Here is the fourth installment of my updating of this immensely challenging book. My comments are in bold.
Having explained the nature of what it means to be an overseer of the flock, he now moves on to talk about the manner in which a man must shepherd his sheep. He has 15 points:
1. ‘The ministerial work must be carried out purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own. Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service.’ (p111) This was written in an age where there was probably greater kudos in being a minister than there is in the UK today. For those of us who do aspire to this great area of service, we must question our motivation and check our hearts at regular intervals. The pastoral ministry is not for those who ‘like being up the front’ or who want a sedate life. It comes with a great cost which must be assessed and counted before stepping up to the plate. Forget the rise of these so-called ‘super pastors’ who jump from conference to conference, churn out books, have mega churches and have an army of twitter followers. Our aim is not to gain what they have but to please God by serving him where we are with all of our might and pray for the growth of his sheep and the salvation of the perishing.
2. ‘The ministerial work must be carried on 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’ (p112) That last line is one of my favourites! Basically, work hard and study hard because what we read, digest, learn and teach has eternal benefits for us and our hearers.
3. ‘The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly. We must not ordinarily go beyond the capabilities of our people.’ (p112) We must teach people the whole counsel of God. Those that are babes need milk and those that are not need meat. Our job is to differentiate and respond accordingly.
4. ‘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 upon the rest. we must therefore have our people’s necessities before our eyes. Life is short, we are dull, and eternal things are necessary, and the souls that depend on our teaching are precious.’ (p113) Please read that last line again because it is just so powerful. Don’t be distracted in the world by silly teachings and vain arguments that take us away from feeding our people. There is lots of rubbish flying on to the bookshelves in Christian circles and our job is not to read every one but to keep an eye on what our people are being polluted by. Do I read Rob Bell? Not really. Why not? Because he is an irrelevance to Niddrie. I might skirt through an article or something for my own interest but I take great care not to be distracted by things which take me away from my main consideration: the flock that God has given to me here. This is not to say we shouldn’t read widely, but we should read wisely. This is what Baxter says: ‘If you are to choose what authors you are to read yourselves, will you not rather take those that tell you what you know not, and that speak the most necessary truths in the clearest manner, though it be in barbarous or unhandsome language, than those that will most learnedly and elegantly tell you that which is false or vain, and “by a great effort” say nothing’ (p114-115) We have precious souls to teach and we should ensure that what we are learning will benefit them and equip them for works of Godly service.
5. ‘All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. If you would not teach men, what do you in the pulpit? If you would, why do you not speak so as to be understood? 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.’ (p116) Amen to that Richard, me old son! Don’t get me started on this one. Any fool can complicate a sermon, and very often does, but there is great skill in keeping the message understandable. We need more men trained to do this now more than ever in our biblically illiterate age.
6. ‘Our work must be carried on with great humility. We must carry ourselves meekly and condescendingly to all; and so teach others, as to be as ready to learn of any that can teach us.’(p116) We might know a lot of stuff, read a lot of books and speak at the odd convention but we are all still learners. Even the most uneducated person can sometimes teach us a profound truth.
7. ‘There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline.’ (p117) If you shout too much, calm yourself. If you’re too timid, grow a pair. Some people need a hug and some need a boot. The key is balance.
8. ‘We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the redeemer. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.’ (p117)Passion, passion, passion. Too many sermons are as correct as correct can be but are about as stimulating as a lecture at a toenail clippings collectors convention.
9. ‘The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people. we must feel toward our people, as a father toward his children. Most men judge of the counsel, as they judge of the affection of him that gives it: at least, so far as to give it a fair hearing.’ (p117-118) We must speak of our people with warmth to outsiders and we must treat them lovingly however wronged we might sometimes feel by their behaviour and attitudes. People are more likely to listen to the hard words of a person that they know cares for them, mores so than he who comes to them out of cold duty and a superior attitude.
10. ‘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. We have to deal with distracted men who will fly in the face of their physician, but we must not, therefore, neglect their care.’ (p119) Despite all of our best efforts, people will often misunderstand us, question our motives, abuse our good nature and slander us. But we must persevere as doctors with their patients. They might not like their medicine but we know it is good for them. Patience is the hallmark of a mature shepherd.
11. ‘All our work must be managed reverently, as beseemeth them that believe the presence of God, and use not holy things as if they were common. I hate preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity, and affect them as stage plays used to do, instead of affecting them with a holy reverence of the name of God.’ (p119-120) We are not in the pulpit to entertain people. Ours is a serious business. We who teach will be judged by God, not on how amusing and erudite we have been, but on how faithful we have been to the ‘whole counsel of God’ taught to our people. Our job is to ensure people leave with a right estimation of God’s awesome holiness, our utter sinfulness and the amazing grace found in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
12. ‘All our works must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost.’ (p120)What we do in the service of God must be touched by the Spirit of God. Too many men occupy ministries with little or no effect because they do not know of the power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. They preach and teach and talk about something they have no experience of for themselves. We need God’s Spirit and we must pray for His blessing on all we do.
13. ‘If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success.’ (p121)He who desires little gets little. He with small expectations gets what he deserves. If we’re not desperate to see souls saved, then we won’t see them saved. We must desire and expect great things of our God.
14. ‘Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ.’ (p122) We must have our eyes fixed on Christ at all times. We are at our best when we feel weak and hopeless because that is when we realise just how much we are dependent on him.
15. ‘We must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches we oversee. Ministers must smart when the church is wounded. Day and night should they bend their studies to find out means to close such breaches.’ (p123) We must be constantly on the look out for the work of the enemy within our walls as he seeks to bring divisions and rifts. Sin must be dwelt with swiftly and schisms must be reconciled if at all possible. We must be jealous to guard our people. Man, it hurts when things don’t work out. No pastor should seek problems out but he should have the strength and love for his people to deal with them before they get out of hand.