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Friday, May 24, 2019

"A Pastoral Rule for Today" by Burgess, Andrews and Small. A Review.

A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient PracticeA Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice by John P. Burgess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With two decades of military life under my belt, and now two decades of ministry, I can honestly say that having a devotional plan, a religious rhythm, to shape each day, week, month and year is essential for my own well-being. Therefore I was quite pleased to see the new 208 page paperback, "A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice" hit the streets! John P. Burgess, the James Henry Snowden Professor of Systematic Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; Jerry Andrews, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Diego, California; and Joseph D. Small, retired director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship, spent years pulling together the contents and backdrop for this manual. It is written primarily for pastors and ministers of any Christian tradition; and it is written to help them hash out a "rule" - a guide or standard - that they can apply to their situation. Since "many ministers today are burdened by competing and confusing demands" and "too often lose a clear sense of what lies at the heart of their vocation" (181), the authors have taken the initiative to give fellow ministers a hand with this volume.

"The Pastoral Rule for Today" is focused on delivering to clergy a guide for shaping and molding their days, weeks and months in ways that will enhance and maintain their communion with God through "prayer, studying Scripture, theological reflection, and service to the world" (1). The authors do this by introducing readers to seven major Christian thinkers throughout the centuries, and their unique emphases that inform pastors in their ministry: Augustine and friendship; Benedict and obedience; Gregory the Great and holiness in order to serve; Calvin and mutual supervision; Wesley and carefully chosen words; Newman and serious study; and Bonhoeffer and being physically present to others. As each chapter looks to each of these thinkers, it gives a survey of their life and accent, and then pulls out how that particular priority applies in ministry and to a devotional discipline.

The final two chapters map out an extended version of a pastoral rule that might fit many or most ministries. The proposed rule that Burgess, Andrews and Small tease out covers (1) the personal disciplines of daily Scripture reading, prayer, theological reading/reflection, and self-care at various levels; (2) personal conduct in ministry individually, with the congregation, and the world; (3) and mutual encouragement and accountability. The authors also give two examples written by other ministers who have crafted their own rule, employed it, revised it, and are now moving on with it.

Even if you don't use the exact format found in "A Pastoral Rule for Today," you will find - with the authors, and myself - that "a disciplined way of life" helps "keep us grounded in the principle calling of a pastor: to be faithful to God and God's will for us and the people we serve" (5). And on the chance you may not be happy with one of their samples, as I was not with Newman, nevertheless you will still gain some grist for the mental mill as you conceptualize your own patterns of piety. I highly recommend the book.

My thanks to IVP Academic. I requested the book from the publishers, and they sent it to me with no further strings attached other than "please write an honest review". Hence, all herein is openly and candidly my own assessment.

The book can be purchased here: https://www.ivpress.com/a-pastoral-rule-for-today

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