Book Recommendation: Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors

Picture of WA Criswell.jpg.opt266x348o0,0s266x348A great find

A few years ago, while coming out of a class (New Testament Greek, I believe) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I passed by a table with a little sign on it reading, “Free books.” Now to me, the only thing better than a table full of books is a table full of books that I can scoop up free of charge. So I quickly snaked through the small gathering of exiting Greek students and made my way over to the table, hoping to find a gem. And I was not disappointed! One of the books I snagged was none other than Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, by W. A. Criswell. What a gem!

W. A. Criswell was one of the 20th Century’s greatest pastors. He succeeded the great George W. Truett as pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, where he shepherded and led for over 36 years. As a pastor and as a man, Criswell developed over those decades, and his Guidebook was written as a reflection of what he had learned during that period.

In it, he lays out a healthy balance between doctrine, philosophy of ministry, and practice. Along with expositions on the biblical purpose and responsibilities of the pastor in various areas, Criswell includes several resources actually embedded into the chapters of the book. These resources include formats for weddings and funerals, church constitutions, procedures for hiring and managing staff and hiring and ordaining pastors and deacons, and more.

Some concerns

Some of the book’s advice is outdated today. For example, Criswell does put quite a lot of emphasis on the appearance of the pastor. Writing as I am on the other side of the aforementioned seeker-sensitive movement and in the era of a much more casual pastoral culture (at least, insofar as clothes are concerned), Criswell’s advice seemed irrelevant. Of course, he can hardly be blamed for that; he was writing in his own culture and at his own time–and from Dallas, which is securely in the Bible Belt, to boot!

Criswell is also self-consciously writing from a Southern Baptist perspective, and some of his ideas of church government will not line up with churches who govern themselves differently.

Worth having on hand

The book truly is a gem, and I would recommend it to any pastor or minister in the following situations:

  1. Just starting out in ministry and looking for insight from an older brother in the Lord with lots of experience.
  2. Stepping into a new pastorate or ministry context.
  3. Feeling burnt out by ministry or harried by distractions, trying to gain new focus, encouragement and clarity.
  4. Been pastoring for awhile, but looking to add structure to the church’s ministries.
  5. Interested in church history (Criswell’s book was written before the spread of the seeker-sensitive movement and the so-called “worship wars” over church music).

Really, Criswell’s Guidebook ought to be on any pastor’s shelf. It is a valuable tool to have in the toolkit. Personally, I kept it on hand as a resource for a few years, referencing various sections as the situation called for it, before I ever read the whole thing (at the time of this writing, I have actually just finished).

You can pick up your copy of Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors here.

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