Book Review: The Solo Pastor – Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges of Leading a Church Alone (by Gary L. McIntosh)

The Solo Pastor is a book of experienced wisdom from a man with a track record of almost fifty years of consulting, teaching, writing and supporting Pastors in their efforts to lead gospel-minded churches.

The aim of this book, as the title suggests, is to offer some help to those who pastor churches on their own (vocationally speaking). As highlighted, there are particular challenges in this setting, which the author lists and addresses across four parts. There is a logical progression through the book from understanding both the role and the unique circumstances that the solo pastor needs to address (Part 1); the relationship dynamics that the solo pastor needs to wisely negotiate (Part 2); some leadership priorities that the solo pastor should consider (Part 3); and finally some longer terms personal habits that the solo pastor could employ to help them run a long and effective race (Part 4).

It is written with the US church scene in mind and so the contrast is often between the solo pastor church and the megachurch (a distinctive which is less relevant in an Australian setting) – that said, the observations, principles and applications that are offered are insightful and helpful for the non-US setting.

The format is simple and effective. Each short chapter starts in conversation between a solo pastor and mentor figure and introduces the topic of the chapter. The reader will identify quickly their own version of what is being discussed. This is followed by a set of instructional points, laced with helpful reflections, corrections and tips for managing each aspect. His chapters on building relationships (chapter 4) and managing relationships (chapter 5: ‘Stop Playing Fetch’ and Chapter 6: ‘Check Bullies’) are very helpful and reveal some of the authors style in parish leadership. And then each chapter concludes with some questions and practical ideas for implementation to benefit the reader if they are willing to stop and reflect.

The title of the book will attract the pastor looking for help in their solo setting, and it narrows its scope of usefulness. I am not a solo pastor (vocationally), and so in that sense, the title excludes its relevance to me, and yet I found this book very helpful for several reasons. It helped me to understand pastors and churches who operate under a solo model, but more it helped me to reflect on both the differences and commonalities with solo pastors that I experience as a team pastor. And further, so many of the authors instructional points, although directed to the solo pastor, were equally as relevant for me or any pastor in vocational ministry (regardless of the size of their ministry team). I was greatly helped.

The chapter titled ‘Communicate Well’ (Chapter 7) is very helpful in understanding the different ways that people listen (and what needs to be done to ensure that what is communicated is also heard). I was surprised that there was not more said about different generational communication preferences. And the chapter on setting goals and vision (Chapter 8: ‘Establish Direction’) is insightful in listing the mistakes that solo pastors (and church leadership boards/councils) can make. I wondered if a discussion about leadership culture would strengthen the chapter (that said, each chapter is meant to be short and sharp!).

This is not a book aiming to do detailed biblical exegesis, yet often the instructional points raised are biblically referenced or illustrated. In most part this is done quickly, helpfully and usefully by giving weight to the point being made. Apart from a theological parallelism using the story of Nehemiah in the conclusion of the book (titled: ‘Take Flight’) which in my mind is a little overstated, the authors use of the Bible encourages the reader to think about the leadership principles that, if applied, will serve God’s church and support the pastor in question.

The book is published by Baker Books (and is available through most good theological book retailers in both hard copy and ebook). I hope this will be a helpful and encouraging resource for many pastors around the world who labour in serving God’s people. I commend it.

Available for Australian purchase here

Available for US purchase here

Reviewed by Ken D Noakes (by request)

Sermon – Apostles’ Creed: The Holy Apostolic Church and the Communion of Saints

Read the texts – Isaiah 25:6-9Ephesians 3:1-21

The final talk in this Apostles’ Creed series and we consider the final lines which help us to recognise that the Christian Life (life in the Spirit) is the best life now and forever. Why?

Nick Lindeback helps us to see the importance of the forgiveness of sin, the comfort of the Christian community, and the hope that is eternal.

Sermon – Spiritual Wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-16)

Read the text – 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

What should hold a church together – Our relationships? Our feeling of belonging? Our gospel convictions? Jesus? The Apostle Paul wrote this extraordinary letter to a church he knew well, yet a church which had got itself into a bit of a muddle. It turns out that the Christian Family does matter – and it is important to ensure that Jesus sits at the heart and soul of this church and in fact any church.

In this talk, Ken Noakes looks at what it means to be mature in Christ by understanding the wisdom of God, which is impossible without the Spirit revealing it to us.

Sermon – Foolish Wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-2:5)

Read the text – 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

The Apostle Paul wrote this extraordinary letter to a church he knew well, yet a church which had got itself into a bit of a muddle. The Christian Family matters so it is important to ensure that Jesus sits at the heart and soul of this church and in fact any church.

In this talk, Jared Lidgerwood holds up a mirror toward the Christian family and looks at the different ways that we consider something to be wise. The point: worldly wisdom is not match for the foolishness of God who saves through Christ crucified. Really?

Sermon – Gospel Unity (1 Cor 1:1-17)

Read the text – 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

What should hold a church together – Our relationships? Our feeling of belonging? Our gospel convictions? Jesus? The Apostle Paul wrote this extraordinary letter to a church he knew well, yet a church which had got itself into a bit of a muddle. It turns out that the Christian Family does matter – and it is important to ensure that Jesus sits at the heart and soul of this church and in fact any church.

In this Bible Talk, Dr Trace Akankunda looks at what it means for a Church family to be united in the call to preach the gospel and that in fact it is Christ’s call that should draw believers together first and foremost to preach the gospel.

Sermon – Stand Firm: The Imitation Game (1 Thess. 1:1-10)

In Thessalonica, the church is being battered and bruised… how should they respond? Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians to encourage the church to stand firm in the good news of Jesus. Today, the world remains full of uncertainties and hostile to the presence of the church. What can we learn? We can be challenged to likewise stand firm as we await Jesus’ return.

This sermon challenges both the individuals of the church and the church as a collective – a Godly reputation is what matters most, and the church needs to stand up and stand out!

Read the text – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Sermon – Living Loving Sacrifice: service (Romans 14-15)

Romans 9-16 Slide

True worship shows itself in acceptance and service. In this talk we consider a Christian should approach others whom they might be tempted to look down upon. Our world does it, Christians shouldn’t.

Read the Bible text – Romans 14-15

Talk outline – here

Watch the Video – here

– Ken Noakes

Sermon – Gathering to Proclaim Christ (Colossians 1:15-2:7)

2020 Vision

How good it would be to have 20/20 vision? So many opportunities open up to you when you can see with clarity. Colossians helps the Christians person to see clearly. And as Colossians is written to a church, the gathering of disciples, it helps to set our sights on what we might be able to do in ministry and mission for the cause of the gospel. The core business of an assembled group of Christians is to fulfil the commission which our Lord gave us – to go out and make disciples.

Read the Bible text – Colossians 1:15-2:7

Talk Outline – Col 1.15-2.7

Watch the Video – here