The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

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I really enjoyed Harold L. Senkbeil’s book The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (2019, Lexham Press). I was both encouraged and challenged to evaluate my own understanding of what it means to be a pastor, what my primary task is, and how Jesus is the unending source of life for my own soul and my ministry. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book.

This is the secret to sustainable pastoral work: You need to realize that you’ve got nothing to give to others that you yourself did not receive. Jesus loves you first, then you love him back by loving his sheep and lambs in his name and stead. If pastoral ministry is anything at all, it’s a ministry of love. It’s being one more link in the unbroken chain of love that extends all the way back to Calvary one dark Friday outside the city gates of Jerusalem. There they nailed up the Lord of life to die a cruel death he didn’t deserve, but willingly — even joyfully — embraced so he could give us his own life to live, risen out of death and into live eternal. (Preface, xx)

Work done for the right reason is its own reward. (p.5)

There’s a strange beauty in the most menial (even distasteful) tasks of the ministry when you realize that they are Christ’s tasks and that he works with you and through you for his purpose. (p.7)

As a pastor you’re above all else a true servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries. Let that identity — that habitus — dictate everything you do and say in ministry. Then you yourself will be well served as you serve others in Jesus’ name. (p.26)

Word and Spirit are inseparably linked. If you want the Spirit of God, you need the word. It is a brightly shining lamp in the darkness of this conflicted world of ours. (p.40)

Do you see why I love the care of souls so much? To be able to bring them the one thing needful when all other things fade away, there’s nothing quite like it. To have something of eternal significance when all other speech, however well-intended, rings hollow on the ear — this is an experience that humbles every pastor. But there too we have nothing to bring, you and I, that we ourselves have not first received. We are only errand boys for Jesus, emissaries of the one who bled and died to give his life that everyone in this dying world might find their life in him. (p.53)

The terminology of soul care/cure (Cura animarum/seelsorge) is merely the way the church has historically recalled pastors to their essential role — tending people created by God, redeemed by his Son, who need to be sanctified by his Spirit for both time and eternity. (p.64)

It amazes me that the medical profession depends on something that we pastors in recent generations have tended to dismiss: quiet, probing conversation accompanied by a great deal of attentive listening. In my experience, the listening itself provides an immensely therapeutic benefit. Most people in our time are frenetically occupied with so many things that they don’t take the time to sit down and unburden their hearts. (p.68)

The fact is that we human beings, pastors included, are unable to discern God’s disposition by decoding the events in a person’s life. Our pastoral role in hardship or tragedy is not to venture into an area for which we are neither licensed or authorized, but rather to be a partner in that individual’s suffering… Sometimes the only comfort we have to bring is this: we have a suffering God. (p.83)

There is nothing more important than to know Christ — that is, to believe in him and so receive life eternal in the life still to come as well as life in all its fullness already now. Everything else in all the work is peripheral to that; this alone is central. (p.125)

One day when I confided my (intellectual) insecurities, an academic set me straight. I think he was a professor of mathematics. “Don’t worry,” he said, “When I come to church I don’t come for the intellectual stimulation; I come as a sinner to hear the word of God.” A wise man, that guy! He knew how to encourage a simple Minnesota farm lad to continue preparation for his God-given vocation. (p.145, parenthesis added)

This is no time to let up on God’s law, for these are lawless times. Yet the law of God, though it can and does teach us the way of holiness, can never bring us holiness. The Lord God alone remains our sanctification. (p.162)

Since Jesus is not merely the payment for our sins (our redemption) but also our righteousness (justification) and holiness (sanctification), all of pastoral care involves bringing people to Christ and Christ to people. (p.181)

Too many sermons stop short of preaching Jesus; they are content to preach about Jesus instead. We may hear a lot about his glorious deeds and his astonishing mercy, his compelling and exemplary love, but we don’t really hear from Jesus himself. (p.227)

Soul care at its most basic level is simply this: bringing suffering souls the good news of the gospel. (p.231)

You can purchase the book on Amazon or over at Lexham Press.

Here is an interview with Senkbeil on The Gospelbound Podcast

 

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