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An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times Hardcover – December 1, 1996
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The book is filled with examples and quotes from other preachers. He gives lengthy examples of earnest preaching from men like Whitefield, Edwards, Baxter, and Howe. He goes into great detail about how to address the listeners of a sermon with earnestness, how to bring it before them personally rather than detached and at a distance. He explains how earnestness is necessary for the care of souls who are a part of the church already, in pastoring and shepherding them.
His penetrating insight is so helpful in a number of areas. One that cut close to my life was his discussion of "a learned man versus a useful man." He elaborates for 5 pages on this theme and includes such lines as - " He who employs time and toil in rendering himself a learned man, which employed otherwise, would more effectually render him a useful man, is unfaithful to his Master." "Learning as an ultimate object and for its own sake, is infinitely below the ambition of a holy and devoted servant of Christ; but learning employed to invigorate the intellect, to enrich the imagination, to cultivate the taste, to give power to thought and variety to illustration; to add skill and energy with which we wield the weapons of our warfare, is in some cases indispensable, and in all invaluable." So helpful! Such a good corrective!
James wrote in the early 1800's, so his style is not "easy" necessarily, but it well repays the effort to enter into it. If you can get into it, his style is actually quite enjoyable to read, and interspersed with a little 19th century humor! - in speaking of boring preachers who read their sermons word for word, he says that while a few may succeed, most "will find few churches willing to accept their dulness, for the sake of the accuracy with which it is expressed." lol
I highly recommend this book to anyone in, or considering, the pastoral ministry. It is stimulating, invigorating, convicting, and encouraging. It will well repay the effort it takes to read it.
James lays out the apostolic ministry. A ministry that is concentrated on the bringing of sinners to reconciliation with God. Ministers should use all the acts of persuasion in order to accomplish this goal. Earnestness involves the selection of a particular object and then to realize its value and significance. Our object is not giving two eloquent, well prepared sermons on Sunday morning and to be pleased by the people. Our object is to preside over the people and as Hebrews 13:17 says, to watch for the souls and give account. James states that if souls are not saved, then "the great purpose of our ministry is defeated." He says the necessity of laboring for souls is the primary objective of pastoral ministry.
The object of value must take full possession of the mind and intense desire of the heart. James says that, "The object of an earnest man is never for any long period of time absent from his thoughts." The object of an earnest minister "is impressed upon his whole character, and is inseparable from his conduct." Ministers should use things that will "polish and plume his shafts or sharpen the points of his arrows," so that, "he may the more certainly hit and pierce the mark." Ministers should be in a constant state of learning in order to obtain their overall objective.
Also, a minister is to not be satisfied. Pastors should continually be asking the question, "What can I do differently in order to see better results." Pastors should be evaluating their job and how well they are performing. Everything which that a pastor encounters should contribute to the overall objective. Ministry and learning go together and should not be separated. An earnest man will not only train his mind, but will also discipline his heart. A pastor cannot fulfill his obligations of being a "preacher to the world and a pastor to the church," without an abundant amount of personal godliness.
James points out that there should be earnestness in the manner of a pastors preaching. They truth they encountered in their study must be living inside of them. The people who listen to our words must know that we have met with God and that we are bringing them a word from Him. James states it well when he says, "We must therefore rise from exegesis into exhortation, warning, and expostulation." It is our duty to present the truth living inside of us, so that the word may reach the heart of the people and awaken their consciences. According to James, earnestness in preaching is when the people know that the preacher has encountered the truth of God, is manifesting that truth, and that he is laboring for them to forsake evil.
An earnest pastor is to be involved with his flock. A pastor is to be in active pursuit of his congregation becoming more like Christ. In order to accomplish this, a pastor must give the necessary time and attention to each member. Whether this is done through some type of staff position or the pastor himself is left up to the size of each congregation. Also, pastors are to help the leaders of the church become more effective.
The entire book was rich with truths for pastoral ministry. One of the most impressive points is found in chapter VIII. James says, a pastor "is to be imitated in the manner as well as in the matter of his preaching; he is to be closely and constantly followed in his liveliness, his tenderness, his fidelity, his solemnity." Ministers should constantly ask themselves the question, "Am I willing to be imitated?"
This is a great book that should be cherished by all those seeking the office of pastor. If we only had pastors as the one James laid out, we would have much more healthy churches among us today. This book will bring any pastor back to the place of being earnest before his people, himself, and God.