“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed.” Francis Bacon (d. 1626)
Gentle Shepherding: Pastoral Ethics and Leadership
Joseph E. Bush, Jr., St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006.
Reviewed by James E. Carter, Bermuda, LA
Joseph E. Bush, Jr. has served as a United Methodist pastor, primarily in New Jersey, as well as a professor in a number of theological seminaries. At the time the book was written he was serving as an ethics professor in a theological seminary in Minnesota. The book, therefore, is written from the perspective of both a pastor and a professor.
The author indicates that the book is written for two audiences: seminarians studying pastoral ethics or social ethics and pastors or other church leaders who are interested in their ethical responsibility in ministry.
The purpose of the book is clearly stated: “To equip seminarians and pastors with some conceptual resources that will be useful for clarifying moral responsibility in the practice of ministry. This responsibility includes three levels: (1) the minister as a moral agent in offering care, (2) the minister as a moral enabler in encouraging virtue in others, and (3) the minister as a moral leader in facilitating congregational life and witness in society” (viii).
The book is organized into eight chapters. The sub-titles of the chapters state the content of each chapter. They are: Introduction to the Moral Life; Nonmaleficence in Ministry; Informed Consent in Pastoral Ministry; Veracity as Not Lying; Veracity as Truth-telling; Confidentiality in Care; Vocation I: Creation and Community, and Vocation II: Church and Ministry.
As an indication that the book grew out of the teaching ministry of the author each chapter includes a case study for discussion and some questions for discussion. Rather than appearing at the end of the chapter these are usually included in the middle of a chapter with some discussion following.
The book is well researched and heavily documented. In fact, the abundance of documentation could be considered a hindrance in reading the book. The documentation often gets in the way of the flow of the material.
This book is not an easy read. The citation of references abound. Sources are often piled on top of sources. Lists of various kinds are often found in the book. The reasons for statements or observations are often enumerated, as “Three reasons for . . .”
Even with those thoughts in mind, the book is a rather comprehensive view of ministerial ethics. Various important concepts in ministerial ethics are introduced. The author is absolutely on target when he stated, “For people and their pastors, ethics is not solely a matter of philosophical abstractions from life. Rather, ethics makes contact with life itself, but it does so utilizing the philosophical and theological resources that are accessible to us ‘in the middle’” (3).
“In the middle” describes the stance the author takes in writing the book. Ethical decisions are made from “in the middle,” at the time of decision, in the midst of an action. The decisions in ministerial ethics are not made in the quietness of reflection or from the abstractions of ethical theory. Those decisions, instead, are made right in the middle of life and ministry.
The resources for ministerial ethics are made available through the extensive documentation of the book. The index is helpful in checking specific matters of interest or concern addressed in the book.
Although this book will not be the easiest and quickest read one can have in the study of ministerial ethics, it is a helpful and useful addition to the field.