The Reformed Pastor, part IV – Richard Baxter

The project started by Garry (the Hippopotamus) and I to blog through Richard Baxter‘s the Reformed Pastor has stretched out longer than anticipated, and perhaps desired.  I have been largely to blame for this, as my blogging took a brief hiatus over the past month.  However, we are now back on track and determined to persevere.  At the end of this post you will find links to all the previous posts we have put up as we blog through this wonderful resource.

In Baxter’s second chapter, The Oversight of the Flock, he breaks it down into 3 sections.  I will post my thoughts on section two: The Manner of This Oversight, here and my thoughts on section three: The Motives to the Oversight of the Flock in a future blog post.

As I read through this section, I felt I was reading some relevant, contemporary church leadership manual instead of the work of a Puritan who was born almost 400 years ago.  Baxter listed 15 things that every pastor should maintain as he oversees the local assembly God has called him to.  I certainly will not do justice to this list in this post, and heartily recommend it for your own reading.  I will, however, list each and give briefly my thoughts (one or two) on each:

  • The ministerial work must be carried on purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own.
    • As soon as I make this “job” about me, I am doomed.  I cannot be tempted or swayed by the comments or kindnesses of my congregants, nor the ridicule or rebukes.  I must be eternally focused on doing God’s work, for his glory.
    • As Baxter says, “Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service”
  • The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others.
    • Baxter in twitter-type fashion states, “Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow”!
    • Many pastors abuse the flexibility and openness of their schedules.  Lack of accountability only feeds this slackness.  The ministry can be the easiest job you’ve ever had…or, if done correctly, the most difficult ever experienced.
  • The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly.
    • The Gospel must be primary to all of my work.  It is the foundation on which all else is built.
    • I cannot haphazardly approach my study, my teaching or preaching as to ignore this truth.  How can I expect to encourage others to build a life that honors Christ, if they have never accepted him in the first place?
  • Throughout the course of our ministry, we must insist chiefly upon the greatest, most certain, and the most necessary truths, and be more seldom and sparing upon the rest.
    • I must know my congregants.  I have to know what they need.  This will keep me from dabbling in the fringe and unnecessary items of life.
    • This too proves to be profitable to those whom I minister.  While it might not be always what the congregation “wants”, if they are given opportunity to feed on what they “need”, they will grow through the gracious work of the Spirit.
  • All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible.
    • How we discuss this here at Calvary Baptist!  If I am not communicating in an easy to understand manner, I might as well be speaking French.
    • The speaking of truth in a simple and easy to understand manner does not retract from the message at all.
  • Our work must be carried on with great humility.
    • What a temptation there is on a daily basis to become filled with pride because of the work we are to do.
    • Grace comes to the humble, the opposition of God to the prideful.
  • There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline…
    • If we are predominantly severe – we simply are lording our authority over our congregations
    • If we are predominantly mild – we will not be taken serious in times of rebuke and reproof
  • We must be serious, earnest and zealous in every part of our work.
    • I cannot take for granted the message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that I am proclaiming to others
    • The task looms large before me on a daily basis – it demands I work hard…as to the Lord.
  • The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people.
    • This was probably the section that spoke the most to me.  It goes back to that pithy saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
    • When I am genuine in love for the people to whom I shepherd, I think they would be more receptive of the instruction I give them from the Word because they sense I desire what is the best and most beneficial for them.
  • We must carry on our work with patience
    • This one is fairly self-explanatory.  Ever pulled a splinter out of toddler’s hand?  ‘Nuff said.
  • All our work must be managed reverently, as beseemeth them that believe the presence of God, and use not holy things as if they were common.
    • Be honest.  How many times did you read that sentence.  Holy mackerel – I had to break out some Puritan dictionaries for that!
    • Here is the low-down on what Baxter is saying here: it may be more self-pleasing to “entertain” people with funny anecdotes, illustrations and a light-handed approach to Scripture, but it certainly does not allow the “holy reverence of the name of God” to affect them
  • All our work must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost
    • It was in this sub-section that Baxter handled the topic of using other outside resources in our ministries.  He hammered the fact that we must see the sufficiency and authority of Scripture in our interaction with others
    • Let all writers have their due esteem, but compare none of them with the Word of God” – that’s sage advice right there
  • If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success
    • This sub-section also spoke to me greatly.  Why would we not expect that God would work, and labor toward that end in the lives of our congregants?
    • I think what pastors need is a holy dissatisfaction of lack of response in the lives of the people they preach to.
  • Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ.
    • The prayer life of a pastor must be one that is ever expanding – in intensity and duration.  I am finding this out on a daily basis it seems.
  • We must be very studious of the union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee.
    • While we must be tending to our own flocks, Baxter exhorts the pastor to also not be divisive and cliquish in our assemblies.
    • I think he is right on here as we must determine what is determining our fellowship with other believers.  They may not be “the same stripe” as us, but are they so doctrinally different that we cannot associate with them?  I think the rifts and camps that were formed a generation ago, must be re-examined as to their viability.

I know that if you made it to this point of this post you are a treasured & valued reader of Grace Dependent.  Richard Baxter covers so much ground in this section of the oversight of the flock – and does so in such a concise manner – that one really needs to read this chapter on their own to fully appreciate it’s value.

Question: of these 15 listed necessities for today’s pastors, what would rank as the top three?

Previous posts on the Reformed Pastor:
Introduction to the project of co-blogging through the Reformed Pastor
The schedule of the posting
Part one – the Hippopotamus review; Part one – Grace Dependent
Part two – Grace Dependent
Part three – the Hippopotamus

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