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)

The Shepherd and the Sheep

101 5pm church update header

Friends I want to try and put into words a tension I feel and that I know many Pastors experience as they ‘shepherd’ those in their care.

And in doing so I hope to correct what I think is a faulty expectation about the role of the Shepherd in caring for the flock.

Then I would like to ask for your prayers – both for me and our church family.

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