Below are some self-reflection questions for pastors based on this extract from Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (which we recently circulated among our leaders). The reflection questions were compiled by Rob Spink, one of our pastors here in The Crowded House.
The Reformed Pastor was first published in 1656. In the book Baxter explores the implications of Paul’s words of Acts 20:28: ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’ Having considered the pastor’s oversight of himself in the earlier part of the book, Baxter moves onto the oversight of the flock. In this extract he considers the ‘manner of the oversight’. While the language is fairly dense and at times old-fashioned, it’s worth noting J.I. Packer’s contemporary commendation of the usefulness of the book to modern pastors. He comments on three threads which mark the book out:
- Its energy. As Spurgeon wrote, ‘If you want to know the art of pleading, read The Reformed Pastor.’
- Its reality. Packer says: ‘Here we meet a passionate love and terribly honest, earnest, straightforward Christian, thinking and talking about the lost with perfect realism, insisting that we must be content to accept any degree of discomfort, poverty, overwork and loss of material good, if only souls might be saved, and setting us a marvellously vivid example in his own person of what this may involve.’
- Its rationality. This led to Baxter’s particular emphasis on personal teaching and counselling. He was unusually clear on the need to visit people, to know the flock, to pursue them. As Packer notes, ‘personal catechising and counselling … is every minister’s duty: for this is the most rational course, the best means to the desired end’.
Here are Rob’s summary and reflection questions. The aim is:
- To provide a short summary of Baxter’s exhortations to ministers for you to refer to quickly.
- To stimulate you to reflect on the reading and how it challenges you in your ministry.
You shouldn’t expect Baxter to give you an easy ride! But neither should you feel condemned for the sin and shortcomings which will be all too evident.
- The ministerial work must be done purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own. ‘Self denial is…doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service’.
Reflection: What motivates my work as City Group Pastor? Is there evidence through self-denial that I am working for God, rather than my own ends?
- The ministerial work must be done diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. ‘Study hard, for the well is deep and our brains are shallow….No man was ever a loser by God’.
Reflection: Do I work diligently? Am I studying and learning more of God?
- The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly. ’The work of conversion, and repentance from dead works, and faith in Christ, must be first and frequently and thoroughly taught.’
Reflection: Am I laying a solid foundation of the most fundamental truths through my teaching? Do I ever make much of things of little consequence?
- Throughout the whole course of our ministry, we must insist chiefly upon the greatest, most certain, and most necessary truths, and be more seldom and sparing up on the rest. If we can but teach Christ to our people, we shall teach them all.’ Seneca: ‘We are attracted to novelties rather than to great things’.
Reflection: Do I have a clear sense of what is necessary for my people? How might understanding what is necessary challenge my current practices? Does my ministry draw attention to necessary ‘great things’ of repentance and faith in Christ, or novelties?
- All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. ‘It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others’.
Reflection: When I speak of the gospel, am I able to be understood by my people? What could I do that might make me better understood?
- Our work must be carried on with great humility. ‘We must carry ourselves meekly…to all; and so teach others, as to be ready to learn of any that can teach us, and so both teach and learn at once.’
Reflection: Am I growing in pride or in humility? Are there those in my life group/city group who I don’t think I can learn from? Am I too proud to learn?
- There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline. ‘If there be no severity, our reproofs will be despised. If all severity, we shall be taken as usurpers of dominion, rather than persuaders of the minds of men to the truth.’
Reflection: Is my tendency to be too severe or too mild? How can I make progress in this area?
- We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. Our work requires greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it. ‘If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.’
Reflection: Am I zealous for the truth? Is my conversation of ‘heavenly things’ marked by coldness or zeal?
- The whole of our ministry must be carried out in tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleases us but what profits them. ‘When the people see that you unfeignedly love them, they will hear any thing and bear any thing from you..if you be their best friends, help them against their worst enemies’.
Reflection: Are you willing to lay down your life for your people? How can you grow in ‘tender love’ for them? How do you help your people as a best friend, against their worst enemies?
- We must carry on our work with patience. We must bear with many abuses and injuries from those to whom we seek to do good.
Reflection: How do you respond when your work for your people is thrown back in your face? Do you endure patiently, or with the ‘meekness and patience of the new man’ or the ‘pride and passion’ of old Adam’?
- All our work must be managed reverently, as is fitting for them that believe the presence of God. ‘Reverence is that affection of the soul which proceedeth from deep apprehensions of God and indicateth a mind that is much conversant with him’.
Reflection: Are you seeking to know God better? Are you growing in the knowledge of him? How might you encourage your people to have a ‘holy reverence’ for God?
- All the work must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost. Gregory: ‘…not of orators does he (God) make fishermen, but of fisher men he produces orators’.
Reflection: How does this idea encourage you? Do you seek spiritual wisdom, or rely on the ‘wisdom of the world’?
- If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success….’it is a sign of a false, self-seeking heart, that can be content to be still doing and yet see no fruit of his labour….It is not merely our reward that we labour for, but for other men’s salvation’.
Reflection: What are your expectations? What would success be for your ministry? Are you too pessimistic? Are you appropriately directed toward outcomes?
- Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ. ‘Prayer must carry on the work as well as preaching: he preaches not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them’. When our faith is weak or hearts are dull, pray:’Must I daily plead with sinners about everlasting life and everlasting death, and have no more belief or feeling of these weighty things myself? O, send me not naked and unprovided to the work; but as thou commandest me to do it, furnish me with a spirit suitable thereto’.
Reflection: Does your prayer life suggest that you work depending on yourself or Christ? Do you need to make any changes?
- We must be very studious of union and communication among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. ‘They must do as much of the work of God, in unity and concord, as they can, which is the use of synods; not to rule over one another and make laws, but to avoid misunderstandings, and consult for mutual edification, and maintain love and communion, and go on unanimously in the work that God hath already commanded us’.
Reflection: How do you engage beyond your city group? Do you have opportunities to encourage and edify other churches? How can you grow in this area, and encourage your people to do likewise?