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Pastoral Ministry according to Paul

A Biblical Vision

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"A splendid exegesis of Paul's theology with an eye on the present situation of the church, challenging Christians to a closer, more sensitive and attentive reading of Paul's letters. . . . I highly recommend this book for pastors, laypersons, and scholars."--Kyle Thomas Fever, Word & World
What is the ultimate purpose of pastoral ministry? What emphases and priorities should fuel the pursuit of this purpose? These are perennial questions engaged by pastors, the churches that employ them, and the seminaries that prepare them.   

As a New Testament scholar who works at the intersection between biblical studies and practical ministry, James Thompson suggests that we need to recapture the theological foundation for understanding pastoral ministry. In this careful, contextual study of Pauline letters, Thompson draws out Paul's vision and purpose for his ministry. He concludes that the goal of pastoral ministry is "transforming the community of faith until it is 'blameless' at the coming of Christ." It is corporate, spiritual, and ethical growth that Paul focuses on, as opposed to the frequent contemporary focus on numerical growth and meeting the needs of individuals.

While recognizing the historical and cultural gap between Paul's ministry context and our own, Thompson nevertheless believes this vision of ministry has profound implications for us today. Going beyond the emphasis on pastoral roles and mere pragmatics of much of the "how to" literature, he offers suggestions for application that are rooted in the eschatological and ethical goals of Paul's vision of pastoral work. 


"Without a trace of academic disdain for the hands-on, how-to skills of the practice of Christian ministry, Thompson proposes to bridge the gap that often separates biblical theology and pastoral skills. As a respected New Testament scholar, he stands within the biblical message and asks how it can be implemented in a modern pastoral context. He does not deal in generalities, but in-depth studies of 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthian letters keep the study focused on the concrete grittiness of both text and contemporary situation."--M. Eugene Boring, I. Wylie and Elizabeth M. Briscoe Professor of New Testament Emeritus, Brite Divinity School

"The contemporary marketplace of pastoral ministry is long on practical directives, short on biblical and theological wisdom and purpose. Urging that, for Paul, ministry is partnership with God concerned with transforming faith communities, James Thompson both models how to read Paul theologically and with pastoral sensitivity and reconfigures the motivations, aims, and measures of pastoral ministry today. The result is a vision of ministerial formation and congregational shaping that challenges and inspires."--Joel B. Green, professor of New Testament interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary

"In his splendid new book, James Thompson, convinced that Paul's letters are pastoral instruments, examines them exegetically in order to discover Paul's pastoral theology. He discovers a stress on community formation as Paul's pastoral goal--the minister participating with God's transforming purpose, which includes a new ethical vision. Thompson's focus on the community is a welcome balance to contemporary emphasis on individual self-realization, and the attention drawn to the congregation's participation in pastoral care, reciprocity being the key concept, is to be applauded. The book is an important contribution to Pauline studies as well as pastoral theology."--Abraham J. Malherbe, Buckingham Professor Emeritus of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale Divinity School

"We are in the midst of a profound and comprehensive reconstruction of the foundations for pastoral theology. Pastoral Ministry according to Paul makes a valuable contribution to this work. By examining the major Pauline letters with concerns for pastoral tasks in mind, Thompson invites us to see Paul as both pastor and theologian and, as such, one who provides a model for ministry that is both provocative and instructive."--Andrew Purves, Hugh Thomson Kerr Professor of Pastoral Theology, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. James W. Thompson

    James W. Thompson

    James W. Thompson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is scholar in residence at the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He is the editor of Restoration Quarterly and the author of numerous books, including Moral...

    Continue reading about James W. Thompson


"Pastoral Ministry according to Paul is a good handbook for ministers of the Gospel looking for affirmation of their vocation and insight into the dynamic that exists between a pastor and his congregation. The author James W. Thompson draws upon his wealth of knowledge and experience to present a clear, concise framework for a Biblical vision of the ministry. . . . [This book] provides us with a concise yet thorough examination of Paul's view of the ministry as expressed through some of his letters. . . . If I were still in an academic environment I would certainly recommend that Thompson's book be added to the syllabus of any student enrolled in a pastoral ministry theology course."--Joe Montague, Phantom Tollbooth

"This is a fine book worthy of being studied by seminary and theology school faculty as well as by members of parish pastoral teams."--Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today

"[The book's] themes are unfolded by crisp and insightful analyses of several of Paul's letters. . . . Thompson opens up the central thrust of these letters in very helpful ways. He repeatedly has an eye to his main themes: community, transformation, eschatology. His highlighting of these themes is most insightful and challenging and indeed provides an excellent counter-balance to church ministry that is overly individualized, largely therapeutic, or obsessed with numbers and growth. . . . This book is a stimulating and scholarly contribution to the debate on what the heart of pastoral ministry really is. It is particularly refreshing in its concern to build a biblical theology for pastoral ministry, and it is a helpful counter-balance to many contemporary emphases. . . . [It] is well worth reading and can contribute positively to a correct understanding of the main tasks of pastoral ministry."--M. Capill, Vox Reformata

"[Thompson's thesis] offers a fresh and important insight for pastoral praxis by urging contemporary preachers of Paul not to cater to our culture's self-oriented and individualistic approach to faith. Rather, pastors should orient the congregation toward a communal embodiment of the gospel's message in response to its real ethical demands--in sum, to shape the community into the image of Christ 'that they may be blameless at his coming.'"--Jeffrey A. Vamos, Theology Today

"With a great deal of emphasis these days on numeric growth, it is refreshing to find an author who points the theological criteria for growth as seen through Paul's eyes."--Clark Cothern, Leadership Journal

"How refreshing it is to see an argument that Paul's goal in pastoral ministry was not simply evangelism, maintaining the institution, and administration, but was holistically incorporated under the idea of transformation. Thompson's study does indeed convincingly demonstrate that for Paul transformation is the ultimate goal. His reading of the Pauline letters is thorough and sound, and the exegetical evidence that he marshals in favor of his thesis is impressive. It is difficult to imagine that someone could come away from this book not thinking that transformation is the ultimate aim of the minister. . . . [This book] is clearly important to anyone who is thinking about what Paul envisioned the goal of his ministry to be, whether NT scholars, pastoral ministry scholars, or pastors. Those who do not believe that transformation is the goal of pastoral ministry or those seeking to explore this issue should read this book."--James G. Samra, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Although this book is directed toward those in pastoral ministry, NT scholars will profit from the concentration on the theme of communal transformation in Paul. Thompson makes a strong case that the rhetoric of Paul's letters supports this underlying goal. . . . This book will provide balance through taking seriously Paul's writings as a viable model in courses on pastoral ministry in seminaries. It will find more frequent usage in places where the biblical vision is regarded as foundational for Christian communities today."--Allan J. McNicol, Religious Studies Review

"This compact book presents a unified vision of pastoral theology based on a careful reading of Paul's undisputed letters. . . . [Thompson's] focus remains unremittingly pastoral. One gets a fairly comprehensive overview of Pauline theology in the book. . . . This book admirably fulfills its goal. I highly recommend it for seminary students, pastors, lay ministers, and anyone interested in the pastoral dimensions of Paul's letters."--Ronald D. Witherup, SS, Interpretation

"[Thompson's] passion for the Scriptures and his commitment to searching them with openness, integrity, and humility . . . remain evident in this quest to bring the theology and the pastoral commitments of Paul's ministry to bear on the focus and activities of modern-day ministry. . . . Each of these chapters engages the letters of Paul thoroughly rather than generally, inspecting each one as a structured work that illuminates Paul's pastoral theology. . . . As a pastoral theologian, I appreciate his commitment to bringing biblical scholarship into conversation with pastoral activity. I share in his hopefulness and trust this book will inspire hope in its readers as well."--Jennifer Nicholson, Restoration Quarterly

"Thompson perceptively sees the centrality of the community in Pauline theology, which leads him to make some marvelous observations . . . as well as to capture the already/not yet tensions which are so often applied to the kingdom but rarely noticed in relationship to the church. He also provides much help in understanding Paul's theology of transformation, a theme understated in much of Pauline studies. . . . Pastoral Ministry according to Paul is a significant book and deserves to be read by scholars and pastors alike. Thompson uncovers a major need in pastoral theology, offers much insight into Paul's oft-neglected theme of community, and in doing so takes some steps toward the formulation of biblically based pastoral theology."--Christopher W. Morgan, Presbyterion

"I was very excited to see this title because I firmly believe we need to reconsider our view of pastoral ministry in light of Scripture. . . . This is a welcome and helpful book. . . . [Thompson] examines Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians taking seriously Paul's role as a pastor of these churches and seeking to understand the pastoral vision that directs these letters. Such a study is very profitable. . . . This is a valuable book."--Ray Van Neste, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"Thompson offers a compelling portrait of Paul's vision of ministry through an illuminating study of the undisputed Pauline letters. . . . This volume is a marvel of brevity and profundity. Thompson managed to combine insightful interpretation of the Pauline letters and convincing support of his thesis about the pastoral task into a condensed volume that can easily be digested in a short afternoon by most readers. The readability of the book (both in length and clarity of prose) is a significant asset, making it a highly-recommended volume for all readers interested in the issue of pastoral ministry. Upon reading it, I decided on the spot to use it as a textbook in one of my NT introductory courses next year. Thompson succeeds admirably in demonstrating that Paul's pastoral ambition represents one of the strongest strands of coherence in Paul's letters. . . . This volume is an invaluable guide to Paul's pastoral vision and deserves careful attention from all levels of the worldwide Christian community. While accessible to a general readership, Thompson's work also exhibits quality (albeit abbreviated) interaction with contemporary scholarship on Paul. As such, it is hoped that Thompson's little gem will not escape notice in the halls of academia as well."--Randall K.J. Tan, Stone-Campbell Journal

"There is a dearth of good books that comprise both solid historical-critical interpretation and a concern for issues in the contemporary church. Even fewer are those that carry out both tasks well. James Thompson's book Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision is one of these gems, and he does this in a nonintimidating, clear, and manageable way. . . . Thompson's book provides significant and timely insights for Christian communities--useful for pastors or any Christian, and pastors who lead these communities should pay close attention. . . . Thompson has provided a splendid exegesis of Paul's theology with an eye on the present situation of the church, challenging Christians to a closer, more sensitive and attentive reading of Paul's letters. . . . I highly recommend this book for pastors, laypersons, and scholars. If one does not entirely agree with Thompson, one should at least wrestle with the issues he raises in relation to ministry, and the less-than-common interpretation of Paul he presents as a challenge to the entrenched interpretations of the contemporary church."--Kyle Thomas Fever, Word & World

"Thompson should be commended for reclaiming a biblical and theological basis for the vocation of pastoral ministry. His agenda is straightforward and presented in a clear, organized fashion. In an age when the theological substance of ministry is sometimes lacking and often co-opted by a fixation on techniques for numerical growth within congregations, this book is a timely reminder of the essential theological and biblical character of pastoral ministry. Thompson is correct in viewing Paul's pastoral theology as highly communal and eschatological, with transformation as a ministerial aim. Through his particular communal reading of Paul, he is able to use Pauline theology to offset the individualistic and consumerist cultural trends of today's society. Furthermore, by pinpointing one of Paul's core theological themes--eschatology--he places ministry within the larger unfolding story of God with humanity, creating a theological goal and vision that can instill a foundational hope in Christians. . . . Thompson's fine work . . . demonstrates the fruit of his careful biblical, theological study for contemporary pastoral ministry in the world."--Luke A. Powery, Toronto Journal of Theology

"Though the text is mostly free from footnotes, one can tell that a lot of exegetical work has come before Thompson's exploration of the Apostle's pastoral theology. One feature of this book that is particularly thought-provoking is the attention given to Paul's 'pastoral ambition.'. . . Pastors and other church leaders will find many words of wisdom here that can help to plan a ministry or refresh it with an offer to drink deeply from the letters of Paul. As Thompson has demonstrated that much can be gained from a conversation between pastoral and biblical studies, we can hope that more books like this will appear for the benefit of both disciplines and, especially, for the minister and lay leader."--Nijay K. Gupta, Ashland Theological Journal

"Thompson's overview shows how Paul expresses his pastoral goals and vision throughout each letter and is a helpful exercise that one will not find in the typical commentary. . . . It is well-researched and informed by scholarship but suitable for both those with and without theological training. . . . Thompson's repeated stress on Paul's corporate vision for his churches as opposed to the contemporary stress on individualism is a message that pastors should hear. This volume provides a welcome perspective on what it means to be a pastor, centered on the long-term goals that Thompson finds in Paul."--Kenneth D. Litwak, Covenant Quarterly