What Should Pastors Give?

I’ve just started reading Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls. So far, I am very impressed. A Lutheran minister, Senkbeil had been pestered for years to write this book, since he has given a lot of advice to ministers. It was advice of the sort that saves ministries. The point I want to highlight here has to do with the substance of what pastors are supposed to give to the congregation and to those outside the congregation to whom he ministers.

Typically, seminary students are told that ministry means pouring out oneself for the benefit of the congregation. The better seminaries will emphasize the importance of your personal devotional life. However, Senkbeil points out the problem with the idea of pouring oneself out: this is what typically results in burnout. There is only so much in a man, after all. There is only so much emotional and spiritual capital that he can expend. If this is limited, then it actually doesn’t make sense to say that the pastor pours out himself. Not only is there the problem of the very limited resource, but an additional issue is the temptation to narcissism that this idea represents. If the pastor pours out himself, then the people will see that consciously or unconsciously. Some will react with acceptance, and thus make the pastor the focus of the congregation. Others will reject it and thereby throw out what there is of Christ in what the pastor offers.

Senkbeil offers another route, one which I think is well worth exploring. The pastor fills his soul with Jesus Christ, full to bursting, and then offers Jesus Christ, and not himself. He is then more of a conduit than a filter. Again, here, the better seminaries will say that the pastor is supposed to offer Christ. However, the implied corollary is often “filtered through you.” I would now say, in addition to being transparent to the text of Scripture (get out of the way and let the Scripture speak!), the pastor should also be transparent to Christ (he offers Jesus and not himself).

There are three things that I think will result from this game-changer. Firstly, the pastor will be far less likely to burnout if he is not offering himself. Incidentally, this would not mean “be impersonal and never be friendly or compassionate with the people in the congregation.” Instead, it means “the substance of what you offer is not you but Him.” Secondly, the importance of the devotional life becomes dramatically clearer, since the devotional life is one of the key places and times where the pastor becomes filled with Christ. Thirdly, he will be less tempted to narcissism. So also the congregation will be less tempted to make the ministry all about him, and instead will recognize that the ministry is all about Jesus Christ. The overall effect of this might very well be to lift a huge part of the burden of being a minister off the shoulders of the minister, to lay it on the infinitely more capable shoulders of our Lord.

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A Great Felicity of Heaven

From Jean Taffin’s The Marks of God’s Children, p. 31:

Suppose that someone of whom you are as fond as you are of yourself were to experience the same joy as you. Would not the overflowing joy that you feel in that blessedness be doubled because of the joy and glory of the one whom you cherish as much as you do yourself and for whose well-being you are as happy as you are for your own? And should two, three, or even more whom you esteem all experience the same blessedness, would you not rejoice in the happiness of each of them as much as in your own? How then will this not be the case in that perfect love, with which we will love all the divine angels and all the elect, loving each of them as much as we do ourselves and being no less happy in the joy of each of them than we are in our own joy?

Taffin goes on to note on the same page that not even this amazing happiness is the greatest joy of heaven. For even the joy of the community will pale in comparison to the joy of the Triune God’s fellowship. The thought I had about this is simple: we aren’t getting much of a head start on this joy today, because we are too individualistic. The same problem, on the negative side, prevents us from being very sympathetic for our Chinese and Nigerian brothers and sisters, who are undergoing the most severe persecution right now.

A Change in Strategy

Satan has changed his strategy with regard to his warfare against the church in the West. For the period of the 1960’s up through most of this current decade, his strategy has been to entertain Christians into an oblivion of forgetfulness and numbness. It has worked to a spectacular degree until recently. The signs are that the church in the West is not quite so much in decline as secularists and many Christians believe. This means that Satan must change his strategy. The carrot is no longer working. The stick must replace it.

It has already begun with some opening salvos, the baker in Colorado and similar stories. If the Equality Act passes, however, the stick will begin in earnest. Of course, Satan doesn’t ever seem to learn from the past. Neither the carrot nor the stick can override God’s purposes in the world. The best he can hope for is to hinder the church. Will Christians stand firm? You see, the most insidious thing about the transition from carrot to stick is that the carrot leaves many Christians soft and unwilling to stand up for what they believe. Then when the stick comes, they cave in, rotten from within. Now is the time for Christians to pray that the Lord will restore our marrow, our backbone, our moral fiber.

How will the Lord God do this? The same way He has always done: through the regular means of grace. It is God’s grace that turns invertebrates into vertebrates. It is a steady diet of the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper, remembrance of and meditation on the meaning of baptism, prayer, and fellowship with other like-minded Christian vertebrates that will instill strength into us so that we will stand in the face of hatred masquerading as tolerance.

The only remaining question is this: are we willing to pay the price? The price will be necessary. Churches need to plan on losing their luxurious tax-exempt status. Pastors need to plan on doing jail time, for they will not typically be able to afford the fees. Will we see these things as opportunities to witness to the world about how Christians suffer for the cause of Christ, or will we do nothing but bellyache about it all?

As Western Christians finally realize that persecution is coming their way, maybe the most salutary effect it will have on us is that we will be far more conscious of our brothers and sisters around the globe who are suffering far more. Their lives are in danger, and they are being taken, especially right now in Nigeria. The worship of God is being hampered in China. All too often, Christian reaction to these things has been almost complete indifference, followed by a quick return to our mind-numbing entertainments. That possibility is coming to an end.

Some kinds of repetition in prayer are good

Thomas Manton explains:

This repetition is not to be disapproved when there is a special emphasis and spiritual elegancy in it, as Ps. cxxxvi., you have it twenty-six times repeated, ‘for his mercy endureth for ever;’ because there was a special reason in it, his purpose there being to show the unweariedness and the unexhausted riches of God’s free grace, that, notwithstanding all the former experiences they had had, God is where he was at first. We waste by giving, our drop is soon spent; but God is not wasted by bestowing, but hath the same mercy to do good to his creatures as before (The Works of Thomas Manton, I, 24-5).

A Difference in Love

John Flavel points out the difference in degree between Christ’s love for us, and our love for him:

Did the love of Christ break through so many impediments to come to thee? Did it make its way through the law, through the wrath of God, through the grave, through thine own unbelief and great unworthiness, to come to thee? O what a love was the love of Christ to thy soul; And is not thy love strong enough to break through the vanities and trifles of this world, which intangle it, to go to Christ? How poor, how low and weak is thy love to Christ then? (Works of Flavel, I, p. 27).

Our Three-fold Problem

Richard Sibbes matches the three-fold office of Jesus to humanity’s three-fold problem:

As we are ignorant and blind, he is a prophet to instruct us, to convince us of the ill state we are in, and then to convince us of the good he intends us, and hath wrought for us, to instruct us in all things concerning our everlasting comfort…And answerable to the rebellion and sinfulness of our dispositions, he is a king to subdue whatsoever is ill in us, and like to subdue all opposite power without us…Now, as we are cursed by reason of our sinful condition, so he is a priest to satisfy the wrath of God for us…So, answerable to the threefold ill in us, you see here is a threefold office in Christ…Now, the fundamental, the chief office to which he was anointed by the Spirit, upon which the rest depends, it was his priestly office (Works of Richard Sibbes, volume 1, p. 16).

New Book on Paul’s Speech at Mars Hill

My friend Flavien Pardigon’s book is now finally in print! I helped edit the thesis form of this book (which was done for a WTS Ph.D.: Flavien and I overlapped at WTS). A more careful study of Paul’s speech at Mars Hill you will not find. Highly recommended!

In need of some encouragement?

John Owen has some encouraging words:

But there is no more sacred truth than this, that where Christ is present with believers,-where he is not withdrawn for a season from them, where they live in the view of his glory by faith as it is proposed unto them in the Gospel,-he will give unto them, at his own seasons, such intimations of his love, such supplies of his Spirit, such holy joys and rejoicings, such repose of soul in assurance, as shall refresh their souls, fill them with joy, satisfy them with spiritual delight, and quicken them unto all acts of holy communion with himself (Works of John Owen, volume 1, p. 399).

Why daily prayer?

Thomas Manton has some good thoughts on why we need to pray daily.

To reprove those which neglect closet-addresses to God; they wrong God and themselves.

They wrong God; because this is a necessary part of the creature’s homage, of that duty he expects from them, to be owned not only in public assemblies, but in private. And they wrong themselves; because it brings in a great deal of comfort and peace to the soul; and many sweet and gracious experiences there are which they deprive themselves of, and a blessing upon all other things…How will your own hearts reproach you then, that have neglected God, and lost such precious hours as you should have redeemed for communion with him!…So, when God is in us and round about us, and we never take time to confer with him, it argues much hatred and neglect of him…Omissions make way for commissions. If a gardener withholds his hand, the ground is soon grown over with weeds. Restrain prayer and neglect God, and noisome lusts will abound…As they which are often with princes and great persons are better clothed and more neat in their apparel and carriage, so they which are often conversing with God grown more heavenly, holy, watchful, than others are; and when we are not with God, not only all this is lost, but a great many evils to be found (Works of Thomas Manton, volume 1, pp. 14-7).

Flavel on Theological Encyclopedia

Although it is a bit of an anachronism, it is relevant to the question of the unity of all truth. I haven’t seen many Puritans directly address this issue (and even this is a somewhat rudimentary treatment, as the four-fold division of theology into exegetical, systematic, historical, and practical is still some ways off), but Flavel has some wonderful things to say here (sorry for the length, but I couldn’t really cut anything):

A young ungrounded Christian, when he seeth all the fundamental truths, and seeth good evidence and reasons of them, perhaps may be yet ignorant of the right order and place of every truth. It is a rare thing to have young professors to understand the necessary truths methodically: and this is a very great defect: for a great part of the usefulness and excellency of particular truths consisteth in the respect they have to one another. This therefore will be a very considerable part of your confirmation, and growth in your understandings, to see the body of the Christian doctrine, as it were, at one view, as the several parts of it are united in one perfect frame; and to know what aspect one point hath upon another, and which are their due places. There is a great difference betwixt the sight of the several parts of a clock or watch, as they are disjointed and scattered abroad, and the seeing of them conjointed, and in use and motion. To see here a pin and there a wheel, and not know how to set them all together, nor ever see them in their due places, will give but little satisfaction. It is the frame and design of holy doctrine that must be known, and every part should be discerned as it hath its particular use to that design, and as it is connected with the other parts.

By this means only can the true nature of Theology, together with the harmony and perfection of truth, be clearly understood. And every single truth also will be much better perceived by him that seeth its place and order, than by any other: for one truth exceedingly illustrates and leads another into the understanding. Study therefore to grow in the more methodical knowledge of the same truths which you have received; and though you are not yet ripe enough to discern the whole body of theology in due method, yet see so much as you have attained to know, in the right order and placing of every part. As in anatomy, it is hard for the wisest physician to discern the course of every branch of the veins and arteries; but yet they may easily discern the place and order of the principle parts, and greater vessels, (and surely in the body of religion there are no branches of greater or more necessary truth than these) so it is in divinity, where no man hath a perfect view of the whole, till he comes to the state of perfection with God; but every true Christian hath the knowledge of all the essentials, and may know the orders and places of them all.

And as it serves to render the mind more judicious, so it causes the memory to be more tenacious, and retentive of truths. The chain of truth is easily held in the memory, when one truth links in another; but the loosing of a link endangers the scattering of the whole chain. We use to say, order is the mother of memory; I am sure it is a singular friend to it: hence it is observed, those that write of the art of memory,. lay so great a stress upon place and number. The memory would not so soon be overcharged with a multitude of truths, if that multitude were but orderly disposed. It is the incoherence and confusion of truths, rather than their number, that distracts. Let but the understanding receive them regularly, and the memory will retain them with much more facility. A bad memory is a common complaint among Christians: all the benefit that many of you have in hear, is from the present influence of truths upon your hearts (Works of John Flavel, volume 1, pp. 21-2).

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