From my earliest days of processing my call to ministry, Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students proved not only insightful but transformative. Spurgeon’s classic work spoke to me then, and it still speaks to me today. Similarly, I’ve found myself over the years fielding countless questions from seminary students, local church pastors and all those engaged in ministry service. Therefore, I took a similar approach as Spurgeon did and sought to address real-world, practical questions about local church ministry service in this series, and for this volume in particular, questions and issues related to pastoral ministry.
Though the book is entitled On Pastoring, anyone engaged in local church service will benefit from reading it. Within this book, I engage a host of local church issues. These are issues that those in pastoral leadership, including elders and other staff members, will have to engage. But there are also topics that many involved lay persons will also encounter. Thus, all who are engaged in the work of the local church may well benefit from reading this book.
Though I grew up in a conservative, Bible-believing Southern Baptist church, the call to ministry was altogether mysterious to me. Thus, as I began to sense God’s call to ministry during my college years, I found myself confused about what that call would mean and how to know for sure if God had indeed set me apart for his service.
A ministry friend pointed me to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and to Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. Both were tremendously helpful to me at that point in my life. Regarding Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon famously reflects that the first sign of a call to ministry is “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” Spurgeon’s words, coupled with those of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3, were liberating for me. They brought added assurance that God indeed had set me apart for ministry, and that he had placed the desire for ministerial service within me.
The essential calling of the pastor is to shepherd the flock of God. In fact, it is what the word “pastor” means. At the very heart of that calling is the task to feed the sheep the Word of God. Not to strain the Biblical metaphor, but the work of the pastor is to feed the sheep, lead the sheep and protect the sheep. It is a glorious work God has called us to do, and all who have been set apart by God for this work must undertake it with intentionality and vigor.
Is there any important biblical element of being a pastor that is often overlooked in the 21st century?
Two issues come to mind. First, is the matter of preaching itself. Through technological innovations, we have many ways to supplement our Bible intake. But nothing should displace the simple preaching of the Word of God on the Lord’s Day and the commitment of God’s people to gather and receive it. No podcast, YouTube channel or other means of media distribution can displace the in-person gathering of God’s people to receive the Word preached.
Secondarily, I’m also concerned that the life-on-life shepherding work is often overlooked in the local church. Due to social media, we often publicly exude closeness with one another without ever being close to one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder that ministry is intended to be in person, engaging spiritual realities and needs, bearing one another’s burdens and engaging in a healthy, wholesome, covenant community known as the local church.
Letters to My Students Volume 1: On Preaching dealt with the primary responsibility the pastor undertakes—preaching. For every local church minister, the preaching and teaching of the Word of God must be priority number one. Period.
Yet so much more happens during the week outside of the pulpit. That’s where faithful pastors are called to stand in the gap for their people day in and day out. Indeed, the complexities of our times, the rapidly shifting culture that we inhabit and the multifaceted challenges confronting local churches means that pastors better be well-equipped, deeply devoted and joyously realistic about what is before them.
The needs of the local church—and those who comprise it—are great. Pastors must be up to that challenge. I hope this book will help them toward these noble ends.
Letters to My Students: On Pastoring has a particular emphasis on those preparing for ministry or in the early years of service. It touches on matters of both doctrine and practice. Within this book, we’ll go from how to officiate a wedding to how to practice church discipline. We explore why meaningful church membership matters and how to ensure it. We talk about matters relating to personnel, life planning, outreach and protecting and strengthening the family that God has given you. There are a lot of good books on pastoral ministry, but I think this book makes a unique contribution based upon the breadth of topics covered and the accessibility with which they are covered.
I hope readers leave this book with a greater love for the local church, more romantic about the call to serve it and better equipped for a lifetime of faithful ministry service.