The Secret Life of a PastorIt is without a doubt that one of the hardest jobs is that of a pastor. They are responsible for the lives of so many people and the weight can sometimes be crushing. While there are many times of joy and encouragement, there are often times of sadness, loneliness, and discouragement.

Pastors need encouragement during all seasons of life, including before they even take their first church. There are perhaps no better people to encourage pastors than other pastors. Seeking to do just that, seasoned pastor and educator Michael A. Milton has written The Secret Life of a Pastor (and other intimate letters on ministry) (Christian Focus, 2015). Milton has been a pastor, Army chaplain, and seminary professor at three different schools.

Throughout his ministry Milton provided his students with short letters of encouragement and challenge regarding their time in seminary and future ministries for which they were preparing. The Secret Life of a Pastor is a collection of 20 of these letters. The topics range from seminary life, family life, ministry life, preaching, counseling, prayer and much more. His experience in ministry shines through each letter. He has a heart for the ministry and future ministers.

There are three things that really stood out in these letters. First, as true to being a seminary professor, Milton challenges students to take their studies seriously. He strongly emphasizes the languages as they will provide the bedrock from which your teaching and preaching ministry will come from. Also, he challenges students to be realistic about what seminary education is about. It does not take the place of the local church. The seminary classroom has its limits and the student does well to know those limits. Get involved in a local church with a good pastor who can mentor you and give you hands on ministry training. You need an outlet to practice what you re learning as you are learning it.

Second, Milton strongly challenges ministry students regarding their families. I think chapter seven, Your Wife, Your Children, and the Church, is the best chapter in the whole book. More seminarians need to be counseled on taking care of their families first. You are a husband and father before you are a pastor. The ministry is demanding and you will spend a lot of time with other people but your family, and your church, needs to know they are first. He is purposeful to point out that pastors have a great responsibility to their families, especially their children, in how they talk about their congregation at home. His counsel is wise:

If you only tell your family about the ugly side of the church, then that is the opinion they will have of it. It is not that they are not smart enough or not spiritual enough to know the difference. It is only that the love and relationships of family will begin to color their view of the church……It is easier to complain to your family and murmur about the problem people than to speak of the healing that you are able to see over time. So be careful. You could cause callousness to develop in the souls of your family members. You could leave them with a burden they were not intended to bear. (45-46)

Third, Milton rightly stresses that the pastor is to build his ministry on the Word. From the pulpit, to the counseling room, to the hospital bed, Scripture is to shape and guide everything a pastor does. While his emphasis on this runs throughout the book, in chapter twelve Milton lays out eight reasons, from the letters of Paul and preaching experience, “why expository preaching is the power for the pastorate.” (67) It is just as easy to abandon Scripture in ministry as it was to study Scripture while preparing for it.

The Secret Life of a Pastor is a wonderful collection of letters written from the heart of a pastor to pastors present and future. This is a book that those preparing for ministry and those actively in ministry greatly benefit from. Its counsel for future ministers needs to be heard by all and it will provide great encouragement and rejuvenation for those in ministry.

I received this book for free from Christian Focus for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”