Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Monday Reflections

Barry Maxwell has written a great post on pastoral ministry, especially from the perspective of analyzing on Monday what you just did on Sunday. He entitled it “Another Monday Reflection” and it is essentially a meditation on Rom 15:15-16.

While you are at it check out his honest Monday lament, “Another Manic Monday.” (Once you take this link you will have to scroll down to find this entry). It is a good example of being honest about the weightiness of the task. This sort of honest wrestling leads to the confidence in God discussed in “Another Monday Reflection”.

Thanks for sharing both your doubts (of self) and discoveries (of God), Barry.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Baxter quote for the weekend

Here is one more Baxter quote as we go into the weekend. may we bear it in mind and by grace be found faithful.

“If it is not your object to teach, what are you doing in the pulpit?” (17)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Gravity of Pastoral Ministry

One thing Baxter does so well in The Reformed Pastor is to lay out the gravity of the task. Some of the student quotes in the previous post alluded to this. While I would also want to say the task is also a source of deep joy, this truth of the gravity of the task is so often overlooked.

I hope these quotes challenge us and convict us. Godly challenges like this expose our inadequacies. They may even chase away some who are not called of God to pastoral ministry. However, if the Lord has called you to this (and this is verified by the church), conviction from such statements should not lead us to being cast down, but lead us back to the throne of grace to receive help in time of need (Heb 4:16). These statements should, to use a Piper phrase, provide a withering blast on our pride and self sufficiency and cause us to see all the more our desperate need of the Lord’s provision. If this happens we will have been blessed.

“Oh, what qualifications are necessary for that man who has such a charge upon him as we have! How many difficulties in theology need to be understood! What fundamentals of the faith must of necessity be known! How many obscure texts of Scripture must be expounded! How many duties must be done, wherein we may fail if we do not understand clearly their character, their purpose, and their context! How many sins we need to avoid, which cannot be done without understanding and
How many sly and subtle temptations we need to expose before our people’s eyes – in order to escape them! How many weighty and intricate cases of conscience do we need almost daily to resolve! Can so much work, and such work as this, be done by raw, unqualified men?
What strongholds have we to batter down, and how may there are of them! What subtle, diligent, and obstinate resistance must we expect to deal with in every heart! How prejudice blocks our way in seeking to obtain a fair hearing! Often we are not disputing on equal terms, but with children who cannot understand us.” (29-30)

“O dear brothers, what men then should we be in skill, in resolution, and in unwearied diligence, that have all this to contend with and to do?” (30)

“So may I say to every minister, seeing how all these challenges lie upon us, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy endeavors and resolutions for our work!” (30)

“Do not your reason and conscience tell you that if you dare to venture on so high a work as this, you should spare no pains to be fitted to perform it? It is not now and then a random and idle exercise or taste of studies that will serve to make a sound man of God.” (31)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Student Responses to Baxter

The students in my pastoral ministry course have now read and responded to Baxter’s, The Reformed Pastor. I thought it might be helpful to pass on some of their thoughts and evaluations. Perhaps their thoughts will encourage and challenge you, and even urge you to read (or re-read) this book carefully yourself.

“I was utterly amazed at the content of The Reformed Pastor. His thoughts of what it means to be a pastor are so very different than the common perception of the pastor today.”

“I think I can honestly say that before reading Baxter’s words concerning this charge [“oversight of the flock”], I did not understand what the call to be a minister truly meant.”

“Whenever I turned a page, it was as if I had found another treasure of straightforward guidance to build upon.”

“When reading, I felt like I was gaining tips from an older pastor friend whom I had known for years.”

“Baxter argues that the pastor must be rooted in the people’s lives and fluent with their pains, struggles, triumphs, and laughs. The true teaching of a pastor also comes from this personal contact and exemplifying a life transformed and regenerated by Christ and the cross.”

“As a side note, our failure to really engage and know people [has] produced a slew of pastors who are great at talking at somebody rather than talking to somebody.”

“It seemed rather foreign to Baxter for a pastor to ‘lead’ a congregation and yet not know them.”

“Baxter’s picture of properly performed ministry has literally shaken and changed my core attitudes about ministry and my own calling. I had never been confronted with the implications of oversight in such a thorough way until I read this book.”

“This book has scared the pants off me. . . . I have been crushed by the incredible weight that comes with shepherding God’s people.”

“As I read his endless challenges and exhortations to be faithful to the Word of God and be personal in your ministry and to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ the focal point of your life, I felt my heart stiffened within me with the desire to honor God through radical obedience of His Scriptures in the pastoral ministry. I was reminded of what an honor it is to be given charge of a flock, and was awed that God would entrust mere sinful men like myself with such an important and demanding responsibility as the oversight of the souls of others. It awoke within me a new awareness of the need for Godly, obedient pastors, not seeking to promote themselves through the ministry of the pastorate, but only the Kingdom of God.”

Friday, February 17, 2006

Oversight: the essence of Pastoral Ministry

I have mentioned previously that I think Hebrews 13:17 is a key text for understanding how pastoral ministry holds together. It is crucial that we ask what task pulls together all the various tasks of the pastor and acts as the controlling force of the others. Failure to think in this way has led to the lack of clarity on the role of pastors today.

Heb 13:17 states clearly that ‘leaders’ (I think broader NT context would establish these as the elders/pastors) are to keep watch over the souls of their congregation, knowing that God will call them to account for how well they did this. Serious reflection on this text, its implications and how this fits with so much else in the biblical description of ministry would revolutionize pastoral ministry today- and probably lead to renewal in the church. That is a grand claim, but I am convinced that it is true.

A pastor’s primary task is to watch over, guard, nurture the souls of his people. We are to be instruments of God’s grace helping His people to persevere. In Baxter’s words, “It is our duty to help others attain eternal glory” (14). It is this aim which guides and animates our preaching, our counseling, our visiting of the sick and bereaved, our work and weddings and funerals. In all of this we are to be shepherding the souls of our people, acting as God’s steward directing them in the path of life, pointing out pitfalls of their specific situation, sympathizing with weakness but confronting sin and urging them on toward the celestial city. This is pastoral ministry. Anything short of this does not deserve the name.

This task is not less than but so much more than preaching good sermons. It is this view of pastoral ministry which makes it clear that the pastor must walk among his people (see Video Church discussion). Note these quotes from Baxter:

“I fear most those ministers who preach well, and who are unsuited to the private nurture of their members.” (7) Amen! What does this say about our impersonal approach to preaching?

“For he that does not pray for his people will not preach powerfully to his people.” (18)

“We should know completely those in our flock.” (71)

“A faithful pastor should have his eyes on them all. He should labor to know each person’s natural temperament, their situations, and the context of their affairs in the world. A pastor should be aware of the company they live with and deal with, so that he may know where their temptations lie. Thus he knows speedily, prudently, and diligently how to help them.” (76)

“But when a minister does not know his own people, he is not able to really minister
to them.” (107)

“By means of such personal ministry we come to be better acquainted with each one’s spiritual state. Then we know better how to watch over them and relate to them.” (107)

Does this not challenge our status quo? But is this not right? Sure I know it is difficult. Do not disregard it as idealistic. We dare not do so. Let us face squarely the crushing nature of the task, and let that drive us to our knees where we might learn humility and beg God for wisdom, courage and grace to fulfill our task.

- page numbers for Baxter quotes taken from the edition edited by James Houston

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thoughts from Baxter

I have had a deeply moving time this morning simply in re-reading the 8 pages of quotes I have gathered from Richard Baxter’s, The Reformed Pastor, in preparation for the discussion today in my Pastoral Ministry class. I cannot recommend this book too highly. Baxter is simply at his best in working out the practical implications of the faith, and especially in regards to pastoral ministry. I hope to post a series of comments, observations and quotes from this book

The overall purpose of the book is the renewing of pastoral ministry. By ‘Reformed’ Baxter meant ‘renewed, revitalized.’ He states at the beginning that a group of pastors had been convicted in their lack of diligently teaching and pastoring their people. Baxter’s book grew out of his prepared address to the meeting of these pastors Dec 4, 1655. The earnestness of the approach to pastoral ministry is convicting and challenging. You find nothing here of merely drawing crowds, promoting programs or career advancement. You find here a man intent on guiding his people to heaven- laboring to teach them publicly and in their homes, pleading with and rebuking them, patiently training them as followers of Christ. This is pastoral ministry. The degree to which this fails to match up with the concerns and time commitments of pastoral ministry today speaks condemnation to our ministry paradigms.

More to come...

Note: I do recommend the edited edition by James Houston. I normally favor getting the 'whole thing', but Baxter is well aided by a good editor.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Spurgeon, “A Heart Prepared to Preach”

I have for some time gained help and encouragement from this quote from Spurgeon. If you read him it is clear that he is not hear in any way demeaning the value of diligent study. What he is doing is warning us not to thinking learning alone is sufficient. It is thus similar to Luther’s admonition on the makings of a true theologian.

“A Heart Prepared to Preach”
“When we speak as ministers and not as men, as preachers instead of penitents, we fail; when we lean our head too much upon the commentary and too little upon the Savior’s bossom; when we eat too largely of the tree of knowledge, and too little of the tree of life, we lose the power of our ministry. I am myself a sinner, a sinner washed in blood, and delivered from the wrath to come by the merit of my Lord and Master—all this must be fresh upon our mind. Personal godliness must never grow scantly with us. Our own personal justification in the righteousness of Christ, our personal sanctification by the indwelling of the power of the Holy Spirit, our vital union with Christ, and expectancy of glory in Him, yea, our own advancement in grace, or our own declension; all these we must know and consider.”
--C.H. Spurgeon

Thursday, February 09, 2006

“The Faithful Minister”

In a recent blog from Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, interim pastor Aaron Menikoff provided this wonderful quote. This fits well with my previous post, and both of these inform the discussion of video church.

The faithful minister is found preaching the gospel from house to house, as well as in a more public way; visiting the families that are under his care, expressly for this purpose; conversing with old and young, on the great subject of personal religion; mingling with the poor, in their humble dwellings, as well as with those in better circumstances; ministering the instructions of religion, or its consolations, at the bed-side of the sick or dying; and in one word laying himself out in continual labors of love toward all, as the servant of all for Jesus’ sake. The holiness of his own life particularly becomes, in these circumstances, an agency powerful beyond all others, to recommend and enforce the gospel he is called to preach. To all who know him, his very presence carries with it the weight of an impressive testimony in favor of the truth.

The Anxious Bench (1844), John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886)

Qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1

My pastoral ministry class is discussing the list of qualifications for pastors in these passages. Many important observations can and need to be made from these passages, but we have focused a bit so far on the big picture. Here is a particularly well-put comment from one of the students:
“The qualifications of an overseer don’t seem to be all that exciting. Most would think that a pastor would have to be someone who is an incredible leader or a charismatic spokesperson, but the qualifications that Paul gives are rather simple, quiet traits that will probably go unnoticed in daily life. A pastor is to live a life that resonates with quiet holiness.”
Amen! Of course this is a general picture- rebuking error (Titus 1:9) is not exactly quiet and the purity described sometimes is particularly noticeable in society. But in general, in our loud, flashy world where we encouraged to ‘make ourselves known,’ this description stands in marked contrast. Sadly it stands in marked contrast to much of what is urged upon pastors in conferences and books where we are encouraged to be more ‘dynamic’ which often means flashy and self-promoting. The picture which emerges here is much less presumptuous, very down to earth and, in a very good way, common. Let us lay aside the desires to be ‘amazing’ and simply walk among our people in holiness ministering the word of God in word and deed. The media will not notice, but God will bless.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Greek Readings

Regular readers may notice the addition of a new feature in the left column- a daily passage from the Greek New Testament. I found this on some other sites (which ones I now cannot remember) and decided to add it here as an encouragement to pastors to labor in the original languages.

If you are unsure of the value of knowing and using Greek and Hebrew, or if you could use some more encouragement in the task I highly recommend a little piece written by Scott Hafemann for the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology back in 1999. The piece is written in response to the question:

“Is it genuinely important to use the biblical languages in preaching, especially since there are many excellent commentaries and pastors will never attain the expertise of scholars?”
Hafemann’s response is excellent! The rest of the article also contains responses to similar questions about the value of church history, etc. by people like Timothy George and Don Carson.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Video Church

There is a good bit of talk going on around the blogosphere and elsewhere about the validity (or lack thereof) of video churches- i.e., churches where the preaching comes via satellite or video. The arguments for this can easily be found. I am simply going to register my complete dissatisfaction with the idea.

Some of the discussion arises from churches growing quite large and therefore seeking to plant another church. So far so good. However, some have said that starting a church with another, different pastor did not work, so they started the new church and allowed them to have the same ‘preacher’ by piping in the sermon via satellite link. In some cases these new churches are in outlying areas of the city where the ‘preacher’ ministers. In other cases, the ‘satellite’ church is in a different state (see Brett Maragni on this phenomenon). All of this begs some key questions about what pastoral ministry is, what corporate worship is, etc. If the oversight of souls (Heb 13:17) is at the heart of pastoral ministry (as I argue), then how does this happen in a video venue? Even if there are other elders ‘on site’, what is the impact of the detachment of the preaching? This seems to me to show that our view of preaching is too performance oriented. We want a certain amount of glamour rather than simply faithful exposition from a local shepherd. The fact is that while eloquence is nice, it is not required (1 Tim 3; Titus 1). Faithful, orthodox proclamation is- and certainly Titus 1:9 envisions preaching aimed directly at the local situation.

True preaching should arise from within the community as the pastor from within the community speaks from the Word of God to the people among whom he lives, works, shops, hurts and celebrates. Preaching and pastoral care cannot rightly be separated (in spite of the fact that they often are in larger church situations where the ‘main’ pastor preaches and others do pastoral care).

The talk seems to suggest that people are gathering more around certain personalities rather than around the word of God and within the worshipping people of God. It also suggests that we place too much value on the gathering of crowds. Certainly we want more people to come to faith. The question is, “What is the right way to accomplish this?” The place of community and oversight has simply been lost in so much of the thinking about the church in our day.

Wisdom from Pascal

Here is a quote from Blaise Pascal which I have on my filing cabinet. I keep it there because I think it captures well the combinations of aspiration and humility. In our work as pastors we must aspire and long for advance in the kingdom, and we must realize that such advancement comes in the fulfilling of ‘small’ duties.

“Lord, help me do great things as though they were little, since I do them with your powers, and help me to do little things as though they were great, because I do them in Your name.”

- Blaise Pascal