The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Harold L. Senkbeil

Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2019. 312 pages. Hardcover. $21.99.

Reviewed by Joel G. Koepp on 04/01/2020

This engaging work is a beneficial read for any member of the body of Christ. Written from a pastor’s heart, Dr. Senkbeil plumbs the depths and living reality of both the care of souls and the cure of souls. It is written from a clear Lutheran perspective and language. While aiming at being accessible to all, there may be some difficulty in language and perspective not immediately accessible, or quickly understood, by non-Lutherans.

This work is not purely theoretical, nor is it a simple “how-to” book of practical ministry. Instead, Senkbeil sets forth an important understanding of the Pastor’s life and task using habitus vs. acedia. Habitus, or the pastor’s habituation, is a “pastoral temperament or character worked by the Holy Spirit through his means” (17). This habitus is not the pastor’s work; rather, it is “worked in you through a lifelong process of receiving for yourself the gifts of Christ, and then handing them unto others as he sends you to do, daily tending his beloved sheep and lambs” (270).

Habitus has a devastating enemy: acedia. Commonly translated as “sloth,” it has an underlying spiritual cause: “disappointment with disaffection from God’s divinely ordained gifts, be they in the realm of creation or redemption” (210). Drawing from both Scripture and personal examples, Dr. Senkbeil places important truths in a practical manner to combat this negative habit. Whether chronic or episodic, “Whenever we grow numb to Christ’s saving work and the Father’s gracious gifts by which he makes us and preserves us, spiritual boredom takes hold, followed by apathy and subsequent despair” (210).

The presence of habitus—and the absence of acedia—in the life of the pastor is vitally important, both for the pastor himself and for his ability to care for Christ’s sheep. In that regard, this work will prove helpful by directing readings to feed on God’s Holy Word.