: Ulrich Zwingli. The “Bitesize Biographies” series is a great new series, edited by one of my former SBTS professors, Dr. Michael Haykin, which sets out to provide readable, accessible biographies on a variety of heroes of the Christian faith.

To date, there are 24 biographies published in this series, covering many men that you have certainly heard of — Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Whitefield, & John Newton — as well as many others who you most certainly have not heard of — Adolphe Monod, Augustus Toplady, & Girolamo Savonarola.

In this most recent addition to the series, the author lays out a very readable and engaging biography of the primary player in the Swiss Reformation — Ulrich Zwingli. The reader will learn about a man who, born just 1 week after Martin Luther, played a central role in the Reformation’s spread to Switzerland and beyond. You will learn of Zwingli’s early education and foundations that shaped his life, the influence that Erasmus played in his life, as well as his clash with the Anabaptists in the early 1500s. And in just 150 total pages, you will learn much more of Zwingli’s life and theology.

Will you agree with everything about Zwingli’s life and theology? Probably not. And that’s okay. But as you read this biography, you will see a man who loved the church, cherished the Gospel, was serious about the Bible, and had a whole-hearted zeal for loving the Lord. And surely we can all learn a thing or two from a man like that.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Biblical Contradictions?

contradictionDoes the Bible contradict itself? In short, my answer is, “Absolutely Not!” I wholeheartedly believe that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, 100% true and totally authoritative. I also believe that there are some difficult things to try to explain in the Bible, and we as Christians have to do our best to give reasonable responses and explanations of those passages. Recently, some conversations have led me back to answering a few of these supposed “contradictions” that are pointed out in the Bible in order to “prove” that the Bible can’t be inerrant, infallible, etc.

In the process of answering some of these individual “contradictions,” I came across a great resource by CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) that I wanted to share with you. CARM has done a great job at taking pretty much every supposed contradiction that may be thrown your way as a Christian, and giving you a reasonable and biblical answer as to why the Bible seems to contradict itself, but in fact, does not.

As an introduction to the whole debate, there is a helpful intro article that you can read by clicking here.

CARM has arranged these articles according to the Biblical reference. Below are the links to each section of the Bible where they have individual articles for each reference.

I hope & pray that these serve as a helpful resource to you as you seek to evangelize the lost and answer their questions about the Bible.

The Pastor’s Kid

the pastor's kidPastor’s kids are a unique breed, and a group that often gets a bad rap, having to deal with a whole slew of things that “ordinary” kids don’t. I did not grow up as a pastor’s kid, but I will soon have a pastor’s kid. As someone in ministry, my son that is due in 1 month is about to enter into this world as a member of this unique breed, and I want to do all that I can to adequately prepare him and equip him for the challenges, frustrations, temptations, and peculiarities that accompany the pastor’s kid.

Because of my wish to prepare my son for this, I was excited to see this new book by Barnabas Piper, son of John Piper, titled, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and IdentityReferring to the unique challenges that PKs face, Piper says:

“I have found that there is a uniqueness to the challenges PKs face. The reality of being a sinner on display in a ministry family creates quite the spiritual and emotional Molotov cocktail” (16).

Barnabas Piper wrote this book for a few reasons:

(1) He says that he wrote the book to speak for PKs — not as an expert observer or master on the subject, but simply as one of them. He writes with honesty, humility, and clarity on behalf of the many pastor’s kids out there that have felt the same challenges and frustrations that he has over the last 30 years.

(2) The second reason that Barnabas writes the book is to speak to pastors. Many pastors are unaware, to a full extent, of the challenging position that their kids find themselves in. Therefore, the book serves as a wake-up call to pastors to better shepherd their children. He says:

“For some pastors this will be a harsh wake-up call, a bucket of ice water in your sleeping face. And that’s good. If you’re sleeping, you need it” (16).

(3) The last reason he wrote the book was to speak to the church. Too often, the church has fostered the sort of culture that puts enormous pressure on the PK. Oftentimes, the people in the church are the reasons for much of the burden that the PK caries. Therefore, the book serves as a plea to the church to take their responsibility to the PK seriously.

“PKs are so often getting it from all sides that even the well-meaning pastor-parent needs to realize that what is needed most is extreme grace and powerful expressions of love while de-emphasizing the significance of behavior as the gold standard. Behavior does matter. Obedience to God and parents matters, but this kind of grace counteracts the pressure to be defined by behavior that PKs so often feel. We need an extra measure of grace to overcome the lack of grace we find in so many areas of life” (50-51).

That is the three-fold reason that Piper wrote this book. So what is his desire for the book? What does he hope that it accomplishes? In his words:

“So as you forge ahead, know my heart in this book. I desire to see the hearts of fathers turned to their children and children to their fathers (and mothers, but being a good PK, I had to use the biblical phrasing). I long for burdens to be lifted and cast off, ones that have been carried since childhood. And I desire to point to Jesus as the turner of hearts and the lifter of all burdens” (16).

Throughout the book, Barnabas shares many heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, both from his own experience and from the experiences of PKs all around the world. The tone is honest and clear, humorous at times, and heart-breaking at others. Overall, though, I think that the purpose of the book was accomplished.

I hope, and I pray, that through reading this book, I will better be able to prepare myself, my ministry, and my church as I prepare to be a father to my PK. I am certain that, as a redeemed sinner, I will make mistakes. But I pray that, by the Lord’s grace, I will make fewer of them thanks to this book. If you are a PK, are a parent-pastor of a PK, or will be one day, I would encourage you to get a copy of this book.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank David C. Cook publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Hidden In The Gospel

hidden in the gospelPreach the Gospel to yourself!

Is that something that you’ve ever been told to do? Maybe you’ve heard a preacher say it, read it in a book somewhere, or heard it on the radio. Maybe you’ve never heard it in your life and you’re not quite sure what it means. What does it mean to “preach the Gospel to yourself,” how would you go about doing it, and what would be the benefits of doing so.

The answer to these questions is the subject of William P. Farley’s new book, Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day. Farley says of his new book: “This is a book about basic Christian doctrines, with an emphasis on practical application” (5). This idea that Farley writes about, “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself,” is not a new concept, and Farley freely recognizes that. He is unapologetic about building on the likes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jack Miller, and Jerry Bridges. Where his book differs, though, is that it not only speaks of what it means to preach the Gospel to yourself, but functions as a “tutorial” on how to actually going about doing it.


So what is “Preaching the Gospel to yourself”? Farley allows Jerry Bridges to answer:

“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you” (11).

So, in essence, it is to remind yourself — through the good and the bad, the blessed times and the tragic times, the successes and failures — what the Gospel is and how it applies to your own, personal, life.

What exactly is the “Gospel” though? That, in itself, has been the source of quite a bit of discussion, debate, and full-length books. Well I agree completely with Farley here. He is not limiting the Gospel to refer only to Jesus’ death & resurrection, with an exclusive emphasis on His substitutionary atonement. It is that, for sure. But the Good-News, the Gospel, is much more. Farley is using “The Gospel” to speak about what he refers to as the “wide-angle” Gospel. He says:

“The gospel is good news about all that God has done in Christ to save sinners and redeem the cosmos from the effects of sin. It includes our election before the foundation of the world, Christ’s incarnation, his active obedience, his substitutionary death, his resurrection and ascension, Pentecost, and the final judgment. It also includes the hope of a new creation purged of sin and infused with the active presence of God” (12).

Amen! The Gospel is all of that. It is all that God has done in Christ to save sinners and redeem the cosmos.


So what does the structure of the book look like? Each chapter looks at a crucial aspect of the Gospel. The 8 crucial aspects of the Gospel that Farley looks like are:

  1. Election
  2. Incarnation
  3. Active Obedience
  4. Penal Substitutionary Death
  5. Resurrection
  6. Ascension
  7. Return & Final Judgment
  8. New Creation

After explaining the particular aspect of the Gospel, Farley moves to answer the question, “So What?” How does this particular aspect of the Gospel impact and affect my life? How does preaching this aspect of the Gospel to myself benefit me and help me?

Next, each chapter concludes with an example of what it would look like to preach that aspect of the Gospel to yourself. Finally, the end of each chapter has some discussion questions that could be used to facilitate a small group study.


So why should you read this book? Why is it important for you to cultivate this discipline of preaching the Gospel to yourself? Farley offers 7 incredibly important reasons (14-17):

  1. It regularly and repetitively exposes us to the glory of God.
  2. It will help you grow in humility
  3. You will be the most likely to gain deliverance from that three-headed monster — guilt, inferiority, and low self-image
  4. It will accelerate your sanctification
  5. You will be increasingly “abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6)
  6. You will be increasingly hopeful
  7. It will culminate itself in worship


This is an excellent book, and one that I would absolutely recommend you getting for yourself and/or for those around you that you are able to minister to. From a pastoral perspective, I think that Don Whitney puts it best when he says of this book: “Pastors would have to engage in very little counseling if Christians prioritized what Bill Farley exhorts his readers to do … [and this] would transform the lives of Christians, their homes, and their churches.” Amen! Grab a copy today and being preaching the Gospel to yourself today.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank P&R Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.


PrayerWhat is prayer? And how are we, as Christians, to pray? At a basic level, these are two questions that can be answered quickly and simply. But on a much deeper level, these are two very loaded questions, and two massively important ones.

Tim Keller, NYC pastor and prolific author, noticed a gaping hole in the world of Christian literature when trying to find a book that offered Biblical and comprehensive answers to these two questions. Sure, there are many books on defining what prayer is, without much emphasis on the practical outworking, the how, of prayer. On the other hand, there are good books out there on some of the practical things of prayer, without much focus on defining what prayer actually is. And then there are some older books, particularly from the Puritans, that are great combinations of the two, but are written with archaic and inaccessible language to the ordinary church-goer wanting to grow in his or her prayer life.

It was this burden of not having one, comprehensive book on prayer to give to someone who wanted to understand and practice Christian prayer that led Keller to write his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. In this book, it is Keller’s goal to show the reader that “prayer is both conversation and encounter with God” (5). Pushing back against both extremes seen in the Evangelical world today — cold, distant, rote prayer on the one hand, and mystical, Eastern-influenced rituals on the other hand — Keller offers a biblical and balanced understanding of prayer, as well as incredibly helpful, practical considerations for the Christian to grow in his or her prayer life.

The book is split into five parts:

  1. Desiring Prayer
  2. Understanding Prayer
  3. Learning Prayer
  4. Deepening Prayer
  5. Doing Prayer

What It “Is”

The first two of these five parts discuss what prayer is and is not. Keller discusses the confusing landscape that the Christian will encounter today concerning prayer, particularly with the influx of Eastern mysticism influence on much of the popular Evangelical works on prayer. After discussing the confusing landscape, Keller offers a biblically balanced definition of prayer: “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him” (48). He continues:

“We know who we are praying to only if we first learn it in the Bible. And we know how we should be praying only by getting our vocabulary from the Bible…If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak” (54-55).

Later in the same chapter, Keller reminds the reader of this great truth:

“Without immersion in God’s words, our prayers may not be merely limited and shallow but also untethered from reality. We may be responding not to the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like” (62).

And a page later, after recounting the famous story of George Whitfield having supposed “divine assurance” and “revelation” that he should name his son John because he would be a preacher of the Gospel, only then to suffer the agony of his son dying at just four-months old, Keller reminds us:

“The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture” (63).

The first two parts that describe what prayer is take up 80 pages of the book, and Keller gives the reader many good insights and reminders in those pages. I hope that what I have shared has sufficed to give you a taste of Keller’s commitment to prayer biblically defined, and to the primacy of the Word of God as it relates to prayer and God speaking to His people.

“How” To Do It

The rest of the book, then, deals with the practical side of prayer. With a correct understanding of what prayer is, the question that begs to be answered is, “How, then, are we to pray?” There is a ton of good stuff here in these chapters, including a look at letters and articles from Church History from the likes of Augustine, Luther, & Calvin, as well as a phrase by phrase exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Prayer of Prayers,” in Part 3. Keller also looks at what it means that prayer is a “conversation” with God as well as an “encounter” with God in Part 4. And finally, in Part 5, he looks at how we are to “do” prayer by identifying the three basic kinds of prayer to God:

  1. Upward Prayer – Praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself.
  2. Inward Prayer – Self-examination and confession
  3. Outward Prayer – Supplication and intercession

Finally, Keller includes a wonderfully helpful chapter titled, “Practice: Daily Prayer,” in which he discusses how the Christian should structure his daily prayer by looking both to Biblical examples and Church History. What I sincerely appreciated in this chapter (and really throughout the entire book) was the continued emphasis on the primary role that the Word of God plays in our prayer life. I have encountered far too many teachers and/or books on prayer that speak of all kinds of practices and techniques, but which glaringly omit the primary role that the Word should play in kindling and guiding our prayers. Keller did an excellent job at drawing that out.


I was greatly encouraged and helped by Keller’s book on prayer. As I think about my own prayer life, and the times that I have had the honor and challenge of teaching on prayer, I greatly resonated with Keller in the opening chapter of the book:

“Prayer is nonetheless an exceedingly difficult subject to write about. That is not primarily because it is so indefinable but because, before it, we feel so small and helpless. Lloyd-Jones once said that he had never written on prayer because of a sense of personal inadequacy in this area” (18).

I, too, have often had that same feeling. But thanks be to God that our authority as to what prayer is and how we are to pray does not come from me, nor from Tim Keller, nor anyone else, but from the Word of God. And it is upon this Word that Keller stands in this book on prayer. This will absolutely be my go-to book on prayer for some time to come. I would encourage you to grab a copy for yourself, because I have the feeling that you will walk away saying the exact same thing.

For some additional helpful reviews and interviews on this book, check out the following:

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Dutton Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.