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I’m not judging—I’ve been there and want to help.



Many pastors are busy with kingdom work, but there could be an inquiry over whose kingdom they are building. Richard Baxter speaks from the 1600s to the Western church of the 21st century. We have workaholic pastors who have no time for prayer. They’re so busy for God that they can’t remember the last time they experienced God’s presence or the joy of the Lord. They are more familiar with adrenaline and stress than joy and anointing.

 

I’m not judging—I’ve been there and want to help.

 

Paul’s Exhortation to his Sons

Baxter expounds on Paul’s farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20. This is one of the most powerful discourses in Scripture. Paul is their spiritual father, telling them goodbye for the last time. He will never see them again, and he knows it (Acts 20:25). He is going to Jerusalem, and is willing to die (v. 22-24). In his final words, he tells these pastors to “take heed.” (v. 29 KJV). To understand better, let’s use modern English. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock (ESV). The NIV says, “Keep watch.” What is Paul trying to say?


Cook but not Eat

The pastor’s calling is twofold: 1) develop his spiritual life, and 2) give focused time to the flock. As mentioned above, some do the latter, ignoring the former. But you cannot draw from an empty well. In addressing the need for the pastor’s spiritual formation, Baxter gives a powerful analogy: Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath [cooked] for others.”[1] In other words, just because you can cook for others doesn’t mean you have eaten. The preacher must also take care of his spiritual life and not just care for others.


Baxter goes on to warn the preacher to live what he preaches.[2] “Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those actual sins which you preach against … and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn,” or be “unfit”[3] to lead. Leaders are to be an example of spiritual life, so we must “take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine.”[4]


Proficient without Personal Intimacy

Laziness is not a problem in the goal-oriented, over-achieving West, but perfectionism without spiritual life is. “They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any notable infirmity … but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives.”[5] We should be diligent in preparation yet make time to be filled with God and let that same passion not to look foolish while preaching compel us toward love and humility in how we act outside the pulpit.


Preachers must beware of the enemy, knowing that people look to us as examples. Satan “will make his first or sharpest onset upon you.”[6] Satan will boast before God, saying, “These are thy champions! I can make thy chiefest servants to abuse thee; I can make the stewards of thy household unfaithful.”[7] Most preachers live on an island when it comes to being fed themselves or being held accountable. This is most visible in independent, charismatic churches, where the highest authority is the local pastor. Who can he confide in? Who can help him with his marriage? Who can he confess his sin to and get equipped for holiness? And more importantly, who can confront him? Even if someone follows Matthew 18, a narcissistic senior pastor has all the tools to silence naysayers. A senior pastor should willingly submit to accountability, critique, and mentorship.


Protect yourself from Demonic Attack

Right after Bible school in 1987, I connected with a group of Messianic Jewish ministers who speak into my life still to this day. I shudder to think of the foolishness I would have perpetrated without their spiritual wisdom and sometimes sober rebukes. Satan looks for lone rangers, like lions on the prowl, looking for the weak prey standing off to the side. Conversely, there is power in numbers. Noticed that Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, not just the senior royal pastor. The New Testament model is a team of leaders, mutually submitted, leading a congregation under the direction of a senior elder (lead pastor in today's language)


Feed the Flock

But once we have taken care of ourselves, we must tend to the flock. The pastor must desire the good of the flock. Just as the magistrate's ultimate goal should be the welfare of the state, the pastors’ aim should be the contentment of the Church.[8] We are to provoke the flock to long for the things of God and then instruct them on how to access them.[9] Baxter believes that a pastor should know every member of the flock. Pastors would be hard-pressed to do that in our celebrity mega-churches.[10] He warns against seeking to oversee too large a flock.[11] Some megachurches wisely employ dozens, if not hundreds, of under-shepherds, while others rely solely on the personality of the senior pastors’ preaching.


Reading of the Word in Public

Baxter shares, “One part of our work, and that the most excellent, because it tendeth to work on many, is the Public preaching of the Word. A work that requireth greater skill, and especially greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it.”[12] Many gifted communicators are weak in understanding Scripture because they don’t know how to study it. In an eight-week course, they could learn powerful life-changing practices to make the Scriptures come alive.


Sadly, today, the average believer is quite ignorant regarding the word of God. I posted something recently about predestination versus free will. Someone wrote back that they have no time for such arguments, saying they prefer a lighter, simpler gospel. But there is no such thing as a light and simple gospel. Taking up your cross and following Jesus is the call. The lightness is the fact that it is free; it could never be earned. But for many, following Jesus results in intense suffering and sometimes death. And the idea of God becoming a man and going to the cross for our sins, only to rise from the dead and empower believers, is anything but simple.


Many people read the Bible for the self-help tips it can give them. I am certainly not against that, but our primary motivation must be to know and to glorify God. But this is a blog about pastors. I would encourage any pastor reading this to encourage your congregation to not only know their Bible but to understand the central doctrines of the faith. Those are the things that become lighthouses in the midst of spiritual storms or the floating pieces of wood that drift by you as you’re drowning. Those who don’t have time for doctrine will have weak and short roots—like in the seeds planted among the rocky soil (Matt. 13).


Baxter today

Self-help or the Glory of God?

What would Baxter say to modern-day preachers whose messages are self-help sermons devoid of a powerful Christology (study of Jesus)? The focus is “my victory,” not the glory of God. Of course, the spiritual growth of the flock is essential, but our strength comes from a robust revelation of God from Scripture.


Recently, a well-known megachurch pastor preached an emotional message about your resurrection on Ressurection Day. Of course, there is an application that the resurrection has for you and me personally. But Resurrection Day is about the literal resurrection of the incarnated (God becoming a man) Messiah from death to life, not my personal "resurrection" breakthrough. These types of sermons were not preached in the Puritan era; they simply marveled over the glory of God. In fact, I believe it is marveling over the glory of God that brings personal breakthroughs!


Our Motives

As we care for our flock, we must constantly bring our motives before the Lord. The Psalmist says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24)


The Ministerial work must be managed purely for God, and the salvation of the people, and not for any private ends of our own. A wrong end makes all the work bad. ... It is not serving God, but ourselves, if we do it not for God, but for ourselves. They that set about [pastoring] as a common work, to make a trade of it for their worldly livelihood, will find that they have chosen a bad trade, though a good employment. Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but of a double necessity in a Minister, as he hath a double sanctification or dedication to God. Without self-denial he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service.[13]

The only way to have pure motive is to be in regular, if not constant, communion with the Lord. The heart is very clever and deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Through practicing self-denial and humility, the minister’s motives will begin to fuse with the Lord’s. “Our whole work must be carried on in a sense of our insufficiency and in a pious, believing dependence upon Christ. We must go to him for light, and life, and strength.”[14] Humility, too, is of great importance. We need to recognize that not only can we teach, but we can also learn from those we instruct.[15]


Conclusion

In summary, the leader of a New Testament congregation must focus intensely on his own spiritual life without ignoring the same for those he leads. He must be deeply devoted to Scripture, living a crucified life, constantly checking his motives, and humbling himself before God. Finally, he must resist temptation, knowing that as a leader, the enemy has marked him. One of the most powerful tools in assisting him is being surrounded by other leaders who can speak truth to him.


 

[1] Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 14 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 54.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 54-55

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Ibid., 59.

[6] Ibid., 63.

[7] Ibid., 64.

[8] Ibid., 78-79.

[9] Ibid., 81.

[10] Ibid., 83.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Ibid., 94.

[13] Ibid., 119-120.

[14] Ibid., 124.

[15] Ibid., 125.

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"Man shall not live by bread alone." Often I read parts of the Bible which I don't understand, especially in the prophets. But it somehow feeds me. I think too many people give up reading too quickly because they insist on understanding. For example, if you never read the book of Revelation, where will you hear about the Lamb upon the throne who is also the Lion of Judah?

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