Pastoral Theology

Christian Ministry Resoures

Pastoral Theology for Church Leaders

**See the closely related guide on Ministry Ethics and Ministry Burnout/Self-Care.


First, let’s define the term. Many whose training has been more pragmatic and “skills-based” (which is not bad, but not adequate in itself) may have never been introduced to pastoral theology. Others who are more theologically trained may prefer the term “practical theology” over “pastoral theology.” Not all would draw a distinction between the two, but the literature of the field usually does.

As used on, practical theology, sometimes called “applied theology,” applies the classic theological truths of Christianity to the practices of the church such as worship, mission, preaching, etc. A theology of preaching is a practical theology, as would be a theology of pastoral care, etc. Pastoral theology is a kind of practical theology, but with a narrower focus on the role of Christian leaders. As pastoral theology, it reflects theologically on work of “pastoring” or “shepherding” the flock. Authors often use the terms practical and pastoral theology interchangeably, and there is enough common ground between them to merit this. But when categorizing the literature, especially that which comes from the United States, it often helps to separate them.

There are many other sections of practical theology on this site. Please refer to the bottom of the page for related resource listings. See especially the closely related guide on Strengthening and Renewing the Ministry Call.

Introductions to the Importance of Theological Work

Introduction and Overview of Pastoral Theology

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General Works on Pastoral Theology

Theologies Based on the Ministry of Jesus

  • Efrain Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul ­ - A work of biblical scholarship that looks at how Jesus and Paul demonstrated servant leadership, primarily with the poor and oppressed, through lives of hard work and sacrifice.
  • John A. Berntsen, Cross-Shaped Leadership: On the Rough and Tumble of Parish PracticeA theology of pastoral leadership, written from the standpoint of the theology of the cross. Bernsten derives six affirmations on the nature of cross-shaped ministry.  
  • Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry - A deeply thoughtful series of devotional reflections on ministry that reflects the characteristics of Christ.
  • Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections of Christian Leadership - Discouragement in ministry often comes from a minister’s perceived inabilities or failures in the quest to be relevant, popular, and influential. Nouwen treats each of these quests as serious temptations that must be overcome by God’s healing grace. Based on Jesus’ temptation narrative.
  • Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation Challenges pastoral theologies that come out of a “clinical, psychotherapeutic, or, more generally, social-scientific direction rather than a theological or doctrinal direction.” He believes these have resulted not only in the loss of theological grounding but also in the domination of “secular goals and techniques of care.” Thus he raises the question: “What makes pastoral work Christian?”
  • Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry - The first in a series that is followed by The Resurrection of Ministry (2007). It would be hard to find a more powerful combination for anyone wanting to revive their ministry by deepening it. Here, he theologically unpacks an approach to ministry characterized as participation in Christ. Purves is by far the most inspiring academic pastoral theologian, a close second to Eugene Peterson as a practitioner-theologian.
  • Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen LordExcellent theology that builds upon the nature of the resurrection as a theological basis for renewing one’s hope and sense of calling. A sequel to Purves’ The Crucifixion of Ministry.

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Theologies Based on the Ministry of Paul

Theologies Based on Other Biblical Characters

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Theologies Based on Social Backgrounds and Biblical Metaphors

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Theologies Based on Classical Traditions

Theologies Based on the Tasks of Ministry

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Theologies for those New to Ministry


Related Ministry Resources

See Other Resources on Minister Self-Care and Preventing Burnout:

See Related Ministry Resources:

See Other Resources on Christian Leadership Development:

See Other Resources on Christian Leadership:

See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry:

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