Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (17)
These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. 2 Peter 2.17
“It will be our great honour that we are called to this work of Christ, if therein we follow him: for therein we shall be like the Son of God: but if we are unfaithful in this office, and do not imitate our Master, our offence will be heinous in proportion to the dignity of our office, and our final and everlasting disgrace and ignominy proportionably great; and we, who in honour are exalted up to heaven, shall be cast down proportionably low in hell.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
Models for ministers
It’s instructive to consider the sorts of models ministers today adopt to give shape and direction to their ministry. Let me say up front that it isn’t wrong for ministers to seek out the grace of God wherever it may be discovered, if they can find help for their work of shepherding God’s flock. Like Moses, taking the advice of his pagan father-in-law (Ex. 18), we may expect to discover many useful ideas and practices from a wide range of sources.
A problem arises, however, when these models – either singularly or in combination – distract us from our primary and defining calling as shepherds of the Lord’s flock. Jesus came as the Good Shepherd of His people, and He demonstrated and explained what that work requires, as we have seen throughout this series.
But in many cases, that model seems to have but little influence in the day-to-day work of ministers. Instead of fulfilling their callings as shepherds, many ministers defer to other models, or combinations of models, in seeking to fulfill their calling.
Such as the CEO model. In this instance, pastors oversee a church organization, complete with departments, committees, organizational charts, and lines of authority. The pastor is the CEO and his staff or elders are the department heads. Meetings of church leaders typically unfold around budgets, schedules, and programs, with the pastor giving advice and directions to keep the organization running smoothly.
Other pastors prefer to see themselves as The Coach. Here the rest of the church is the team, but in truth, most of the team sits the bench most of the time, while the starters and reliable subs run the plays the coach outlines for them. The goal is always to win the game, however the game may be defined, and preaching sounds a lot like pep talks, designed to fire-up the folks and hold the team together.
Still other pastors take as their model for ministry Big Church Pastors, whose success in ministry seems to derive from just the right combination of charisma, entertainment, low demand, and opportunities for the congregation to make friends and pursue their interests. The Big Church Pastor gathers around him a brain trust of like-minded leaders, and turns them loose to do whatever seems to attract people to the church.
Other models find their way into our ministries as well: The minister as Counselor,Orator, Conductor, or Entrepreneur, for example. While the work of ministry may involve some of each of these models from time to time, shepherds are being unfaithful to their calling if embracing these models draws them and the church away from the model of shepherding Jesus practiced and taught, and which the apostles embraced as the guiding template for their own ministries.
Symptoms of unfaithfulness
How can we tell when we are beginning to be unfaithful to our calling as shepherds of the Lord’s flock? Allow me to suggest several symptoms.
First, if you are not shepherding according to the example of Jesus, you are certainly being unfaithful to your calling. Read John 10, and along with that, Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. If your ministry does not line-up with what you see here, then some correction is in order.
Second, if you consider preaching to be your primary work, the work that should take most of your time, focus, and energy during the week, then you are in danger of becoming unfaithful to your calling. Jesus did not commission us to preach, as if preaching were an end in itself. He commands us to make disciples, and preaching is but one component of that great work. If we give so much of our time to preparing for and preaching the Word, that we have no time to disciple our leaders, to ensure that all the members of our church are in the discipleship process, or to do the work of an evangelist in our community, then we may need to adjust our approach to ministry.
Third, if you find yourself lurching from program to paradigm to project in how you lead your church, glomming on to ministry jargon or paradigms like a sailor desperately trying to keep his boat in the changing winds, then you have certainly lost sight of the demands of shepherding, and are probably being unfaithful to your calling as a shepherd.
Finally, if your ministry is becoming above all else a means of self-aggrandizement– whether of prestige, power, pride, money and perks, or sensual gratification – then you are being unfaithful to your calling, and you need either to repent and return to the Lord’s way, or find some other occupation.
This much is certain concerning the work of pastoral ministry: The devil will seek our undoing in various ways, and he will appeal to pride, the flesh, the desire to be unique, or just the need to be needed, to lead us into unfaithfulness in ministry and bring our high calling into dishonor. Be on guard.
Remaining faithful to Jesus
The key to remaining faithful in ministry is to remain faithful to Jesus. Make sure you preserve your daily time with Lord, including plenty of time for prayer and contemplating Jesus in His glory. Look to Him as your model in ministry, and let the work you do each week replicate what you see Him doing in the gospels, and what you see the apostles doing in Acts and the Epistles as they imitate the Lord. Resist the temptation to measure everything in your ministry by numbers; seek mercy and grace and discipleship as the outcomes of your work. Focus on people and your church growing in love, and not just on being happy or busy or in line with your agenda.
Only by remaining faithful to Jesus can we expect to remain faithful in our calling as ministers of the Word and shepherds of the Lord’s flock. Stay close to Jesus. Abide in Him. Imitate Him. Grow in Him. Point others to Him. Do so, and you will be a well overflowing, a cloud with refreshing rains, and light in the darkness for all the people you are called to serve.
A fountain, by its appearance, draws men to itself, because it promises them water to drink, and for other purposes; as soon as clouds appear, they give hope of immediate rain to irrigate the earth. He then says that they were like fountains, because they excelled in boasting, and displayed some acuteness in their thoughts and elegance in their words; but that yet they were dry and barren within: hence the appearance of a fountain was fallacious.
- John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Peter 2.17
T. M. Moore
Shepherding God’s Flock?
How is the work of shepherding the souls of God’s people going in your church? Need a refresher? Consider enrolling in our course, “Shepherding God’s Flock,”at The Ailbe Seminary. It’s free, and it can help you get your church into a framework in which watching over the souls of all the people in your care is a real possibility.
Refresh your own soul: Pray for Revival!
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).