In the first of his several books on pastoral ministry, Peterson encourages pastors to return to the "old resource," the Bible, as the sole authoritative source for the task. Instead of looking to the latest ministry fad or to modern-day behavioral sciences such as psychology and sociology, the Bible should be the basis or "foundation stone" (page 239) for all of pastoral ministry. In support of his argument, Peterson gives concrete evidence of how five particular books of the Bible have a definite pastoral tone to them.
Instead of using the Pastoral Epistles or other more obvious pastoral-themed books of the New Testament, Peterson instead uses five Old Testament books to prove his point. The five "gem stones" (239) he uses are the "more modest materials" (14) known as the Megilloth, the five scrolls in the Hebrew Bible that Jews and Christians recognize as Song of Songs/Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. Since the 8th or 9th-century A.D., or even as far back as the Second Temple period (516 B.C.-70 A.D.), one of these books were read at a particular and annual Jewish act of corporate worship. According to Peterson, each book contained a certain pastoral theme whereby a historical event gave a contemporary meaning (14-17).
While readily admitting that these five, less prominent Old Testament writings are not "cornerstones" for pastoral work, Peterson argues that they are not "inconsequential pebbles" either. The books, which cover a "remarkable amount" (but not everything) of what a pastor does, are "substantial and useful as foundation stones under pastoral work," and therefore, "are highly serviceable for pastoral use" (17).
Because of Peterson's stress on community, authenticity, and the authority and sufficiency of the Bible in pastoral ministry, his book is of great value to North American pastors. Peterson's emphasis on community is so refreshing in such a North American culture as ours whereby the individual is stressed over the community. As Peterson states, "Community ('common') worship is the biblical setting for pastoral work. . . . Pastoral work has no identity in and of itself. It is a derivative work, and worship is that from which it is derived" (18). Elsewhere he states, "Any pastoral act that is severed from the common worship slowly but certainly loses its biblical character" (19).
In addition to community, personal and corporate authenticity is another emphasis that I appreciated about the book. That a pastor and his congregants must seek to be the same godly people Monday to Saturday as they seek to be at Sunday morning worship is a tactfully stated exhortation to both parties to flee duplicity, hypocrisy and fakery in their relationship with the all-seeing and all-knowing God. Associated closely with his stress on authenticity is Peterson's stress on the everyday, ordinariness of the Christian life and pastoral ministry. "Pastoral work is that aspect of Christian ministry which specializes in the ordinary" (1).
The third aspect that I appreciated about "Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work" is Peterson's strong conviction that the Bible, and not the behavioral sciences or the latest fad, is to be the sole source of ultimate authority and sufficiency for pastoral ministry. One would think that the Megilloth is not very pastoral when compared to, say, the New Testament's Pastoral Epistles. But Peterson convincingly proves by his insights from the Megilloth that all 66 books of God's Word possess a pastoral tone; one just needs to look a little closer for it with some books.
In addition to its Scripture-filled content and almost commentary-like and devotional quality, the book has the added bonus of being written by a master wordsmith who is a true "pastor to pastors."