Pastors Staying Put (Miller)

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by [Garretson, James M.] I’ve come to appreciate this wise advice Samuel Miller gave to a young pastor laboring in a town called Frederick in 1854.  I’ve taken the word “Frederick” out of the quote and left it blank so fellow pastors can apply it to their own location:

I was especially gratified with the evidence that you begin to feel yourself at home in ______.  No man will be likely to be very useful to any people to whom he does not feel bound by the ties, not only of pastoral relation but also of pastoral affection; and no one will be likely to feel much of this toward a people among whom he regards himself as only a temporary sojourner, and from whom he means to escape as soon as he can.

If you wish to benefit your flock spiritually, and, at the same time to gain spiritual and theological strength yourself, regard them as your beloved people; try more and  more to take an interest in them, and resolve, in the fear of God, to stay as long with them as Providence shall make it your duty to stay.  Depend upon it, and you will find work enough to do in _______ to employ all your strength….  Let me beg you then to sit down contented and cheerful to your work in ______, resolved if it be the will of God, to spend many years, or even your life there.”

I agree, and I’m doing my best to follow Miller’s advice.  This is an important topic in our celebrity culture where pastors might be tempted to move to a bigger congregation in a bigger city with bigger venues.  I suppose it has to do with being content, as Miller noted.  Pastors too are called to be content where God puts them – urban, suburban, or rural.  Wherever the Lord leads, there we serve and there we show Christian love and pastoral care to God’s people – as long as the Lord wills!

The above quote is found in a letter by Samuel Miller, found in James Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry p.324.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I’m very much looking forward to reading this book after finishing the introduction.  Here’s an edited snippet from the intro:

The reader will encounter three important themes wending their way through the chapters of this book:

First, the ministers of Geneva cannot be understood rightly unless one appreciates the religious natures of their sense of vocation. The pastors in this book emerge as men committed to the reformation of the church and devoted to the spiritual instruction and care of God’s people.

Second, it is inaccurate to portray Calvin and his pastoral colleagues as ivory-tower theologians, disengaged from the everyday concerns of their parishioners.  On the contrary, as evident in their ministries of preaching and pastoral care, the pastors of Geneva devoted much of their time and energy to addressing practical matters of Christian discipleship, enjoining townspeople and peasants alike to conduct lives characterized by faith, hope, and repentance. …’Theology for them was indeed always practical.’

Third, it will be demonstrated that while Beza, Goulart, and their pastoral colleagues jealously guarded the legacy of Calvin, they made subtle changes to the expression of pastoral ministry in Geneva in response to the practical challenges they faced.  This does not mean, however, that Geneva’s ministers after Calvin should be judged as bold innovators who betrayed Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical program.  Their innovations were far too modest for such an assessment.  It is my primary concern not to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion when judging Geneva’s ministers, but to exercise both charity and critical subtlety in evaluating the pastoral behavior of Calvin and his colleagues in light of their unique historical and religious contexts.

Stay tuned!  I’m sure I’ll come back here with more quotes from this book as I read through it: Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI



Ordinary Pastor, Ordinary People

Product Details Sometimes I think the pastoral ministry is over-hyped in American evangelicalism.  It’s not uncommon for a young man to enter the ministry and expect tons of amazing things to happen in his ministry – things that he’s read about in the conservative evangelical world.  He might think that his ministry will be very well received and include regular “authentic” meals shared with his “community group,” frequent tear-filled prayer meetings with his elders and deacons, vibrant youth ministry full of teens boldly sharing their spirituality, and theological conferences where everyone in his church is moved and edified.

As time goes on, however, he doesn’t see these things happening so he becomes disgruntled that his ministry is so ordinary compared to those he’s read about in books and on blogs.  He either thinks his congregation is lacking spiritually or that he is.  But if you take away the hype, you realize the pastoral ministry is quite ordinary – and that’s OK!  Here’s what Eugene Peterson has to say about this:

“Pastoral work… is that aspect of Christian ministry that specializes in the ordinary.  It is the nature of pastoral life to be attentive to, immersed in, and appreciative of the everyday texture of people’s live – the buying and selling, the visiting and meeting, the going and coming.  There are also crisis events to be met: birth and death, conversion and commitment, baptism and Eucharist, despair and celebration.  These also occur in people’s lives and, therefore, in pastoral work.  But not as everyday items.”

“Most people, most of the time, are not in crisis.  If pastoral work is to represent the gospel and develop a life of faith in the actual circumstances of life, it must learn to be at home in what novelist William Golding has termed the ‘ordinary universe’ – the everyday things in people’s lives – getting kids off to school, deciding what to have for dinner, dealing with the daily droning of complaints of work associates, watching the nightly news on TV, making small talk at coffee break.

I appreciate his counsel.  I should not get upset or depressed because my ministry is not cool, glamorous, or extraordinary.   I’m an ordinary pastor of ordinary people, and I should be content with that.

The above quotes are from page 112 of Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Dear Pastor…From, John Newton

Product Details John Newton (d. 1807) wrote these words on January 20, 1789, to a young pastor-friend.  However, they are applicable to all pastors.

“Tell the Lord your trials as a minister, and leave them with him; hope against hope, and wait patiently….  A faithful, humble minister cannot be unsuccessful; he shall prosper in the thing for which he is sent.  Probably you have more success and more acceptance than Jeremiah had, and yet he was no mean servant in the Lord’s vineyard.”

“Beware of pushing points, in which your views are altered to the extreme, by dwelling too constantly upon them.  We are very prone to this; as though the danger from the enemy were only on one side.  Your printed sermons, which I have seen, are excellent; but there is rather too much thought and argument in them (as I judge) for ordinary and popular [i.e. common] congregations.  For these it is better to beat our gold a little more into the leaf; as to be as familiar [in speech] as possible, and to endeavor to catch the attention and the affections of our hearers by warm and pointed words that seem close to the feelings of the heart….”

In other words, pray to God and wait for his timing in the ministry.  Avoid hobby-horses.  Don’t be overly polemic.  Preach with ordinary words and aim at the heart.

I recommend this book for all of our readers who are pastors (though it would be edifying for anyone who reads it): John Newton, Wise Counsel (Banner of Truth, Edinburgh: 2011), 215.

rev 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

Pastoring the Pastor

Pastoring the Pastor In the past few months I’ve been reading pastoral ministry books for my own spiritual and pastoral good.  In case you missed some earlier reviews, I said Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling wasn’t overly helpful because of its narrow audience: it isn’t for pastors who are weary, tired, and who need encouragement.  In fact, I had to force myself to finish it – it ended up being more discouraging than encouraging for me.

I did, however, appreciate Bruce Mawhinney’s Preaching with Freshness; it is an excellent resource for pastors who are need encouragement in faith and life.  Along those lines, I highly recommend this 2012 Christian Focus publication, Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner.  It is similar to Mawhinney’s book, yet is set in a different context so it doesn’t overlap too much.

Pastoring the Pastor is a email dialogue between a younger pastor and an older one.  The subtitle says it: “Emails of a Journey Through Ministry.”  At first I was thinking it might get a bit cheesy and far-fetcher.  I was quite wrong.  This email dialogue is based on a true story, therefore it is realistic, engaging, practical, and on top of this, biblical.  This email dialogue was also encouraging, refreshing, and helpful for me as a pastor.

Here are a few highlights from my reading – again, it is the advice of an older pastor to a younger one.

“[The church you pastor] is not a problem for you to fix, it is a community of people for you to love in the name of Christ, and shepherd in the ways that he has for them.  Rest in the Lord and be his man in the ministry and I predict you will have a life of joy at the deepest level; try to manipulate the church to fit your dreams and your life of misery has only begun.”

“The other thing that I think you need desperately, and it is something we in church leadership neglect so freely, is friends and relationships outside the church.  You need to have someone to talk with about things other than the church, God, or nuances of theology.  It’s okay, in fact, to have an interest in sport, or literature, or the arts, or travel, or anything that is wholesome and recreational.”

“Before appointing an elder, make sure he understands that any authority that might be attached to the role is given that he might serve, not that he might set himself apart.”

I could go on.  If you’re a pastor who needs some solid wisdom, encouragement, and new motivation to keep proclaiming God’s whole counsel in and out of season, I highly recommend Pastoring the Pastor.  I usually don’t read theological/biblical books on Kindle because I like to take many notes; however, this one is in novel form so I did enjoy it on Kindle.  Either way – hard copy or electronic – it’s a good one for a pastor’s shelf.  If you’re not a pastor but know one who is going through the grind of the ministry, gift him with a copy of this book.  I’m thankful to the authors and publishers for getting this book out; I trust it will benefit Christ’s church around the world.

shane lems

God’s Grace and the Pastoral Ministry

One great truth about the Christian pastoral ministry that comforts me, a pastor, is this: my devotion, passion, or piety is not ultimately what makes my sermons edifying or my ministry successful (in the biblical sense of the terms).  I should pray for growth in devotion, passion, and piety, but if my sermons are edifying and my ministry is a success, it is first and foremost because of God’s amazing grace (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10).

I learned this truth from John Newton, a man who preached scores of Christ centered sermons that God used to convert sinners and sanctify saints.  At the same time, he suffered long bouts of what we might call spiritual depression.  Here’s what he said once about his passion and devotion:

“My inward frame I know not how to describe.  In general I seem unable to get near the Lord, and yet by grace am restrained from wandering very far away.  Coldness in prayer, and darkness, and formality in reading the word are almost my continual burden.  I want to be more lively, feeling, and affectionate in spiritual things, but I feel the dead weight of unbelief and indwelling sin keeping me low.  I think my desire is towards the Lord.  My hope, my trust is in Jesus; other refuge I neither have nor desire.”

Even when Newton was spiritually cold he stood behind the pulpit and preached the gospel of grace.  His passion didn’t always drive him to the pulpit; the gospel did, so he could preach even when he was spiritually cold.  On the same theme, here’s a note he wrote to a young pastor who was struggling with spiritual depression.

“…If the Lord is pleased to keep us short of those comforts which he has taught us to prize, and, instead of lively sensations of joy and praise, we feel a languor and deadness of spirit, provided we do indeed feel it, and are humbled for it, we have no need to give way to despondency or excessive sorrow.  Still the foundation of our hope, and the ground of our abiding joys, is the same.  And the heart may be as really alive to God, and grace as truly in exercise, when we walk in comparative darkness and see little light, as when the frame of our spirits is more comfortable.  Neither the reality nor the measure of grace can be properly estimated by the degree of our sensible comforts. …Your experiences will vary, but his love and promises are always unchangeable.”

So as a pastor, I should desire and strive for more passion and devotion to Christ; I should (and do!) pray for more godly zeal.  However, my hope is not built on my passion and devotion.  I do not preach my passion and devotion; they are not my refuge, they are not the gospel.  My devotion does not fuel my ministry.  The gospel of grace does.  And again, back to where we started: my sermons and ministry depend not upon my passion and personal devotion, but upon God’s unchanging grace.

In other words, my feelings and passion wax and wane, but the gospel does not!  So I can preach through the “spiritual winters” of my own life – and encourage Christians to press on through their “spiritual winters.”  And I tell them what Newton said, “Your experiences will vary, but his love and promises are always unchangeable.”

The first quote above is found on page 145 of But Now I See: The Life of John Newton.  The second is found in “Letter Five” of Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr.   If this topic interests you, I highly recommend reading “Letter Five” of Wise Counsel.

shane lems

sunnyside wa