The Pastorate: More Than The Pulpit (Bridges)

The pulpit is only part of a pastor’s ministry.  Of course, it is a major and central part of the ministry, but the pulpit is not the only part.  A pastor also has pastoral work to do; this too is an essential part of his ministry.  I appreciate how Charles Bridges explained this.  It’s also convicting for me, and a good reminder for myself:

“Let us not think that all our work is done in the study and in the pulpit.  Preaching …derives much of its power from connection with the pastoral work; and its too frequent disjunction from it is a main cause of our inefficiency.”

In other words, a major cause of a minister’s inefficiency is a separation of the pulpit and day-to-day pastoring/shepherding.  Bridges continues,

“The Pastor and the Preacher combine to form the completeness of the sacred office, as expounded in our Ordination services and in Scriptural illustrations.”

As a rightly called and ordained minister, my goal then (with God’s help) is not just to be a good preacher, but to be a good pastor as well. As he goes on to explain, Bridges notes the biblical pattern for this balance and he gives some positive effects of the joining of the pulpit and the pastoral work.

One positive effect is how the joining of the pulpit and pastoral work preserves the church from schism and builds up Christian unity.  When the pulpit and the pastoral work are both flourishing, it will help keep a congregation united.

Another blessing from a balanced preaching and pastoral ministry is gaining the confidence and love of the flock:

A pulpit ministration may command attention and respect; but except the preacher convert himself into a Pastor, descending from the pulpit to the cottage, and in Christian simplicity ‘becoming all things to all people,’ there will be nothing that fastens on the affections – no ‘bands of love.’  The people cannot love an unknown and untried friend, and confidence without love is an anomaly. …We must constantly aim at nearer contact, and closer interest with them; winning their hearts as the way to win their souls….”

These are helpful notes for pastors!  It’s a good reminder for us to pray for this kind of balanced ministry, that we would be good preachers and good pastors.  This will bring God much glory and bring much good to his people.

The above quotes are found in part 5, chapter 1 of Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Popularity: A Pastor’s Fiery Trial

  Near the beginning of his 1830 publication on the pastoral ministry (The Christian Ministry), Charles Bridges discussed the trials and difficulties of the ministry.  In this section he wrote that for pastors, “the greatest difficulties derive their origin and power from ourselves.”  This whole section is outstanding, and very much worth reading.  One part of it that stuck out for me was what Bridges said about opposition to the ministry on the one hand, and popularity on the other.

Opposition to our ministry and message may stir up a selfish, unhumbled spirit.”

Popularity is yet more dangerous.  The few who escape its influence unhurt have been exercised in painful conflict, such as have shown their deliverances from this fiery trial to have been nearly miraculous.  Symptoms of success, unless tempered with personal abasement and habitual watchfulness, excite to self-confidence.”

Bridges’ words really caught my attention!  The very thing that many of us pastors desire – popularity – is more dangerous than opposition in the ministry and is a “fiery trial” that breeds self-confidence.   Why again do I want popularity?  Perhaps I should pray against it!

The lack of success and popularity, on the other hand, is too often accompanied with impatience or despondency.  So we are assaulted at the extreme points of opposite direction (popularity vs. opposition), and we surely need the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. (2 Cor. 6:7).

Bridges does talk about other difficulties pastors have within themselves, such as spiritual coldness, loss of zeal, natural love of ease, dislike of self-denial, and the ongoing struggle with worldliness.  But Bridges also does a nice job encouraging the pastor to press on by God’s grace.  He even says that difficulties in the ministry can be used by God to become sources of encouragement:

“The discipline of the cross is most needful to repress the overweening confidence in self, to establish an habitual confidence in God’s promises, to prove the power of faith, the privileges of prayer, and the heavenly support of God’s Word, so that we know how from our own difficult experiences how to speak a word in season to him that is weary (cf. Is. 50:4).”

“Faith links our weakness in immediate connection with the promises of God’s help (Zech. 4:6).  Thus discouragements in the ministry, properly sustained and carefully improved, become our most fruitful sources of eventual encouragement.”

Forget popularity.  Don’t buckle or throw in the towel when faced with difficulties.  Because when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10; cf. 2 Cor. 13:4).

Recommended pastoral reading: Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry (in light of the above quotes, especially note chapters 4-5.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Do Not Praise Yourself (Or: Nobody Likes A Bragger)

Proverbs (Geneva Commentaries) I don’t remember if it was a P.E. coach I had in high school or my mom or a good friend, but someone once told me “Nobody likes a bragger.”  There is quite a bit of truth in that phrase!  Scripture puts it this way: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2 NASB).  Clement said it like this: “Let not the humble bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another” (1 Clement 38).  Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs 27:2, wrote the following (I’ve edited and summarized it a bit).

“One expositor said ‘Praise is a beautiful garment.  But though you yourself wear it, another must put it on you, or else it will never sit well with you.  Praise is sweet music, but it is never tuneable in your own mouth.  If it comes from the mouth of another, it sounds very good in the ears of all that hear it.  Praise is a rich treasure, but it will never make you rich, unless another speak it of you.’”

“Indeed, nothing so degrades a man with his fellow humans, as setting out his own praise.  For though every man is his own flatterer (Prov 20:6), men usually know how to estimate pride in others while they cherish it in themselves.  While our works should shine, see to it that we ourselves be hid.  Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16), but let someone else speak your praise.”

“Our name will lose nothing by this self-renouncing spirit.  If our own mouth be silent, another’s will be opened.  John was unworthy in his own eyes to loosen his Master’s sandal, yet did the Lord proclaim John as the greatest of all that have been born of women.”

“Self-seeking is a shameful blot upon a Christian profession.  Shall a person indeed say before God, ‘I am vile!’ and then say before people, ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord.  Come, see how humble I am!’  Oh for the self-abased spirit of our Master – ever ready to endure reproach, but never seeking his own glory (John 5:41, 8.50).  Compare what God shows us of our own hearts in secret to how we pride ourselves in public.  Surely our lack of humility should give us the deepest humility!”

Charles Bridges, Proverbs, p. 502-3.

shane lems

We Need Discipline Like We Need Daily Bread

Proverbs (Geneva Commentaries) Because God is our heavenly Father and we (Christians) are his adopted sons and daughters, he disciplines us when we sin and disobey (Prov. 3:11, Heb. 12:5-6).  However, in Christ we understand this discipline to be full of love, not hate; we view the rod as evidence of God’s care, not his curse.  God disciplines his children to keep them away from danger and close to himself.   I like how Charles Bridges discussed this in his commentary on Proverbs 3:11-12.

“Nowhere, indeed, are our corruptions so manifest, or our graces so shining as under the rod.  We need it as much as our daily bread.  Children of God are still children of Adam; with Adam’s will, pride, independence, and waywardness.  And nothing more distinctly requires Divine teaching and grace, than how to persevere in behavior the just mean (middle) between hardness and despondency; ‘neither despising the chastening of the Lord, nor being weary of his correction.’”

“Let it be a solemn remembrance to thee, that thou art under thy Father’s correction (Lam 3:28, 29; Mic. 7:9).  Receive it then in good part.  Instead of being weary of it, hang upon his chastening hand, and pour thy very soul into his bosom (1 Sam. 1:10-15).  Kiss the rod (Job 34:31, 32; 1 Pet. 5:6).  Acknowledge its humbling, but enriching benefit (Ps. 119:67-71).  Expect a richer blessing from sustaining grace than from the removal of the deprecated (belittling) affliction (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

“After all we must add, that chastening is a trial to the flesh (Heb. 12:11), yet (it is) overruled by wonder-working wisdom and faithfulness to an end above and contrary to its nature.  This very rod was sent in love to the soul.  Perhaps we were living at ease, or in heartless backsliding.  The awakening voice called us to our Bible and to prayer.  Thus eyeing God in it, we see it to be love, not wrath; receiving (us), not casting (us) out.  We might perhaps have wished it a little altered; that the weight had been shifted, and the cross a little smoothed, where it pressed upon the shoulder.  But now that our views are cleared, we discern blessing enough to swallow up the most poignant smart” (p. 27-29).

These selections were taken from Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Edinburg: Banner of Truth, 1846).

shane lems

We Preach Christ Crucified

  As a pastor I’ve appreciated Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry.  One great aspect of this old book is that Bridges is clear: a Christian pastor needs to constantly and clearly proclaim the gospel.  Jesus suffering, dying, and being raised again to save sinners must be the heartbeat of our preaching.  Here’s how he states it.

“Our rule [of preaching]…will frame itself into the determination of the Apostle – ‘not to know anything among our people, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (2 Cor. 2.2).  This is the one mode of preaching that God has promised to bless; when ‘all our sermons’ (according to the Archbishop of Cologne) are ‘made to set forth and magnify Christ the Lord.’  Uniformity of sentiment upon this cardinal point has always marked the labor of faithful ministers, and secured the divine blessing upon their work; while a deficiency in this particular is attended invariable with proportionate inefficiency.”

Later, Bridges explains how Christ is at the center of Scripture and biblical doctrine.

“We might as well speak of a village that has no road to the metropolis as of a point of Christian doctrine, privilege, or practice that has no reference to Christ crucified.  How does the first chapter to the Ephesians endear this beloved name, as the medium of ‘all spiritual blessings!’  How does every heavenly doctrine and privilege throughout the Epistle…draw its quickening influence from this source!  How naturally do the Apostles introduce their Master into the midst of discussions apparently the most irrelevant!”

“The resolution, therefore, to know nothing – to preach nothing – and to glory in nothing else, marks a mind equally enlarged in its compass, and scriptural in its apprehension.  It sets forth Christ to our people as a remedy commensurate with the evil – enough for all, and proposed to all.  And skillfully to accommodate all our various topics to this one point, is a lesson we must be learning all our lives.  And truly it is worth all our labor to learn it more perfectly, and to practice it more effectually” (p. 239-241).

I take those last sentences to heart: the pastor himself must continually be learning how the gospel relates to every part of the Christian faith and life.   In other words, to summarize Bridges’ notes, the gospel is the center of Scripture, the pastor’s life, and the pastor’s preaching.

shane lems

Preaching and Distinguishing Law and Gospel

In one section of this most excellent pastoral resource, The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges (d. 1869) explains how important it is for pastors to rightly distinguish between – and preach – the law and the gospel.  I have to say up front that this is one of the most helpful discussions I’ve read when it comes to the topic of preaching the law and gospel.  It’s like a longer version of Z. Ursinus’ similar section in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.

Bridges, along with many other Reformed theologians, affirmed this statement: “Qui scit bene distinguere inter Legum et Evangelium, Deo gratias agat, et sciat se esse Theologum.” (“He that knows how to distinguish well be­tween the law and the gospel, let him thank/bless God, and know that he then deserves the name of a divine.”)

What is the difference between the law and the gospel?  Here are a few things Bridges notes.

“The law, partially at least (as in the case of the heathens) is discoverable by the light of nature, whereas the gospel is ‘the hidden mystery of God,’ which could only be known by the light of revelation.  We find, therefore, man in his natural state partially acquainted with the law, but wholly unacquainted with the gospel.”

“They also differ in the power of their sanction.  …Command is the characteristic of the law, promise and encouragement is the characteristic of the gospel.  In the one case, obedience is required on the penalty of death; in the other case it is encouraged by the promise of life.  A promise is indeed attached to the obedience of the law, but placed beyond our reach, upon terms far more difficult than those of Adam’s covenant [the Covenant of Works] – as he was given sufficient strength for perfect obedience, while we are entirely helpless for the lowest spiritual requirements.  The gospel on the other hand gives the promise freely, in order to obedience, as the principle and motive of it.”

“The law condemns, and cannot justify a sinner; the gospel justifies and cannot condemn the sinner that believes in Jesus.  In the law, God appears in terrible threatenings of eternal death; in the gospel, he manifests himself in gracious promises of life eternal.  The law is a sound of terror to convict sinners; the gospel is a joyful sound, ‘good tidings of great joy.’”

Later Bridges writes,

“The whole discussion will remind us of the importance of accurately distinguishing in our ministry between the law and the gospel, ‘that we, through the misunderstanding of the Scriptures, do not take the law for the gospel, nor the gospel for the law, but skillfully discern and distinguish the voice of one from the voice of the other.”

For those of you who are pastors, I strongly recommend reading this entire section of The Christian Ministry (actually, I recommend the whole book!).  My above quotes are just edited tips of the iceberg – Bridges’ explanation of the law/gospel distinction in the pastoral ministry is profound, helpful, and encouraging.  He sheds some great light on the Reformation distinction between the law and the gospel, and the necessity of properly distinguishing the two.  Indeed, if a preacher cannot distinguish between the law and the gospel, let him stay out of the pulpit!

Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983), chapter 3, section 2. 

shane lems