Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Pursuing Pastoral Excellence

Once in a while I come across a book and I go "wow, where has this author been all these years when I needed him (or her)???? I found Pursuing Pastoral Excellence: Pathways to Fruitful Leadership (Alban, 2011) while browsing books on the Alban Institute website, and am I glad I found it. Pursuing Pastoral Excellence is a treasure trove for pastors. This is definitely a book that I will read at least once a year!

The author, Dr. Paul Hopkins, is an ordained minister in the DCC (Disciples of Christ) and for the past eighteen years has served as the CEO of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Albuquerque, NM. Hopkins has spent his entire life in ministry, as the son of two Christian ministers and then himself as a minister and as a pastoral counselor. Pursuing Pastoral Excellence is a result of his many years helping pastors find their way through the difficulties and tragedies of parish life.

Ministry is toxic. If pastors are not careful we will find ourselves afflicted with other peoples' problems, taking on their baggage as our own. Parishioners often project their cares, wants, needs, ideas, emotions, anger, on their pastor. Likewise, the very nature of ministry comes with its own challenges as well: time management, lack of routine, maintaining proper boundaries, not including the challenges and burdens that parishes often put on the family. Of course note all pastors have major problems, but may do and Dr. Hopkins certainly knows the ins and outs of ministry.

Pursuing Pastoral Excellence is organized around 7 primary ways in which pastor's strive for excellence in ministry:


Hopkins weaves his narrative with stories from real life pastors (whose names have been changed) as models of ministry. We meet Richard, Russell, Trey, Carole, Sue, Paul, and Christine; each pastor highlights one or more aspects of fruitful leadership. We hear about real-life joys and sorrows, challenges and possibilities in the local Church. We read about the problems and issues of small family and pastoral sized Churches as well as pastor's serving in larger corporate size Churches. Hopkins has a fine writing style, never does he preach to the choir, but highlights and calls to the reader's attention the matter at hand.

I read Pursuing Pastoral Excellence with a pen, underlining sentences and making comments in the margins for later reflection. Hopkins also includes several questions for small group discussion or for further reflection or journaling. Pursuing Pastoral Excellence could easily be used as a piece for discussion and reflection.

I am not sure if Hopkins plans to write another book, but as one new fan, I hope he does. Pastors need more honest, truthful, and what I call "real" books for ministry. So many new resources focus on Church growth or building bigger and better buildings. Yet pastors need to be fed with food that keeps us going. Hopkins is Biblical, focusing on the ministry of Jesus without being dogmatic as well as practical. He shows us how these real-life modern day pastors have dealt with real-life issues in the local Church. I congratulate Paul Hopkins for his work and look forward to more from him in the near future.