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The Minister as Moral Theologian

Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership

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The ordinary practice of ministry requires pastors and Christian leaders to serve as moral theologians in their communities. Ministers must preach about morally challenging texts, teach about moral issues and conflicts, offer moral counsel, and serve as an example regarding the shape of faithful Christian life.

Respected scholar and veteran teacher Sondra Wheeler offers Christian leaders tools for facing the demands and seizing the opportunities of being a moral teacher. Grounding pastoral ethics in spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, she invites leaders to reconnect the demands of their office with their aspirations as a disciple. The book integrates ethical preaching, teaching, and counsel with the pastor's own moral and spiritual life and is focused on the day-to-day challenges and possibilities of ministry in churches and other institutional settings. Offering guidance many practicing pastors wish they had received in seminary, this is an essential text for courses in the practice of ministry.

Introduction: Why This Book?
1. The Minister as Ethicist
2. Preaching on Morally Difficult Texts and Occasions
3. Teaching about Moral Issues
4. Giving Moral Counsel
5. Serving as a Moral Example
Further Reading


"Some pastors approach their work as moral theologians seriously but not humbly, thereby failing to recognize the complexity of the task. Others recognize that complexity but respond by shunning the responsibility. This important book challenges both of these errors, and in the process it provides everyday counsel that is as practical as it is sophisticated. Sondra Wheeler is an exceptionally wise moral theologian, and all who heed her words will be the wiser for it."

Craig C. Hill, dean, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"The Minister as Moral Theologian is a wise, compassionate, and direct treatment of Christian ethics in the pastoral tasks of preaching, teaching, and counseling. Wheeler reminds us of the challenges, joys, blessings, and wonders of pastoral ministry. This is a must-read for seminarians and seasoned clergy alike."

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, associate chaplain, The Episcopal Church at Yale; author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

"For pastors faced with the challenging task of living as Christians and teaching others to do so as well, Sondra Wheeler has written a book that is both learned and wise. She wears her considerable learning lightly, writing prose that is simultaneously winsome and direct. Even more important, every page displays wisdom--a mature insight that will be her greatest gift to her readers."

Gilbert Meilaender, senior research professor, Valparaiso University

"Writing with extensive knowledge of the ways ministers are moral teachers, Wheeler offers a theologically informed, ethically nuanced, practical guide for ministers and ministry students to reflect on the moral impact their professional and personal lives can make."

Bernard Brady, University of St. Thomas

"This lovely book offers wise and mature reflections on the moral dimensions of Christian pastoral ministry. An indispensable contribution, The Minister as Moral Theologian will henceforth join the short list of required books in my introductory seminary ethics course."

David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

The Author

  1. Sondra Wheeler

    Sondra Wheeler

    Sondra Wheeler (PhD, Yale University) is Martha Ashby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She has decades of experience preparing ministers and teaching advanced courses in the practice of ministry. Wheeler is...

    Continue reading about Sondra Wheeler


Outreach 2018 Recommended Resource of the Year (Leadership)
A Top Ten Book for Parish Ministry in 2017, Academy of Parish Clergy

"Wheeler aids the reader in creating a theologically informed ethic that can guide the leader's teaching, counseling, preaching, and lifestyle."

Bob Whitesel,


"[Wheeler's] advice throughout this insightful work is truthful, pertinent, and trenchant. This book is primarily intended to reach those preparing for ministry, seminary students in particular. Nonetheless, this short, finely crafted book can also be of value to those already in active ministry. It would be a helpful resource for clergy cluster groups and even for church councils and minister support groups."

Robert Brusic,

Word & World

"While there are other works that discuss ethics for ministers . . . this book is unique in that it explores how a minister serves as an ethicist. . . . This book is a welcome addition to the field of pastoral theology, as it addresses an issue underexplored in other works in a readable style featuring many practical insights. . . . Even if one would disagree with Wheeler in terms of a particular issue, one can learn from the overall approach to the issue of moral theology as well as the guiding principles and practical wisdom she offers. The book is about how to think about issues and not what to think about issues. Therefore, this would be a great book to read in a course on pastoral ministry or Christian ethics, and the chapters on preaching and counseling could also serve as additional reading for classes on those subjects. Seasoned pastors would also be wise to consider this volume, as it helps ministers gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their role as a local ethicist or 'moral theologian' and also offers new tools to address ethical issues and help congregants think about ethics."

Brian C. Dennert,


"Wheeler has provided a book that is beneficial for both experienced ministers and those new to the ministry. As well as detailing the framework within which Christian ethics are formed she provides strong practical application across a variety of topics. . . . I found Wheeler's book to be a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable read and recommend it to anyone currently in, or preparing for, Christian ministry."

Jeremy Weetman,

Journal of Contemporary Ministry

"How do we preach to confront racism? [This book has] helped me begin to formulate responses to that question. Sondra Wheeler's The Minister as Moral Theologian explores the pastor's role in shaping the ethical character of the community. . . . In this readable book, Wheeler introduces the 'ethical dimensions of pastoral leadership.'. . . Throughout the final four chapters, Wheeler lists practical insights for pastors. These lists are born out of her many years of teaching and reflection. Undoubtedly, many new pastors will find this book a handy resource. . . . Seasoned pastors may enjoy this book as a clear and concise reflection on moral theology as a central aspect of the pastoral life. . . . [This book has] helped me to think more clearly about confronting racism through preaching. For that I am grateful."

Zen Hess,

Theology Forum blog

"For the aspiring, new, and even seasoned shepherd/pastor/preacher, I cannot recommend enough Sondra Wheeler's The Minister as Moral Theologian. . . . In such a small book, Wheeler helpfully discusses with much wisdom the 'what, when, why, and how' of living, preaching, teaching, and counseling--or not, as the case may need be. . . . As a longtime pastor of smaller and home-based churches, as well as a mentor, teacher, and guide to those who come from other churches for pastoral care, I found Wheeler's book to be an exceptionally helpful and encouraging reminder. I learned from her scholarship and wisdom, as I suspect will any reader open to Spirit of God."

Robert Durough,

Durough blog