Currently I am reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. This book, written in the 17th century, may be the most challenging book on Pastoral Ministry ever written. Yesterday, I gave you a quote from this work and thought it would be appropriate to continue with Baxter and the theme of Pastoral Ministry for today’s “Issues in Theology.”  Baxter was clear that a pastor is called to take heed to all the flock. Baxter also says, “But, while it is our duty to take heed to all the flock, we must pay special attention to some classes in particular.” Baxter gives six different groups of people that will be in our communities that need different kind of attention.

1. We must labour, in a special manner, for the conversion of the unconverted.

Baxter says, “The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labour with all our might.” The man of God should be willing to undergo any suffering or discomfort for the sake of men and women who await an eternal punishment. How easy it is to get distracted by “church stuff” and neglect this great need to labor for the conversion of the unconverted.

2. We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience.

“A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and the lawyer for their estates; so that each man who is in doubts and straits, may bring his case to him for resolution; as Nicodemus came to Christ” (Baxter, 96).

3. We must be ready to build up those who are already truly converted. In this respect our work is various, according to the various states of Christians.

Baxter goes on to break down this group for us even more:

a. There are many in the flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency and strength.

“This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher” (Baxter, 97).

b. Another class of converts that need our special help, are those who labour under some particular corruption, which keeps under their graces, and makes them a trouble to others, and a burden to themselves.

c. Another class who demand special help are declining Christians, that are either fallen into some scandalous sin, or else abate their zeal and diligence, and show that they have lost their former love.

“As the case of backsliders is very sad, so our diligence must be very great for their recovery. It is sad to them to lose so much of their life, and peace, and serviceableness to God; and to become so serviceable to Satan and his cause. It is sad to us to see that all our labour is come to this; and that, when we have taken so much pains with them, and have had so much hopes of them, all should be so far frustrated. It is saddest of all, to think that God should be so dishounoured by those whom he hath so loved, and for whom he hath done so much; and that Christ should be so wounded in the house of his friends. Besides, partial backsliding hath a natural tendency to total apostasy, and would effect it, if special grace did not prevent it” (Baxter, 99).

d. The last class of the converted are the strong.

4. We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each religion performed.

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial this point is. There is not any institution around that God has ordained that has been around longer than the family (Gen. 2:24). One of the downfalls of many churches today is that church becomes the one place you don’t see your family. We send the men here, the women there, the youth over there, and the children have to go around the corner to the blue building down the street. I’m not saying that there should never be these kinds of specialized ministries. However, it is crucial that families worship together. We want to strengthen families in the Lord. We want corporate worship to be seen as time where families really do grow closer together.

5. We must be diligent in visiting the sick, and helping them to prepare for a fruitful life, or a happy death.

I don’t think I have an aversion to visiting the sick. I think I have an aversion to what it has turned into. Most preachers are required to visit the sick; and they do so with a vengeance. However, it is the preparation for a fruitful life of happy death part that seems to be absent. Pastoral visitation is not to become “shoot the breeze” sections where nothing is really talked about and then you say a little one minute prayer with a Bible verse at the end. I am guilty of this as well because it’s so easy to let it happen! This is a hard discipline for the pastor and for the one who is sick, but a necessary discipline nonetheless!

6. We must reprove and admonish those who live offensively or impenitently.

Baxter writes, “Before we bring such matters before the church, or its rulers, it is ordinarily most fit for the minister to try himself what he can do in private to bow the sinner to repentance, especially if it be not a public crime.” Let me paraphrase this for you, “Pastors need to have a spine!” We are not called to walk on eggshells when it comes the the spiritual life of our flock. Sin is destructive and shepherds are called to protect their sheep from destruction. This means that there will be times when sinners refuse to repent and go on a tirade about the minister. This is of no consequence. Their souls matter to much to worry about what people may think of you.

You may be starting to see why a pastor cannot be a CEO or an administrator or a financial guru. While all of those things are important in their places, it is not the calling of a shepherd. Just this list from Baxter is enough to keep any man of God busy for the rest of his life with his flock. That is my dream and vision for Enjoying God Fellowship. This is the kind of shepherd I want to be for the rest of my days. Soli Deo Gloria!

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