Diary of a Pastor's Soul

The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry

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Christianity Today 2021 Book Award Winner (The Church/Pastoral Leadership Award of Merit)

Diary of a Pastor's Soul
tells the story of a fictionalized pastor, embarking on his final year before retirement, who reflects on the experiences and relationships that have formed his vocation and shaped his soul over a lifetime of pastoral ministry.

Drawing on his own experiences, seasoned pastor Craig Barnes invites readers to embrace the life lessons of a pastor who has been formed by his failures and his fleeting moments of glory, but most of all by discovering the holy in the routine but often quirky duties of being a parish pastor.
Through 52 weekly thematic entries, Barnes presents spirituality in narrative form through a collection of interwoven stories about learning to love others with curiosity, amazement, vulnerability, and most of all gratitude for the grace found in flawed lives.

Barnes's fictionalized diary approach creatively shows how the pastoral vocation forms mind, heart, and soul, helping pastors make sense of their own calling. With unvarnished honesty, this book eloquently illustrates a lifetime of ministry, revealing how "the Holy haunts the landscape of life."


Prologue by the Diarist
Week One: Writing the Faith in Stone
Week Two: A Faithfully Anonymous Pastor
Week Three: The Pastor's Wife and the Mustang
Week Four: Pastoral Care as Déjà Vu
Week One: Saying "I Love You"
Week Two: A Sunday with the New York Times
Week Three: In-Laws and the Priest Thing
Week Four: The Blessing of Old Faith
Week One: Pastor, Not Friend
Week Two: Beth, Our New Financial Planner
Week Three: Letting Go of Mac the Custodian
Week Four: Pastoral Lessons from My Sheepdog
Week One: Falling from Illusions
Week Two: The Pastor's Home
Week Three: The Grace of Being Ordinary
Week Four: The Study
Week Five: "It Hurt My Feelings"
Week One: The Sin I Can't Forgive
Week Two: Finding Gravitas When You're Young
Week Three: The Pastor on the Doctor's Table
Week Four: The Pastor's Pastor
Week Five: Humility to the End
Week One: Our Faith and My Faith
Week Two: Frantically Preparing for the Prince of Peace
Week Three: A Young Pastor in Deep Waters
Week Four: A Wedding for the Nonbeliever
Christmas Eve: Being Joseph in the Pageant
Week One: The Long, Gray Days of Ministry
Week Two: The Obituary Writer
Week Three: The Pastoral Search Committee
Week Four Announcing the Retirement 000
Week Five: Listening to a Friend
Week One: Making Sense of a Pastor's Cancer
Week Two: A Wintry Funeral for Young Teddy
Week Three: The Blessed Church Lady
Week Four: Taking the Heat for God
Week One: The Weary Partisan
Week Two: I Was Done with Words
Week Three: The Redemption of Early Mistakes
Week Four: The Loss of Saturday Nights
Week Five: Call Finds a Way
Week One: Struggling to Say "Behold"
Week Two: The Real Problem with Being Visible
Week Three: Hard Lessons on Flannelgraph
Week Four: Finally Loving Easter
Week One: The Beloved Horse's Ass
Week Two: Getting It Wrong with Race and Gender
Week Three: The Adored Director of Music
Week Four: You're Dead Right
Week Five: Dad, Not Pastor
Week One: Seeking the Holy
Week Two: When I Can No Longer Blame Work
Week Three: Still Holding Back Part of Me
Week Four: The Last Surprise


"Pastors know that there's no one who understands the particular challenges and joys of ministry better than Craig Barnes. When you read this diary, Craig's delight in, exasperation with, and love for the church is manifest. He's had a privileged look at us from his vantage as pastor, preacher, teacher, and our nation's most prominent seminary president. Has this preacher got a way with words! In this rich collection of some of Craig's best thoughts on the Christian ministry, pastors will find much encouragement and guidance, and anybody else will discover why the pastoral ministry is such a serious, joyful, demanding, and ultimately fulfilling vocation."

Will Willimon, United Methodist Bishop (retired); professor of the practice of Christian ministry, Duke Divinity School; author of Accidental Preacher: A Memoir

"A wise mentor once told me that, apart from a theology of vocation, being a pastor is the best job in the world. In any given week, a pastor is a scholar, author, teacher, counselor, entrepreneur, and manager of a small business. In addition, people invite a pastor into the most sacred, joyful, and intimate spaces and times in life. In this fascinating and beautifully written book, Craig Barnes, employing a creative format, lovingly reveals the challenges and privileged blessings of the pastoral vocation. I found myself nodding in recognition at his insights on the loss of Saturday night, doing a wedding for a nonbeliever, and the Vows section of the Sunday New York Times being surprisingly short on traditional church weddings presided over by a pastor. I smiled as well at his description of the Blessed Church Lady and the congregant who, during the greeting after worship, suggested that he find a new barber. Craig Barnes loves being a pastor and finds surprising grace even in ordinary ecclesiastical minutiae. I couldn't put the book down."

John M. Buchanan, former editor and publisher, the Christian Century

"Craig Barnes offers readers a diary full of grace and truth about pastoral ministry. His writing is a salve for the human soul. But more than that, the Holy haunts this book."

Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke University Chapel, Duke University, and associate professor of homiletics, Duke Divinity School

"Craig Barnes has more gifts than anyone has a right to have, and many of them shine in Diary of a Pastor's Soul: simple and beautiful eloquence, spiritual poignancy and finesse, brilliance in vulnerability, predictability woven in with surprise, and hope that knows the inseparability of sorrow and laughter. The meal Barnes offers us is served up like a harvest of ordinary ruminations from a pastor's soul. It gradually turns out, however, to be more like sitting at Babette's feast, prepared by one specially gifted by God to show us how local and seasonal ingredients of pain, beauty, and faith can be more than enough to reveal a table that is actually laden with truth and grace--for the people and even for the pastor. Take and eat."

Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. M. Craig Barnes
    Kim Schmidt

    M. Craig Barnes

    M. Craig Barnes (PhD, University of Chicago) is president of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, where he also serves as professor of pastoral ministry. He previously taught at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and has pastored several...

    Continue reading about M. Craig Barnes


Christianity Today 2021 Book Award Winner (The Church/Pastoral Leadership Award of Merit)

"Barnes expresses the anguished beauty of the pastoral life with an exquisite intimacy that conveys the essence of going through life with a congregation. The fictional device he uses--journal entries from the diary of a pastor about to retire--works remarkably well. I recognized the sacred and the profane in every character he described. More than merely allowing others to peer over his shoulder voyeuristically, he teaches pastors to appreciate the divine image and the holy presence in average people and mundane moments."

Hershael York,

Christianity Today

"[Barnes] . . . shares his experiences of ministry work in this reflective and partially fictionalized diary. Barnes writes that his decision to mix fact and fiction was due to pastoral confidentiality and because he wanted 'to rewrite some of my own stories that I might have lived differently if I had known then what I know now.' The entries address a wide array of topics. . . . This thoughtful though opaque work will propel readers to reflect on their own vocation."

Publishers Weekly

"[Barnes] has done us all a favor, whether or not we are pastors. His book, Diary of a Pastor's Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry, provides a unique picture of what it means to pastor people with sensitivity and grace. . . . Whether his stories are real or imagined, they all depict the real lives lived by parishioners and pastors. That's the best part of this book: We can all find ourselves somewhere within its pages. And when we do, we will discover how God goes to work forming pastors after his own heart. . . . Barnes's book brings to mind Eugene Peterson with its folksy whimsy blended with deep insight into the human heart. Through the shifting seasons of the church year and the changing weather of the passing months, I found myself captivated by the people of St. Andrews. I've met many of them myself over my own 49 years of ministry. . . . Diary of a Pastor's Soul opens a window into the pastoral soul that will enrich both pastors and those who love them. In this captivating book we discover anew the profound gift God has given us in compassionate shepherds for our souls."

Harold L. Senkbeil,

Christianity Today

"The book takes us through the year leading up to the pastor's retirement and ponders the bittersweet nature of leaving the work of a lifetime. . . . The book tells stories that will have a spark of recognition for many pastors. . . . Woven into the stories are bits of wisdom that resonate deeply. . . . This book will feel like a conversation with a long-time friend for pastors who have been fortunate enough to work in the church full time, and for long-serving pastors. . . . For anyone nearing retirement, reading this book will feel like walking with a friend, thinking about the work of ministry together."

Mary Austin,

Presbyterian Outlook