Recently, we tweaked our pastoral internship program for this year to focus more on pastoral theology than trying to cover the whole gamut of a seminary education (church history, systematics, biblical theology, exegesis, etc.). To that end, we choose to highlight twelve categories of thought and practice that seem especially important to pastoral ministry. I know not every category below is technically “pastoral theology,” and obviously this isn’t anything like an exhaustive list. But these are some of the books I’ve found most helpful in pastoral ministry.

 

1. General Pastoral Ministry

Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students – One of my favorite books of all time. I reread chapters often.

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry – Destined to be a classic exposition of the gospel-centered nature of our calling.

Ajith Fernando, Jesus-Driven Ministry – An honest and challenging look at what spiritual leadership really looks like.

R. Kent Hughes, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome – I read this early in ministry; a good idea.

John Piper, Brothers We Are Not ProfessionalsI can’t think of a Piper book that moved me more than this one.

 

2. Ecclesiology

Guy Prentiss Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church – He’s almost certainly thought about church polity more than you have.

James Bannerman, The Church of Christ – He’s possibly thought about church polity more than anyone ever has.

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church – A great blueprint for church reform and revitalization.

Jonathan Leeman, The Surprising Offense of God’s Love – Deep and long, but worth the effort. Very practical and heartfelt.

Philip Ryken, City on a Hill – I wish more people knew of this little gem.

 

3. Shepherding

Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership – Best exegetical overview of eldership around today.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine – Will help you keep the main thing the main thing.

Timothy Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart – A biblical theology of the shepherd imagery. At least read the last chapter.

Timothy Witmer, The Shepherd Leader – A practical guide and biblical exhortation to actually know and care for the flock.

David Dickson, The Elder and His Work – Our elders are reading this right now. Good primer on elder care.

Richard Baxter, The Reformed PastorYou don’t have to follow all his methods to be impressed by Baxter’s care of souls.

 

4. Leadership

J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership – A wealth of examples, heroes, and anecdotes.

Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams – Will save you from being stupid.

Alexander Strauch, Meetings that Work – Will save you from being boring.

Mark Dever, Deliberate ChurchYou’ll be prodded and poked to think more carefully about what you do and why you do it.

 

5. Biblical Interpretation

D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies  - The book everyone needs to read and no one wants to be in.

Robert Plummer, 40 Question About Interpreting the Bible – Great overview of the doctrine of Scripture and hermeneutics.

David Helm, One-to-One Bible ReadingHelpful primer on discipleship.

 

6. Preaching

John Stott, Between Two Worlds – A well deserved classic; every preacher should read this at some point.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers – By far, my favorite book on preaching.

James W. Thompson, Preaching Like Paul – Not sure if Thompson is an evangelical, but this book is full of eminently good sense.

John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching – Will make your preaching better by making it bigger.

 

7. Worship

D.A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book -Introduction to worship from three different perspectives, with an excellent summary essay from Carson.

Philip Ryken, ed., Give Praise to God – Introduction to worship from the perspective of the regulative principle.

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship – I don’t know of any church whose services could not be helped by considering the things in this book.

Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship That is Reformed – There is more to being Reformed than you might think.

Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters – Eminently balanced, gospel-centered, and practical.

Harold Best, Unceasing Worship - A wise, creative, insightful writer. Will make you think.

 

8. Counseling

Michael Emlet, CrossTalk – Biblical counseling applied.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands – The best manual on how to get started with helping people change.

David Powlison, Seeing Through New Eyes – Counseling in action on the printed page.

David Powlison, “The Pastor as Counselor” in For the Fame of God’s Name (p. 419-42) – Great introduction to and appeal for biblical counseling over against secular models.

 

9. Evangelism

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism – Straight thinking of the evangel and evangelism.

Mack Stiles, The Marks of a Messenger – A theology of evangelism by one who really evangelizes.

Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism – Get to the gospel by asking questions; sound like Jesus.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Evangelistic SermonsWonderful examples of exegetical, evangelistic preaching.

 

10. Prayer

Paul Miller, A Praying Life – The best book on prayer to actually make you want to pray.

David Hansen, Long Wandering Prayer – I always like books on prayer that feel freeing.

Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer – A manual filled with beautiful examples to use or emulate.

 

11. Church and Culture

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant – Every pastor should read at least one David Wells book. This is the last, so a good place to start.

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World – Helpful corrective to Christian triumphalism.

D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited – Nuanced, careful, balanced.

 

12. Missiology

David Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict – The chapter on sovereignty is not great, but the rest of the book raises some of the most critical issues in contemporary missiology.

P.T. O’Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul – Read whatever he writes (that goes for O’Brien and Paul)

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? – Extremely important topic.

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29 thoughts on “Pastoral Theology: Some Book Recommendations”

  1. Nils Holmgren says:

    Thanks so much for this very helpful list. I would add Tim Chester’s two books: The Ordinary Hero & You Can Change to the list (under Leadership & Counselling respectively). Chester is such a gifted applier of the gospel.

  2. Mike Gantt says:

    True care for human souls means leading them to the One true Shepherd of human souls. Church is a bird cage and Christ is the sky. Therefore, don’t seek to trap souls; seek to free them so that they might fly in Him rather than pose for us.

  3. Kevin DeYoung says:

    The only problem with your analogy Mike is that the Bible describes the church as a building, a body, and a bride, but never a bird cage.

  4. John Botkin says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I was encouraged to see what you recommended most of the same books I would recommend if asked the same question. You also gave me some new books to look at. Blessings!

  5. Mike Gantt says:

    Kevin,

    Similarly, the Bible spoke positively of Jerusalem’s temple yet it ultimately became a deathtrap for those who chose loyalty to it over loyalty to the living God.

    Christ alone is to be the object of our faith. To Him alone be the glory!

  6. David Traugott says:

    Kevin, is there any way I might be able to see the specifics of how you structure your pastoral intern program at your church? Such as reading assignments (is it this whole list?), projects, papers, ministry assignments, discipleship from the pastors/you, etc.

  7. David says:

    Kevin,
    How can I find the requirements for you internship?
    I have recently completed an internship at a very well known church and am unsatisfied with the lack concern for pastoral guidance and discipleship. I’ve read a couple of the books on this list and am very interested in hearing a little more on how you internship works and how to apply.
    Great post.

  8. Kyle says:

    @Mike Gantt
    I only say this because I care about you and others who think along the same lines as you. Please believe that as you read on.

    I have scanned several of your blog posts and am fearful for you and those who agree with you. Statements like this scare me: “Young people need to hear the message of Jesus Christ, and that it is not necessary to associate with church in order to follow Him.” So love the Groom, ignore His bride? Spend one-on-one time with Dad, but shrug off family get-togethers? Love Christ, but disassociate yourself form His body?

    I am one of those “young people” and unfortunately too many of my peers have followed this line of thinking and have had their faith choked out by the thorny cares of the world. They don’t “associate with church” and lose accountability, encouragement, and brotherly-love from those who can continue to point them back to the person and work of the One true Shepherd.

    Can church become an idol? Yes. Does that mean we should throw it to the curb? No way!! That’s like saying we shouldn’t eat because food can become an idol. Or we shouldn’t have children because they might become an idol. Or we should stop reading our Bibles because we can replace loving God with biblical literacy.

    But don’t take my word for it: “Do not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing (Heb. 10:25).”

    In, by, and for Him,

    Kyle

  9. E. L. says:

    Thank you, Mr. DeYoung, for this thoughtful – and no doubt helpful – list. As a layman looking to deepen his theological understanding, this was most welcome. I hope that, if time and interest permits, you will post more lists like this in the future (perhaps in some of the categories you mentioned in passing in your introduction:”church history, systematics, biblical theology, exegesis, etc”), particularly in the form you have it here (breaking it down in categories you find especially helpful). But, let me not get greedy and drown my main point: Thank you for doing this.

  10. Mike Gantt says:

    Kyle,

    I accept your comment as written in a spirit of good will, and I, of course, offer the same in return.

    I am not recommending “Love the Groom, ignore His bride.” Rather, I am recommending “Love the Groom, become a part of His bride.” His bride consists of those who do His will. Hebrews 10:25 is as close as you can come to saying Jesus commanded people to be churchgoers, and even that verse won’t work because it says the readers of the letter should assemble together. No Christians do this today, they all assemble separately. Denominations were not allowed in the New Testament church, and for good reason. For one thing, it is a sign of the church’s apostasy which the apostles said would come. Consequently, Hebrews 10:25 says that the assembling should continue “as the day draws near.” That day has surely come and we have ever since lived in the day of the Lord.

    A church that promotes itself is a Jezebel or Vashti. The only true church is the Esther that hears His word and obeys it. Our obedience is due the king, not men. This means that no human being should be your pastor – only the Lord (Matthew 23:8-10; Is 2:11, 17)

    You are equating faithfulness to church with faithfulness to Christ. This Christ did not do. Our love for Him must be supreme.

    Yes, there are people who profess faith in Christ, say they don’t need the church, and end up returning to their sinful ways. But there are also those who profess faith in Christ, go to church regularly, and become hypocritical by indulging secret sins – and sometimes not so secret ones.

    Faith means living every conscious moment in the presence of the One who loved us enough to die for us. Anyone who takes His living presence seriously cannot sin, because to do so would disappoint the One we love. When we stumble, which we all do, it is because we have taken our eyes off of Him.

    If there were one church, your warning would give more pause. But there are thousands upon thousands of denominations. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. The man-led church was no more the Lord’s permanent institution than was ancient Israel. The administration of God suitable to the fullness of times is faith in Christ.

    Bring your secret sins into the light of His presence and see that no man-man church can purify our souls. Only the fire of His eyes burns bright enough and hot enough to consume sin.

    Stop trusting in the church of flesh and return to Him who bought you. Jer 17:5-8; Is 31:6; Rev 2:5; 3:19.

  11. Nick Coller says:

    Thanks for the list Kevin, I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of these!

    One correction needed though: You listed “The Elder and His Work” as being by John Dickson, but Amazon lists it as David Dickson…

  12. Kevin DeYoung says:

    For those who asked about our pastoral internship program, you can email our Associate Pastor, Ben Falconer. He can send you our syllabus. His email is on our church’s website. God bless.

  13. carl peterson says:

    Is this pastoral internship program for those who are coming from Seminary or for those thinking about going? Interesting list of books. Really heavy on Piper, Dever, and Carson and not much from anything before a few centuries ago. I think the oldest is Baxter’s text. Most are very new.

    I understand it is not complete and the list was called “Pastoral Theology” but I find it interesting that there was not one true theology text in the whole bunch. I always hated that about pastoral ministry classes in seminary.

    Okay enough criticizing. I am sure many are very helpful as practical guides for pastoral ministry.

  14. Chad Mower says:

    My reading list is so long, and he just HAD to post this…now my reading list is growing..You’re killing me man..killing me…ha!

    I just finished The Reformed Pastor by the way, and its awesome.

  15. Scott A. Treloar says:

    Hey Kevin, One very good book on preaching, if you haven’t read it yet, is, “The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age.” by Gregory Edward Reynolds. Here is the back cover endorsement by T. David Gordon:

    “Theis book provides a needed addition to the fields of homiletics and worship. The discussions of both have tended to be dependent on studies of communication, rather than on studies of media ecology. Yet the insights from the field of media ecology could very well be more significant, at the end of the day, than the insights gained from communication studies. Reynolds has surveyed the latter field thoroughly, and has provided thoughtful reflections on some of the possible ramifications for preaching and worship.”

    Blessings!

    Scott

  16. Dan says:

    I have more of these in my possession than I’ve read, but can vouch that Ryken’s “City on a Hill” is excellent.

  17. Wes Weber says:

    I must say that there is one glaring omission…

    “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott.

    If I were ever trapped on a remote deserted island, and could only take 3 books with me, it would be:

    1. The Bible
    2. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
    3. A manual for escaping deserted islands.

  18. Charley Warner says:

    Make sure you get the original edition of J. Oswald Sanders “Spiritual Leadership”. The Revised Edition, completed after Sanders death by an external editor, considerably changed the text…and not always in a satisfying and legitimate way.

  19. Ray Pennoyer says:

    Great list. If I could suggest one additional book it would be C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller.

  20. danny says:

    Wes Webster,

    He didn’t include that book because it doesn’t fit the topic. This is a post for pastoral theology, not Christology.

  21. danny says:

    Kevin,

    I love this list, except for one book that stands out to me as out of place – “Sticky Teams”.

    When I read that book, as well as “Sticky Church”, all I could think was “This is a great manual for building a huge church and having very human success without loving anyone.” And I’m not anti large church, I’m a pastor in a church of 2,000, but these principles, while some were wise, many of them were cold and seemed to make ministry easier than it ever should be by making things convenient rather than biblical.

    Even those that claim to be anti-pragmatism are more pragmatic than they are willing to see, so I’m not anti-pragmatism, but this book was pragmatism at its absolute worst.

  22. Wade says:

    I’m not going to lie, while I think the list is awesome and I look forward to checking these out, I was hoping you might just list all the books you have written. I think that would have been hilarious.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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