Prayer and Study, Study and Prayer (Shedd)

Homiletics and Pastoral Theology: With an Appendix (WGT Shedd)
Shedd, Pastoral Theology

Serious Christians are students of the Word.  We seek the truth in God’s Word, we find it there, and we learn more about it as we grow, study, and read.  We memorize verses, try to understand biblical concepts, and we desire to live as Scripture calls us to live.  We are students of the Word of truth.

However, as W. G. T. Shedd wrote about studying the Word, 

It is not sufficient to commune with the truth; for truth is impersonal. We must commune with the God of truth. It is not enough to study, and ponder, the contents of religious books, of even the Bible itself. We must actually address the author of the Bible, in entreaties and petitions.

There can, consequently, be no genuine religion without prayer. And the degree of religion, will depend upon the depth and heartiness of prayer. It does not depend so much upon the length, as the intensity of the mental activity. A few moments of real and absorbing address to God, will accomplish more for the Christian, in the way of arming him with spiritual power, than days or years of reflection, without it.

 Shedd then applies study and prayer to the pastor’s life:

Well, therefore, may we lay down, as the first rule for the promotion of piety in the clergyman, the great and standing rule for all Christians. Let him not be satisfied with studying, and pondering, the best treatises in theology, or with studying, and pondering, even the Bible itself. Besides all this, and as the crowning and completing act, in the religious life, let him actually, and really pray. Let him not be content with a theological mood, with a homiletic spirit, with a serious and elevated mental habitude. Besides all this, and as a yet higher and more enlivening mental process, let him truly, and personally address his Maker and Redeemer, in supplication. Let him not attempt to promote piety in the soul, by a merely negative effort,—by neglecting the cultivation of the mind, and undervaluing learning and study. If the clergyman is not spiritually-minded, and devotedly religious, with learning and studiousness, he certainly will not be so without it. Neglect of his intellectual and theological character, will not help his religious character. Let him constantly endeavor to advance the divine life in his soul, by a positive, and comprehensive method. Let him consecrate, and sanctify all his study, and all his meditativeness, and all his profound and serious knowledge, with prayer.

 William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 336–337.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

No Matter How Wretched… (Bucer)

 Martin Bucer’s writing on pastoral theology is an outstanding Reformation resource on this topic.  It’s called Concerning the True Care of Souls.  There are many excellent parts in it, but one that stood out to me today as I was reading my underlines is this one on the free offer of the gospel in the pastoral ministry:

“… it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature.  He says: ‘into all the world’ and ‘to every creature.’  The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough for us to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.

That is why the Lord has expressed it in general terms: ‘to every creature.’  He does not want to be invited to his banquet only those who show themselves to be citizens and inhabitants of his city, but he tells his servant: ‘go out into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   And again: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.’  From this the Lord teaches us that his ministers are simply to endeavor to lead to his church and to the perfect fellowship of his salvation all those who wish to come, no matter how wretched and corrupted they may be – indeed, not only to lead but to urge and compel them.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 77.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Pastor and Feeding Christ’s Sheep (Bucer)

Concerning the True Care of Souls Martin Bucer’s (d.1551) pastoral theology book Concerning the True Care of Souls is a wonderful resource.  I recently came across this section that I had marked up – it’s a good reminder for those of our readers who are pastors!

When St. Peter is asked for the third time if he loves the Lord, and himself for the third time protests his love, then for the third time the Lord says to him: ‘Feed my sheep.’  It is as if he were saying: ‘If you love me so much and want to show this by your actions, feed my sheep, because there is nothing you can do for me which is preferable or more pleasing to me.’

If we really love Christ, he is everything to us; therefore if anyone is called to this ministry, whatever unpleasantness, sufferings and crosses he may have to bear in the course of his ministry, he will be upheld and strengthened against all unpleasantness, sufferings, and crosses only by the fact that the Lord Jesus has commanded him to do this, and commanded it as the highest ministry of love that we can show him.  Then each one will feel as Paul did when he writes about himself in 1 Cor. 9: ‘Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.’

‘I am simply discharging the trust committed to me,’ says the dear apostle; for that should be more than enough for any Christian, if he is called to this ministry, to accept it and carry it out with all faithfulness, withstanding and suffering whatever trouble, labor, abuse, shame, suffering, and cross he may meet in the course of it. …There is so much delightful consolation for us in the fact that in this way we are showing the greatest love to our Lord Jesus, by serving him in his dear church which he has purchased with his precious blood, which is his dear spouse and his body.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 192-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

Tripp’s “Dangerous Calling” – A Review

This book, Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp, is a book about pastoral ministry.  However, it is not about the general aspects of pastoral ministry; it has a more specific focus.  The focus is on pastoral ministry gone wrong.  So this book is not for pastors who are generally on the right track of humble service.  It is not for weary and fatigued pastors looking for refreshment, encouragement, and renewed motivation for ministry.  It is not for pastors, seminarians, and churches who are looking for a book to challenge and encourage them to stay the course of biblical, pastoral ministry.  It is for pastors and churches who have gotten off the biblical path of pastoral ministry.

I realize Dangerous Calling is marketed as a book meant for all pastors, elders, and laypeople who want education in this area, but I don’t believe it is for just anyone.  I’m actually a bit disappointed since I picked this book up hoping for a broader discussion of the pastoral ministry, including bold encouragement to stay the course in pastoring and preaching.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have trusted the marketing blurbs (why do I keep doing that?).  Though everyone can certainly learn from different parts of the book, it really isn’t for all pastors, elders, and laypeople.

Here’s who the book is for: pastors who struggle with pride (thinking they are better than or above others in the church), hypocrisy (preaching godliness while living ungodly secret lives), mediocrity (writing sermons on Saturday), and formality (going through the motions of the ministry without the heart).  Tripp does talk about a few more issues like those, but all the discussions fall under one of these things.  Certainly most pastors (myself included!) struggle with some of these things from time to time, but the book is really for pastors who struggle with all of those things at once.  For those pastors who do struggle with all these things at once – who are “off the track” – this book is exactly what they and their churches need!  I cannot recommend it enough for that audience.

I should also point out a few subjective critiques.  First, Tripp’s writing style was tough for me to read.  Many times in the book entire paragraphs were filled with rhetorical questions.  This got overwhelming after the second chapter – I found it far too difficult to answer all those rhetorical questions (well over 100 in all).  Also, the repetition in the book drove me crazy.  Many paragraphs had sentences that started the exact same way.  For example, on page 97 one paragraph contained “I knew…” ten times.  This wouldn’t have been annoying to me if it happened once or twice, but I was distracted by this by the middle of the book.  Again, those are subjective critiques about things that annoy me as writer and reader.

Before I conclude, I should point out one sentence that summarizes a major argument of the book (the pastor’s heart).  For the pastor, Tripp writes, “Public ministry is meant to be fueled and propelled by private devotion” (p. 197).  Both are, of course, important, but I believe it would be better to say that private devotion is meant to be fueled and propelled by the public ministry of the word and sacrament – for both the pastor and parishioner.  Indeed, Tripp didn’t even mention the sacraments in this book on pastoral ministry!   This is a glaring omission.

To summarize, this book is a valuable and essential resources for those pastors and churches who have gotten far off track in the pastoral ministry.  For those pastors who think they run the show and are above the common parishioner, this book will  be a ministry saver.  For pastors who preach one thing and live another, this book will convict and lead to repentance.  But if you’re a pastor who is generally headed in the right pastoral direction – with humility, a true heart, and hope in the gospel – this book isn’t one that will challenge, refresh, and encourage you along that path.  Dangerous Calling will, however, be helpful for many larger churches who have begun to exist more like a religious business than a body of Christ.  And one of Tripp’s oft-repeated phrases is indeed one all of us can take to heart: preach the gospel to yourself constantly!

Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

shane lems

Godly Practices and Pastoral Theology

 I love these paragraphs from Martin Bucer’s Concerning the True Care of Souls.  It starts with a general maxim Bucer sets forth.

When people are lax about church practices there is to be found weakness in their Christian lives.

This is the principle and general way of strengthening the weak and foolish sheep of Christ.  Therefore, where there are Christians who are not diligent in attending the church of God and the holy assemblies, and show themselves to be somewhat cool in their attitude towards the blessed practices of the church, praises, prayers, general almsgiving, the sacraments, and so on, the most important thing is to make such people joyful and passionate about these godly practices.  For even though one may not yet notice any specially disorderly living, nor any special timidity under the cross or valuing the world too highly and Christ too lowly, these weaknesses will without doubt soon appear and break out as soon as offences and objections come.  These are also generally those who err in their Christian understanding first in one direction and then in another, because they do not really long to have the mind of Christ.

Now, the particular degrees and forms of weaknesses of Christ’s sheep which we will come across are pointed out in the texts which we have quoted.  Those who are disorderly the Apostle tells us to warn and admonish.  Those who are weak in the faith, that is, in their understanding of Christ, are to be lifted up, and not subjected to searching examination of their thoughts and consciences.”

As I’ve mentioned here before, this is an oustanding Reformation resource for pastors and elders: Concerning the True Care of Souls.

shane lems

What Threatens to Smother the Church?

There’s one more quote from Still’s The Work of the Pastor (published first in 1984) that I want to highlight before I set this book down for now.  (Note: the Lt. Col. Thomson whom Still mentions below was a sort of Barnabas to churches behind the Iron Curtain in the 20th Century).  Though he writes this for pastors, it is applicable for others in the church as well.

“A great many of us are far busier propping up our particular brand of democracy and social service than building the church of Jesus Christ against which even the gates of hell shall not prevail, whether our democracy collapses or not.  The church is not called to subsidize the state any more than she is called to work against it; she has to be as neutral to it as loyal citizens can be.  She is called to gather and build the church of Jesus Christ under any system whatsoever.  Her members are to submit to the powers that be, as far as this does not conflict with the individual conscience, and they are to let the state do as it will.  If the state forbids Christians, loyal Christians, to be Christians, she can only kill the body, she cannot kill the soul.  What Paul and Peter are saying in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2 is that we are to submit to any regime we happen to be under – submit to it, not sponsor, or oppose it.”

“We are supposed to believe that there are no conditions on earth in which the Christian church cannot survive, for God will always see to it that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church that is to be.  That is certainly true behind the Iron Curtain.  When Lt. Col. Thomson wanted the richest Christian fellowships he could find, he went for them to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Russia.  He told us of a young man who was converted in the Red Army.  …Do not think that the church is smothered in these countries.  She is more likely to be smothered by wealth, ease, and complacency.”

These paragraphs are found on pages 65-66 of The Work of the Pastor.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa