Pastoral ministry is perilous. Not only do pastors face unique temptation due to their work, but their congregation watches their lives and imitation their actions. What a pastor most deeply loves, the church will grow to love. What captivates the imagination and affections of an elder will be mirrored by the church. Based on my anecdotal evidence, churches tend to become like their pastors over the years—both in the pastor’s strengths and deficiencies. This fact proves the wisdom and need for a plurality of elders in a local church, as many shepherds help balance out an individual’s weaknesses. Yet, the responsibility here is weighty.
Thus, pastors must carefully shepherd their own soul. It is essential to the work of ministry. Caring for the spiritual needs of the flock requires that you first care for your spiritual needs. At Redemption Church, I am training our first lay elders who I will soon announce. I shared with them this passage from Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. His admonishment to us pastors is just as relevant today as it was in his day.
Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others…When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears. I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused; and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching, that they have grown cold too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been too like my preaching. We are nurses of Christ’s little ones. If we forbear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them; it will soon be visible in their Leannes, and dull discharge of their several duties. If we let our love decline, we are not like to raise up theirs. If we abate our holy care and fear, it will appear in our preaching…O brethren, watch therefore over your own heart… If it be not your daily business to study your own hearts, and to subdue corruption, and to walk with God—if you make not this a work to which you constantly attend, all will go wrong, and you will starve your hearers…Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation…For your people’s sake, therefore, look to your hearts.” (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 61-62).
Brothers, for the sake of our people, let us look after our hearts. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).