Stan Toler is an established pastor with many years of service under his belt (9). In Stan Toler’s Guide for Pastoral Ministry, Toler introduces aspiring pastors to his tips and knowledge relating to many of the pressing issues and practices within the church. More importantly, Toler intends his book to be a blueprint for effective ministry and intends this book to be for those who want to be great pastors and leaders in their church (9). He begins the book in the Preface by stating, “It’s not about theory, it’s all about practice.” (10). The book itself contains a wealth of knowledge from a man of experience and wisdom that Toler appears eager and willing to share.
The personal growth section of the book deals with the pastor exclusively. In this section, Toler explores different areas in which the pastor could and should grow. He navigates through the attributes that make great pastors great. Toler emphasizes a connection between the pastor and God through prayer to facilitate growth (16). Toler navigates through several areas of the pastor’s life that should be focused on such as their character, which brings to light the idea of self discipline and the mastering of the pastor’s weaknesses in an effort to maximize their strengths (27). Perhaps Toler’s most effective contribution in this section comes in his chapter on joy. Toler contends that joy is a boomerang, that when shared in affirmation, returns to the pastor in full (21). Toler moves on into the family life of a pastor. Toler contends that if a pastor has taken care of their congregation, but neglected their family, their priorities are in disarray (76). Traits such as stability in God, affirming achievements of family members, showing affection, leading by example, and protecting the family from harmful behaviors are all presented as foundations for a healthy family (76-79).
In the next section, Toler discusses the pastor’s ministry itself. He offers insight on growing the church, caring for the congregation, conducting weddings, planning worship services, and leading the worship team. Toler suggests adding Sunday school to the church and argues that doing this opens “doors” for people to enter the church in smaller, more connected groups (107-110). Toler navigates into the topic of leadership. Here, Toler emphasizes the idea of being focused on God’s Word and the mission of Christ (171). He also provides advice on forgiving others (175) and the seven types of teams each pastor needs (196-199).
Toler’s next section deals with coaching. This section is all about building and encouraging the team the pastor has formed. This section mainly focuses on team building and vision making. Toler tells the pastor to make sure they remind their team that the work they do is making an “eternal difference” (259), Toler ends his book on the topic of communication. The majority of this section deals with sermon preparation and delivery. Toler also offers advice on board meetings and writing. Toler reminds the pastor that the messenger and the message need to always be fresh (262) and uses that notion as a starting point to delve into an effective sermon.
Stan Toler’s Practical Guide for Ministry is a book that explores and reveals the various aspects of what pastoral ministry entails. Stan Toler clearly wrote this book in an effort to assist pastors and offer practical advice. There is clearly some great information to take in. However, the book is filled with several aspects that are both strengths and weaknesses that need to be explored a bit further.
First, let us explore a weakness. The book layout itself is a take away. Looking in, the reader anticipates seventy-five rich chapters relating to pastoral ministry, but they will quickly find that the chapters are brief and feel undeveloped. Not only this, but the sections within these chapters are often just a paragraph in length. Toler would have been better suited to building solid chapters around concrete ideas. The book is an easy read for sure, but it also feels rushed. For example, Toler speaks on leading in hard uncertain times on praying first before pursuing a change in course. Toler states, “Often when adversity comes, the leader is in such a weakened spiritual state that it affects every attitude or action that follows.” (223). Then he moves on. This reader believes Toler should have spent time outlining the consequences of acting on a weakened spiritual attitude. Surely, Toler has experienced it or seen it during his tenure as a pastor.
Another weakness is that Toler seems to view a pastor’s ministry as being akin to being the CEO of a business. An example of this can be found when Toler refers to the church as an “organization” (21). This reader believes that trying to equate the church to a business is unbiblical and clearly not positive advice for a pastor. It is true that God wants pastors to be shepherds and great leaders. Look at Acts 20:28 in which Paul writes: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” A CEO is not always deeply concerned with the deep needs of their employees and their focus is almost always on financial strength and financial gain. Toler would have been better suited to stick to the biblical leaders as examples and avoid a business correlation. The church is not meant to be a business, and the pastor’s focus should not be on financial abundance. The congregation is not an organization, they are a family and must work as a family (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, NIV). A pastor’s focus should always be God’s will and God’s work. Toler really puts a large elephant in the room with this correlation and makes it difficult to absorb the strengths of his book.
There are some strengths to consider in Toler’s book that help him to get the purpose of the book across. First, Toler does put an emphasis on submission to God in the pastor’s life and work. In speaking of Jesus and obeying instructions from God, Toler states: “His greatest sacrifice came at the request of His Heavenly Father. His submission to salvation’s plan was an act of willful obedience.” (213) and he also states: “Learn to follow the Leader, and others will follow you.” (214). Toler’s statements are spot on. This shows that he recognizes the importance of being a servant of God and practicing obedience to Him. This is quite biblical. Jesus confirms this in John 12:26: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (NIV). This makes the book both relatable and personal. However, one could make the argument that Toler is contradicting the CEO narrative entirely. This reader would agree. Although the servant narrative helps the book become relatable, Toler still has made the CEO narrative a focal point of his writing.
Another strength in Toler’s book is his emphasis on family and how the pastor’s family is just as important as the pastor’s congregation. Toler states: “Family priorities must come before ministry priorities.” (76). It is a simple statement that drives home the idea that a pastor must have a stable family unit focused on God before he can have a congregation that is focused on God. 1 Timothy 5:8 states: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NASB). How can the pastor instill faith and values in their congregation if they do not do the same in their family? A family is the support unit of the pastor and must be built up. Toler is wise to focus an entire section of his book to the family unit and their impact on the life and duties of a pastor.
Toler’s text is beneficial. Toler challenges the pastor to look at themselves and for opportunities to improve themselves and their congregations through personal growth and biblical examples. This is quite important because a pastor cannot expect to see spiritual growth in their congregation or family if they do not seek it out in their lives first.
The most prominent example of where this reader benefits from the book is found in Toler’s chapter entitled “Powering Up For Ministry”. (44-46). He works to show the pastor that consecration is living life devoted to s ingle purpose, God’s purpose (44-45) and God will grant the pastor endurance and power they need (45). Any pastor can apply this principle to their lives and recognize that their entire life should be solely focused on God. A pastor clearly needs God’s blessing and favor to succeed in the ministry and Toler drives that point home.
Toler is sure to provide motivation and encouragement in this book which also has great application. One such example is “By faith, you may endure any hardship, achieve any victory. By faith you may prevail.” (46). Application comes in here through prayer and focus on God. Toler works here to show the importance of faith and such importance can and should be applied to the life of any pastor. In applying this, this reader can face the trials before him with God’s provision and grace.
Stan Toler has clearly crafted a great resource book for pastors and aspiring pastors. No matter where a pastor finds themselves in their walk or experience, Toler has a bit of advice and suggestion for it. Overall, despite the CEO narrative, the book is fruitful and yields some great applications. This reader would recommend this book as a resource read that is easy to pick up and explore. Stan Toler’s experience in ministry is clearly present and this book should be in the house of every pastor.
Toler, Stan. Stan Toler’s Practical Guide for Pastoral Ministry. Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006. ISBN 9780898273533.