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Best Advice

Leading elders American preachers share their ecclesiastical wisdom

By Ross Lockhart

Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers
Edited by William J. Carl III
(Westminster John Knox Press) $20.12

“Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.” Jethro offered these kind words to Moses in Exodus 18 after watching his son-in-law’s pastoral ministry wear him out. Moses heeded this advice and thrived in ministry as a result. How about the rest of us in pastoral ministry? Are we in need of some good advice?

If so, then the collection of essays edited by William J. Carl III may be just what we need heading into another Lenten season. Best Advice is a feast of pastoral wisdom from some of the most recognizable names in the Christian church in America today. The subtitle, Wisdom on Ministry is misleading, however, in the sense that this book is overwhelmingly about preaching. Those seeking advice on pastoral care, sacramental ministry, education or service may be left wanting.

However, if preaching is as dear to your heart as it is to mine, this is a fine and eclectic source of inspiration. Indianapolis preaching professor Ronald J. Allen offers research on what a listener hears in a sermon, while Atlanta professor Tom Long compares preaching to playing baseball — both require a commitment to practising a mix of “art and science.”

Chapters range from the reflective voice of Presbyterian preacher Joanna Adams in “What I Would Like to Tell My Colleagues in Ministry” to the tips ’n’ tricks approach of Texan homiletics professor Alyce McKenzie in “Homiletical Proverbs.” The mood changes chapter by chapter, from San Francisco-based Jana Childers’s encouraging counsel on finding the power to preach when you’re exhausted, to the understated benediction of African American Gardiner Taylor in “An Old Preacher’s Unsolicited Advice.”

While the variety of essays was wonderful, the book would have been enhanced were it organized into categories of wisdom. Instead, the mix is as overwhelming as a Prairie church bazaar with baked goods set next to knitwear and jars of jam. I was also left thinking the book would be improved by including authors who hail from places outside the United States.

That being said, it was a privilege to sit among the elders in this book and soak up their wisdom. It brought to life the truth of Proverbs 27: 9: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.”

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