Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with John Thornbury

Recently I had the privilege of talking for a while with John Thornbury who recently retired from his church, Winfield Baptist, after pastoring there for over 40 years. He has also written several books. I was struck by the amount of wisdom and experience he has to offer to the rest of us, particularly as a man who has faithfully labored in one place for more than four decades weathering the ups and downs and seeing God build His church.

He graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me to post here. I was particularly struck by his comment, “Growing in the Lord means growing in love for his sheep”. I hope this is an encouragement and help to you as well.

1. What advice would you give to a younger pastor beginning ministry at a new church? Any warnings or particular encouragements about how he begins?
Candidates for pastoral ministry need to be aware up front that "the churches are not into you." They perceive that the pastor is there to minister to them, to nurture, care for and bless them. This seems selfish and is I guess. I believe, however, that with time they will come to appreciate a true shepherd and will begin to seek to return the caring and loving relationship. Particular advice: respect has to be earned, it cannot be demanded immediately. Many people are suspicious of preachers, due in part to the bad reputation some have projected to the public.

2. I have heard you talk about key problems which can “torpedo” a man’s ministry. Can you list those and discuss them, explaining why they are key problems and how we can avoid them?
Problems that torpedo a pastoral position.
1. Greed. The pastor must beware of appearing to preach for money. A contract and understanding should be worked out with the church before he accepts the position so he does not have to rattle the cup after getting into the office. A friend of mine once said, "You can live on what God provides for you."
2. Lust. No need to expand on this.
3. Ambition. The pastor must be able to look himself in the mirror without embarrassment. Sure, the goodwill of the people is necessary, but he must lovingly, but firmly stick by his convictions. If God has called him He will see the pastor through his difficulties. Craving to be popular is deadly.
4. Intellectualism. Beware of thinking that the only task of the preacher is to get up into a high tower and "hand down" the word a couple of times a week. He must be involved in people's lives: hospital, funeral, counseling. Young pastors tend not to have natural compassion, so they should pray for it. Growing in the Lord means growing in love for his sheep.

3. While in many circles we have reclaimed the importance of preaching, there seems to be a lack of awareness among some preachers of the importance of actually shepherding the flock. Could you speak to the importance of the “out of the pulpit” side of ministry, including visiting the sick, counseling, and personal conversations?
Of all the spiritual roles one can have, the PASTOR is the most like Christ. He is a shepherd. What does a shepherd do?
1Feeds the flock. Teaching the whole counsel of God, expounding the word from the pulpit.
2. Cares for the flock. When sheep get in the ditch, he must be there. He must learn to pull them out. As I heard a preacher say yesterday, “Sheep are ignorant, defenseless and dirty.” Jesus will help the pastor to learn to be there for them.
3. Protects the flock. Protects them from false doctrine, false teachers, and wolves that abound today.

4. What basic advice would you give on establishing long term patterns for faithful sermon preparation?
One of the greatest examples of a balanced minister, from a Reformed standpoint (He would not like this term) is Spencer H. Cone, pastor of First Baptist of New York early in the 19th century. He believed that preparation for the pulpit is a 24/7 business. It is not just poring over book, but he is preparing all the time. Wherever he is: observing the world around him, at athletic events, at the beach. He believed a true preacher should be able to preach at the drop of the hat. The preacher should be aware of the world around him, every field is important. Drink in life and draw illustrations from real life experiences. Summary: the preacher should read but be thinking and preparing ALL THE TIME.

5. Is there any other particular advice you would like to give?
1. Pick the right wife. A pastor's wife can make or break him. She should share the burden of ministry.
2. Put Christ in ever message. Take a text and sometime head with it to the cross. People need to hear about JESUS. "Sirs, we would see Jesus."
3. Avoid the Moses syndrome. I have come to the conclusion that Moses was rebuked by God and did not enter the promised land because he became angry and impatient with the people. I believe God was saying to him, "If I can put up with these people, you can." His smiting the rock instead of speaking to it showed his disgust.


j razz said...


Point #5 was excellent for me to read at this time. Thanks for posting this.

j razz

David Reimer said...

This was a very helpful read. I'm grateful for the effort that went into producing on both sides, intereviewer and interviewee!

Candace Smith said...

I have been warmly encouraged by Pastor Thornbury's example in pastoral ministry just by distant observation - his longevity at Winfield, his writing ministry, etc. It was great to hear him speak in greater detail about his life as a shepherd. Thanks to you both!

Ray Van Neste said...

Hey Eric,

I enjoyed your great post on Pastor Thornbury's ministry as well.