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Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times Paperback – April 5, 2001
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Joel Beeke's chapter, "The Utter Necessity of a Godly Life," gives a pointed reminder to pastors that their lives must be lived above reproach. Much of the chapter seems elementary at its best and patronizing at its worst; but it does serve as a not-so-subtle rebuke to the minister whose life reflects more of this world than of the next world. Beeke reminds pastors that their congregations can never rise above the depth of their own spirituality. Pastors must always be one step ahead in the never-ending quest for godliness. It is easy for the busy pastor to substitute the duties of the job for devotion to the Savior, such as using sermon preparation as a substitute for devotional meditation. I have fallen into this trap, especially while under the time pressures common to many bi-vocational pastors. Now as a "fully supported," pastor, I realize that the giftedness of my ministry must be authenticated by the fruitfulness of my character and conduct borne out of a passionate love relationship with Jesus. My people will never see Jesus reflected in my life if I neglect spending time in the Tent of Meeting.
Thomas Smith's chapter entitled, "Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing," is a wonderful polemic for the centrality of Christ in preaching. Just as the apostolic kerygma maintained the centrality of Christ and the cross, all modern preaching must strive to bring people to Christ. Without Jesus, there is no good news. Without the preaching of the cross, there is no hope for spiritual health and wholeness. All our exegesis must pass through a Christological filter to ensure sound hermeneutics. The apex of Christian preaching must remain the glory of God through the exaltation of Christ.
Jerry Marcellino deals with the important issue of the glory of God in worship. One must not design a worship services for the pleasure of the people. Worship belongs to God. The object of worship is never the feelings of the worshipper, but the exaltation of the One worshipped. Worship must reflect God's grandeur, his transcendence, and his mystery. While many of Marcellion's points regarding worship are well taken, his treatment of what constitutes acceptable worship music lacks the necessary specificity to be helpful and is sufficiently vague to be harmful. While some worship music seems to transcend time and culture, every generation must be free to offer praise and adoration in the vernacular of its musical culture. Much of the denigration directed at contemporary praise and worship music reflects the aesthetic values of the detractors rather than specific biblical injunctions. Modern day Luthers and Calvins must be allowed to transform the popular music of the day into melodious praise meaningful to the contemporary worshipper. Let history sort out what works and what does not work.
The editor and contributors to Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times want to call pastors away from this kind of schizophrenic approach to ministry and root them in a practice of ministry that finds its genesis in Bible. They argue that this is the type of approach to pastoral ministry that won the day during the time of the Reformation and that gives us a model for ministry that is successful in the eyes of God.
John Armstrong, who edited the volume, articulates his vision for this work in the introduction. He says that as he contemplated the various works that were being written for pastors in this era, he returned more and more to the work of Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor. (18) By reformed pastor, Baxter was not referring to a pastor who merely held to Reformed theology. He was talking about a man whose pastoral work was reforming the local church. This is the type of model that Armstrong and the contributors seek to advance in this book.
While there are fourteen different authors who appear to write on different subjects, several clear themes develop in the book. The opening chapter, written by the editor, sets forth the Reformation principle of Semper Reformanda and argues that the true church and true minister will always be reforming themselves according to the word of God. The next two chapters set forth how this principle applies to the pastor’s overall conception of the ministry. Chapters 4 through 6 focus on restoring Christ-centered biblical exposition to the heart of the church. The final eight chapters deal with various aspects of church life. In each of the articles, a clear commitment to not just the truthfulness of Scripture, but the authority of Scripture in the life and ministry of the pastor come through clearly. The contributors show how Scripture should be applied to forgotten areas of pastoral ministry as well as areas that pastors have surrendered to other “professionals.”
The model advocated in Reforming Pastoral Ministry could be considered a more historic approach to the ministry. In many ways, it reads like a book on pastoral ministry that would have been written during the ministry of the Puritans. The contributors’ overall approach to ministry is driven by a commitment to the authority of the word of God in the church. They seek to work out approaches to every aspect of pastoral ministry in light of the clear teaching of Scripture. As an example, Joseph Flatt works out a biblical approach to church discipline. He explains the reasons that biblical pastors should practice church discipline and gives the biblical guidelines for its practice. From his exposition of Scriptural passages dealing with church discipline, he then gives practical advise to pastors about how a commitment to church discipline should look in a church today.
The only improvement needed in Reforming Pastoral Ministry is a look at how this approach to pastoral ministry would look on a day to day basis. In light of the pressures that pastors face to do good things instead of the most important things, it would be helpful for the contributors to talk about the pastor’s schedule. While there is not a biblical discussion of the pastor’s schedule per se, it would be beneficial to hear from an experienced minister who has organized his life so that he could be effective at leading a reforming ministry.
Reforming Pastoral Ministry will make an impact on the heart of the pastor. Joel Beeke, in his chapter on "The Utter Necessity of a Godly Life," argues that the pastor’s greatest business is to know God and live a life that reflects His character. The pastor cannot lead people to a place that he has not been himself. Therefore, he must labor to know God through daily reading and meditation on Scripture and through spending much time before God in prayer. Kent Hughes expands on this in his chapter when he says that ‘sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer.” (88) Nothing the pastor can be divorced from living for the glory of God and knowing God personally.
Pastors will be also challenged by the emphasis in this work on a personal pastoral ministry. Jim Elliff points to the words of Richard Baxter, “You may study long, but preach to little purpose, unless you have a pastoral ministry.” This flies in the face of much work on the ministry in our day which speaks of the people in our churches as if they are distractions from what we have been called to do. Elliff's chapter challenges pastors to know the people that they lead and to have personal, pastoral relationships with them. Related to this a trend that I have noticed in the last several years. Most of the books written on the ministry recently are written by men who pastor large churches. Pastors of small churches read these books and begin to pastor their smaller churches as if they are larger churches. This is neither right nor wise. Pastors of smaller churches have no excuse for not knowing and connecting with every person who is a member of the church they pastor. They can and should enlist their elders in this process, and create a scalable model as they grow to ensure that every person in the church has a connection to one of the pastoral leaders.
Reforming Pastoral Ministry is a welcome work in the current milieu of works on pastoral ministry. The contributors superbly marry biblical insight with practical wisdom. The result is a work that will be an encouragement, challenge, and help to any man in the pastoral ministry.