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THE CARE OF SOULS: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart/CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY: For the Care of Souls

THE CARE OF SOULS: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart/CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY: For the Care of Souls

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THE CARE OF SOULS: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

THE CARE OF SOULS: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. By Harold Senkbeil. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019. 290 pages. $21.99. / CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY: For the Care of Souls. By Harold Senkbeil and Lucas Woodford. Vol. 1 of Lexham Ministry Guides. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019. 84 pages. $9.99.

In the concluding chapter of The Care of Souls, Harold Senkbeil says, “my frank goal throughout has been simply to enthrall you with this classic model for the cure of souls” (278). From the eyes of this reviewer, Senkbeil has achieved his goal.

The Care of Souls is a book about who pastors are, what they should be doing, and how they should be doing it. Anyone who has been a pastor for any length of time has met numerous people in their parish who have varying (and strong!) opinions about who pastors are, what they should be doing, and how they should be doing it. Senkbeil’s approach to the matter is simple and faithful. He’s calling for a pastoral habitus (a term he uses frequently); that is, “a pastoral temperament or character worked by the Holy Spirit through his means” (17).

Being a pastor isn’t so much about following a perfectly executed series of steps in order to accomplish specific goals. Being a pastor is about knowing who you are in Jesus Christ, knowing what Jesus Christ and His Church have called you to do, and then keeping that main thing the main thing in all your work.

A pastor is an agent of God who is authorized to dispense His divinely given gifts to sinners. In order to carry out this work, the pastor needs to “norm” his work by God’s Word, and then with a responsible handling of the Word of God he must be attentive to diagnose spiritual maladies and follow the diagnoses with divinely authorized intentional treatments.

At the risk of being redundant and painting with too broad a brush, Senkbeil is appealing to pastors (and all those who take up his book) to make sure they keep the main thing the main thing, and this appeal colors every single page of the book. The most explicit expression of this idea is in Chapter Five where Senkbeil makes a distinction between what is “beneficial” and what is “essential.” He says, “Yet the average church board in the west spends nine-tenths of its time and energy (financial resources, too) focused on these helpful but non-essential things. The real rub is when you and I as pastors begin to adopt the same approach. . . . We expend nine-tenths of our time and energy on secondary matters and ignore the primary” (116).

With an eye on all things “primary” the reader is advised on other matters as well. Each chapter focuses on a new idea or concept. For example, Chapter Six explores “Guilt and Shame”, Chapter Ten explores the predominant overlap of “mission” and “the care of souls.” Chapter Eleven beseeches pastors to have pastors, and the book concludes with a reflection on joy.

This book is full of wonderful insights, and offers a needed corrective on who pastors are, what pastors should be doing, and how pastors should be doing it.

It should go without saying that pastors should read this book, but the book is also beneficial for non-pastors, too. There are a great many pastors (especially young ones) who leave the seminary with some idea of what a pastor is and what work he should be doing, and how he should be doing it, but then he finds that his paycheck comes from people who do not share that same understanding. This differing outlook on the essential role of the pastor within the congregation becomes and easy foothold for Satan to work division and havoc among God’s flock. Laity who take the time to read this book will be an incredible blessing to their pastor (and their entire congregation) as they re-calibrate their understanding of the pastoral office to jive with Scripture’s portrayal of it.

I recommend this book in equal measure to pastors, laity, and students preparing to be pastors.

I was going to critique this book for being too redundant at times. After all, how many times can you say, “You cannot give what you have not first received.” but then I read on page 152, “I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record” and immediately curbed my criticism since the author was aware of it, too.


It would be unfair to characterize The Care of Souls as a book that portrays the pastoral office as somehow being anti-leadership. Pastoral ministry has often been usurped by business strategies more at-home in the secular world than the sacred one, but Senkbeil is not guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you want his direct thoughts and practical wisdom on “pastor as leader” then you’ll need to pick up Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls. This short, eighty-four page book is co-authored with Lucas Woodford and is rightly characterized as a companion volume to The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. In fact, I learned in personal correspondence with Harold Senkbeil, that this entire “field manual” (Senkbeil’s term) was originally planned as an “appendix” to his book The Care of Souls but the editors shaved it off and turned it into a separate work.

Woodford and Senkbeil strike a good balance between “leadership” and “pastoral care.” This “field manual” is beneficial and particularly helpful to those pastors who are predisposed to bristle at the idea of “pastoral leadership” and prone to throwing the leadership baby out with the secular bathwater.

I actually read Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls first and then The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart second. I wouldn’t do it differently. Both are beneficial and the editors made a sound decision by separating them . . . though reading them together is important, too, which is why I’m reviewing them together.

Lucas Woodford shares his expertise in wading through the more fruitful secular books and data and alerts the careful reader to potential pitfalls. Meanwhile, Harold Senkbeil concludes this “field manual” with a delightful chapter titled “Pastoral Depletion Syndrome.” This particular chapter has the most in common with his stand-alone work The Care of Souls. Thus, if you enjoy this chapter and want another 282 pages of the same, then The Care of Souls will be a great treat to you.

Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Milbank, SD.

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