Jason Helopoulos. The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 208 pp. $14.99.
The early years of ministry are, for most pastors, a rush. For better or worse, those early years in the ministry are filled with hard and fast learning. Young pastors like myself can easily feel confused, lost, overwhelmed, and inadequate. Young pastors leave seminary or Bible College ready to change the world and solve problems the church has experienced for years only to discover the dark side of ministry. Sadly, young pastors are unable to bear the weight of their unrealistic expectations. Before actually stepping into pastoral ministry, it is an easy to make it into an idol.
Young seminarians like myself have a tendency to look to their mentors or favorite pastors as the standard or litmus test for their own ministries. Holding such unrealistic standards is a major factor in early burnout and a true identity crisis in the life of a young pastor. Ministry is hard. And while some young pastors have terrific mentors, most do not. This means there are a host of young pastors and seminarians who are or will be thrown to the wolves.
If there are two things pastors in those green years of ministry need, it is help and encouragement. In his latest book, The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry, Jason Helopoulos sets out to offer both help and encouragement to new ministers. Helopoulos knows a lot about the pastorate. He has served three different churches, currently as Associate Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.
The title is apropos. Through forty-eight short, yet significant chapters, Helopoulos takes the pastor through every step of the beginnings of ministry, and the many situations the pastor will face not only in the early years, but also throughout his ministry. He sates the purpose of the book in the first pages when he writes,
“I ask you to consider this book as an outstretched helping hand from a pastor a little further along in the journey than you—a pastor who experienced his first years of ministry just a decade ago. Those memories and challenges are still fresh in my mind. I hope this freshness, along with some seasoning through experience as the years have passed, will provide ready wisdom and aid to those just beginning this journey. Much of this book draws on advice mentors have given me over the years, but some of it is what I wish I had known and unfortunately only learned by experience.” (20)
This paragraph nicely summarizes exactly what this book is. It is the wise advice of an older brother pastor passed on to younger brother pastors. It is the author’s way of looking in the rear view mirror of his journey along the road of ministry and offering warning signs for those just beginning the ride.
Structurally, The New Pastor’s Handbook functions quite well as handbook or manual. The short, yet numerous chapters allow the reader to jump around from topic to topic as he sees fit. The breadth of topics addressed means this book can be used again and again throughout the early years of ministry and beyond as new situations are faced.
Helopoulos begins by addressing the beginnings of pastoral ministry, where he discusses matters including a pastor’s calling and candidacy. Next, he moves to offer advice for how to “start strong” in whatever ministry role the pastor is in. Helopoulos quite tactfully speaks to senior pastors, assistant pastors, and youth pastors and offers advice for how to properly serve in these roles. What is most commendable about The New Pastor’s Handbook is the fact that the advice given is rooted primarily in Scripture and focuses on the nature of the pastorate—servant-leadership. Pastors are shepherds, and as such should function as servant-leaders. The pastorate is unlike any other work in the world. It is not a climb up a ministerial corporate ladder. Instead, it is constant building up and pointing to the sufficiency of Christ.
Helopoulos excels in properly setting a young pastor’s sights on what is important. In his discussion of starting out strong in the various ministry positions, Helopoulos strikes an important balance between encouragement and warning. He neither discourages young pastors from serving in any pastorate position, but appropriately flashes warning signs to guard the young pastor.
The remainder of the book deals with various highly practical ministry issues, contexts, and situations. There is a section for encouragement, pitfalls, and the joys of ministry. Helopoulos speaks to both the discouraged, lost, and confused pastor who has no clue what his next move will be. Yet, he also speaks to the cocky, brash, and shortsighted pastor who thinks he knows far more than he does.
Bottom line: if you are in pastoral ministry, especially in those early years, you need a copy of The New Pastor’s Handbook. In it the pastor will find a reservoir of help and encouragement for the rocky, joyful journey that is pastoral ministry.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggershttp://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.