The Recurrent Theme in TGC’s Advice to Young Pastors

June 24, 2015 — 8 Comments


Earlier this year, The Gospel Coalition ran a series with “Advice to Young Pastors.” The answers given by these pastors and leaders is in response to this question:

In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

I found the answers illuminating and also noticed a pattern emerge. Keep in mind that these answers are offered with the assumption that pastors know the Scriptures and sound doctrine well. Without realizing that, you might come to the assumption study Scripture isn’t all that important since none of these guys seem to think so. If that’s not where you’re at, you should start there. But if you’re growing in that and are pursuing or already in pastoral ministry, this is some good advice. See if you spot the two things that come up the most frequently:

Conrad Mbewe

  • Study church history (particularly through biographies)

Ligon Duncan

  • Study church history
  • Read up on Islam
  • Read cultural analysis

Ken Jones

  • Learn how to do Christ-centered preaching well
  • Learn different models of Christian cultural engagement

R. C. Sproul

  • Study prayer.
  • Study the lives of great preachers and Christian leaders.
  • Study the Old Testament law and its relevance to New Testament saints.
  • Study the history of sacred music and its effect on the church.
  • Study especially the doctrines of Christology and justification.

Tom Schreiner

  • Read Christian classics

Carlos Contreras

  • Read objective theological truth that helps your devotion to God
  • Read in areas of current social/political concern
  • Read literary classics

Bryan Chapell

  • Understand the thought processes of a generation whose worldview is primarily informed by media impressions
  • Understand the differences in the ways North Americans over 50 and those under 40 understand the obligations of Christians in society
  • Prepare to be a multi-ethnic church
  • Help church members perceive themselves a vital members of a global Christian community that is interdependent for its mission and moral status
  • Help each member understand the gospel’s application to everyday decisions, occupations, and ethics
  • Help a younger generation of preachers address each of the previously mentioned concerns from a compulsion of grace, rather than a theology of doing better than other generations, traditions, or churches.

Miguel Núñez

  • Read, study, and meditate on topics related to morality, ethical and bioethical dilemmas, the nature of truth, worldviews, and biblical wisdom and discernment.

Darrell Bock

  • Study what drives culture
  • Exegete the culture

Sam Storms

  • Make every effort to read every book that will deepen your delight in the Lord

Wayne Grudem

  • Learn how to teach biblical ethics well

David Wells

  • Learn to walk with God through life
  • Study the Word more deeply and reflect on the world more seriously

Don Carson

  • Know more of God
  • Do broad reading (church history, missions, evangelism, Bible studies)
  • Read up in area of particular problem in your ministry context

Danny Akin

  • Read the great hymns of the faith.
  • Read missionary biographies.
  • Read books on marriage and family
  • Read books on preaching and hone your skills.
  • Read books on evangelism.

Scotty Smith

  • Get equipped in conflict management (conflict is inevitable, but healthy conflict is all too rare)
  • Understand family systems theory
  • Understand emotional intelligence
  • Develop servant leadership
  • Understand transition theory and planning
  • Grapple with suffering, depression, and loss
  • Learn fly-fishing, photography, hang-gliding, rock guitar playing . . . whatever will put a huge smile on your face and joy in your heart

David Powlison

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Talk with people—“the human documents”—so that you are studying primary sources. Listen, notice, ask questions, ponder, interact, remember.
  • Read histories and biographies. People are so different from each other, yet so alike. You need to learn how these realities intertwine.
  • Listen to the music and watch the films that capture hearts and minds.
  • Read good novels and poetry.
  • Read the daily newspaper and some thoughtful commentary—The Economist or The Atlantic, perhaps.
  • And, of course, read your Bible. Let your eye for what people are like and for what people experience be just as keen as your eye for what God is like.

David Dockery

  • Seek to be as technologically savvy as possible in order to communicate well and effectively in this brave new world
  • Recognize that the needs of people are not dissimilar from previous generations
  • Reading well-written biographies of influential Christian leaders can also be inspirational, informative, and genuinely helpful
  • Learn to take truths that have been taught or the ministry models that have been practiced and then adapt them with insight and great sensitivity in light of the shifting cultural dynamics and demographics

Tim Keller

  • Study up on cultural analysis
  • Study up on leadership

Paul Tripp

  • Commit yourself to be a student and accurate exegete of Scripture
  • Commit yourself to be a constant student of and accurate exegete of people

John Frame

  • Learn how to show godly love to people—in evangelism, counseling, church administration
  • Study logic

John Yates

  • Read commentaries
  • Read church history (both biographies and sociological accounts)
  • Read leadership books
  • Read Christian fiction
  • Read news sources
  • Read Tim Keller
  • Read other biographies
  • Read the Bible thoughtfully, carefully, and prayerfully every day

In triperspectival terms, there is a big emphasis on the situational aspect. I think we could sum it up as cultural engagement with three emphases: (1) the past culture of church history, (2) the present culture of our world, (3) the interior culture of our hearts and those we minister to. This goes back to my review from yesterday emphasizing the importance of context. In this case though, it is a wide variety of contexts and the careful pastor will endeavor to understand each of them with more diligence. For the first context, there are numerous resources on church history and great biographies you could pick up. For the second, I’d recommend thoughtful sociological writing, but also thoughtful writing on pop culture like we do at Christ and Pop Culture. For the last, I would try to read more wise pastoral counselors, some of whom show up in the above list.


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

8 responses to The Recurrent Theme in TGC’s Advice to Young Pastors

  1. Great analysis, Nate.

    I think this advice to young pastors is helpful for any Christian dealing with the culture and with other people. However, it leads to the next question: How should one prioritize?

    You point out that studying the Bible and sound doctrine are assumed, and that’s where we should all begin and where our foundation needs to remain. Where each of us and our pastors go from there will be very individual, and I like how you group the ideas to simplify the choice.

    Thank you.

    • Annie,

      Prioritization is a tough one, but I tend to try to balance the three, with church history lagging behind a bit. I do this partly because it is not as evolving and changing as the current culture is, and I’ve done much reading there in the past. As a way of uniting two of the emphases, I’m a big fan of Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series since it mixes pastoral counsel and church history. I’m also partial to Christ and Pop Culture, who I currently write for.


  2. This is great. I am not a young pastor. I’m a relatively young Christian man trying to grow in my relationship to God and let His word be a mirror more. And a father. And a mentor accidentally to folks who for some reason see that role. But at any rate – I see this advice as all important to all of us if we are to grow.

    I’d love to see a second round of this same blog post – but this time with resource suggestions. I’d love to get more into studying and understanding Church History and it’s impact – but there are so many sources out there. But this same set of questions in “recommended resource” form would be a tremendous thing to see. I bet we’d get some patterns emerging there also.

    Thanks for sharing this though. This is great.

  3. Anytime I can see that many suggestions from that many established leaders I am appreciative! My next question though would be, “where does one begin?”. If I decided to read on the topic of church history, where would I start? Not sure if that makes sense but with there being so much information available I would like to know I am taking in worthwhile information. Thanks for the article!

  4. Felicia Murphy June 25, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Read up, listen to, John MacArthur about how he boldly proclaims the truth and sometimes calls out pastors and movements, by name, in his concern for adhering to BIBLICAL truth!

  5. This list makes it sound like the basic problem for pastors is that they don’t read the right books. Only two recommended getting to know people Tripp and Powlison They happen to be counselors who work through people’s deepest issues on a daily basis. I don’t think that the problem is a lack of reading but a lack of connecting to the needs of the world. I am surprised that spending time with people who are homeless, volunteering at a nursing home, or visiting people in the hospital aren’t on the list.

    • I think a big part of that is because of how the original question is phrased (“What should pastors be studying…”). A good followup series might ask “What should young aspiring pastors be doing that they might not ordinarily think of?”

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