Do we really need another book on the calling and work of a pastor? That’s my usual reaction when the latest books on the subject land regularly on my desk. And most of the time, my answer is “No.” However, knowing the wide and long pastoral experience of Erroll Hulse induced me to give his book a second look, and a third, and soon I was saying, “Yes, we need this book, it makes a valuable contribution, and it will help a lot of pastors and those who train them.”
It takes a unique approach in that it approaches the subject via the biographies of pastors from many different eras and denominations. And in each case, after a brief biography, the author focuses in on one particular quality in that pastor’s life and ministry. He looks in turn at:
- Martin Luther’s example as a reformer
- William Perkins’ example in stressing application in preaching
- Richard Baxter’s example in evangelism
- Jonathan Edwards’ example as a student of theology
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones example in preaching
- Martin Holdt’s example in maintaining a strong prayer life.
And all this is preceded by a few introductory chapters that start with our Lord Jesus Christ as an example of compassion and care, especially as seen in Isaiah’s four servant songs, and then at lessons from the Apostle Paul’s ministry, in particular:
- His insistence on the centrality of the cross
- His insistence on justification by faith alone
- His amazing prayer life
- His practical example as a team worker
- His ability to endure suffering
There were a number of features I liked about this book:
First, was its conversational tone. At times I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a wise older man, being patiently and lovingly mentored by the fireside on a cold winter’s day. There were lots of fascinating “asides,” illustrations, and anecdotes garnered from many years in various ministries and missions.
Second, I appreciated the call to serious study both in preparation for the ministry and in the ongoing life of the pastor. Whatever training method chosen, seminary, or local church, Erroll emphasizes the need for prolonged time and intense study to acquire the necessary knowledge and skill to teach and preach weekly. He leans towards a seminary model as long as the teachers have pastoral experience and the students are embedded in local churches as they are taught.
Third, it majors on the majors: study, preaching, prayer, evangelism, compassion, and suffering. You may think you’ve heard it all before on these subjects, but I really believe you’ll find many fresh theological and practical gems in this book that will develop your skill and grace in these vital areas.
Fourth, you’ll learn a lot of stirring and inspirational church history. Erroll’s brief biographies of each of his main characters are a delightful model of how to introduce historical figures to a modern audience. Apart from the basics of each man’s life, there are also lots of great quotes, stories, and illustrations. I’ve read biographies about most of these men, but I found myself learning lots of new and fascinating facts about them.
Fifth, I enjoyed the way Erroll moved from historical narratives to personal application. He marshals all the facts together in a powerfully persuasive argument to move us to think, feel, will, speak, and do differently. It really is that rare bird – a practical book on practical theology.
Last, I welcomed the unspoken challenge throughout to aspire to excellence in the basics of pastoral ministry. I didn’t find Erroll’s use of these mighty men of God as our models in any way discouraging; rather I found it uplifting and motivating. It’s a high calling and therefore any who follow it must aspire to the highest of standards. This is not for the half-hearted, the faint-hearted, or the cold-hearted; it’s for full-hearts, strong-hearts, and burning hearts.
“One in a Thousand” is the title and is taken from Job 33:22-24 where God’s messenger of salvation is so valuable and so uncommon that he is described as “one in a thousand.” Yes, that’s how rare such pastors were then and remain so today. Rare in number. Rare in that kind of quality. But this book has the potential to swell their ranks so that, by God’s grace, maybe the book can soon be re-titled, “Two in a Thousand” or even “Ten in a Thousand!”