I want to highly recommend Brian Croft and Jim Savastio’s new book, The Pastor’s Soul: The Call and Care of an Undershepherd. Here’s the foreword that I wrote for the book.
“The minister’s soul is the soul of his ministry.” I can’t remember where I first heard this saying, but I’ve never been able to forget it. And, having read this book, I never want to forget it. In these pages, Jim Savastio and Brian Croft establish the foundation of all faithful and fruitful ministry – the pastor’s soul. But, although their main target is the epidemic of ministerial hyper-activity and the accompanying burnout, backsliding, and brokenness, they carefully avoid over-reacting and running to the opposite extremes of monkish withdrawal or lazy self-indulgence. Instead, you have a book that skillfully walks a balanced biblical path in both content and style.
Self and Others
It balances self and others. Yes, the pastor is all about serving others, about sacrificing for the sake of others, about spending and being spent for others, and about pouring out to fill others. But, as many pastors have discovered to their cost and pain, servants are finite, sacrifices eventually turn to ashes, non-stop spending leads to bankruptcy, and pouring out without ever filling up ends in drought. This book reminds us that caring for self is not selfish but necessary if we are to sustain a life of caring service to others. It’s not a warrant for sloth or selfishness, but rather a call to self-care that will lead to better other-care.
Soul and Body
It balances the soul and the body. While the spiritual life of the pastor is their primary concern, Brian and Jim do not fall into the trap of gnostic dualism—belittling the body and focusing exclusively on the soul. Yes, the soul is prioritized, and spiritual life is at the core, but the authors recognize not only that our souls impact our bodies, but our bodies also influence our souls. You’ll therefore find not only wise shepherding of our souls, but also a concern for how we sleep, eat, exercise, and so on.
God and People
It balances relationship with God and relationship with others. This book encouraged me to go deeper, longer, and wider with God. I came away from it with a hunger and thirst for renewed friendship with my heavenly Father, my Savior, and my Sanctifier. But I was also motivated to pursue deeper, wider, and longer friendships with others. As the authors emphasize, this begins with a pastor’s wife and children, but they also prove the necessity of more godly male friends in the pastor’s life.
Instruction and Illustration
It balances biblical instruction and personal illustration. The foundation of this book is biblical exegesis as it tours numerous key verses to mine them for all that God has to say to pastors about their own soul care. But it also incorporates numerous personal examples of how Jim and Brian have experienced the truth of this teaching in their long pastoral ministries. Their transparency and vulnerability about their failures and successes bathe the book in authenticity. Pastors will clearly sense that the authors have been in the trenches of everyday ordinary pastoral ministry and bear many genuine scars as well as carry a few medals for valor. You’ll find reality, but not a reality show.
Principles and Application
It balances big-picture principles with detailed practical application. A few big truths will emerge throughout this book, important theological principles that stand out demanding attention and meditation. But how do we connect them with our lives? How do we bring them down from their lofty theological heights and into contact with Sunday through Saturday ministry? That’s where this book excels. It takes deep doctrine into the details of daily pastoral life. Theory becomes intensely and intimately practical.
Challenge and Do-ability
It balances challenge with do-ability. Some pastoral ministry books aim so high that their impossible standards paralyze and depress us. Others set such a low bar that the ministry is diminished and the dignity of the pastoral calling is tarnished. This book lifts the bar high but not out of sight. It promotes a high view of gospel labor and demands high standards, but not in a discouraging way that ends up limiting gospel ministry to supermen. At times, you will exclaim, “Who is sufficient for these things?” But you will quickly respond, “My sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5).
Repentance and Hope
It balances Gospel repentance with Gospel hope. No pastor will read this book without repenting. Tears of contrition will stain the pages (or ruin your Kindle!). But it doesn’t end there. Brian and Jim apply healing Gospel balm to the deepest wounds of conviction. And it doesn’t end there either. They go on to entice and encourage us with the prospect of a much healthier and happier ministry ahead. Yes, it can be different. The past does not have to be repeated. There’s a different and better way of being faithful in this calling. It doesn’t have to be all about grit and grind until early retirement or even earlier death.
Yes, you will see blue lights and hear wailing sirens if your busyness and stress have made the presence of God in your life a distant memory. But you will also sense the prospect and possibility of a much better kind of ministry life—one that doesn’t hollow out your heart, run down your body, or jeopardize your most important relationships. This is a hopeful and hope-filled book that can change the trajectory and tone of your entire ministry.
Thank you, Jim and Brian, for writing such a biblical and balanced book. My earnest prayer and fervent hope is that God will use it to rescue many pastors from the wrecker’s yard and prevent multiple others from ending up there. May God bless your labors so that pastors everywhere will experience that a revived soul is the key to a revived ministry.