Evangelical pastoral ministry is in crisis. Since the Sixties various pastoral models have been tried and found wanting, and none more so than the celebrity mega-church pastor, which has recently been at the heart of serious questions being raised about the integrity of Evangelicalism in North America. A key part of the solution to this crisis is found in the admonition of Hebrews 13:7, where the recipients of that ancient, yet timeless, letter are urged first to “remember [their] leaders, those who spoke to [them] the Word of God,” then to reflect deeply on the “way of life” of these leaders, and finally to “imitate their faith” (ESV). The author of Hebrews assumes that Christian communities are to be communities of memory, where, among other things, the lives and thought of past Christian leaders are not only recalled but also used as models of faithful leadership in the present. In essence, this is what has come to be called ressourcement, or the retrieval of the riches of church history for life and direction in the present.
When it comes to pastoral leadership there are many models of faithful ministry in the history of the church, men like Basil of Caesarea and John Wycliffe, Richard Greenham and Charles Simeon. One of the best models from the past is the pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller (1754–1815). In addition to his own ministry, he has left a corpus of ordination sermons (over thirty of them) that contain a tremendous pattern of biblical ministry and one that is quite germane for modern-day ministers and congregations.
Fuller’s pastoral heart is well seen in two examples. After Fuller died, there was found among his possessions a small book entitled “Families who attend at the [Church] Meeting, August, 1788.” In it he wrote: “A Review of these may assist me in praying and preaching.
Then, among his letters there is one dated February 8, 1812, which was written to a wayward member of his flock. In it Fuller laid bare his pastor’s heart when he stated: “When a parent loses … a child nothing but the recovery of that child can heal the wound. If he could have many other children, that would not do it … Thus it is with me towards you. Nothing but your return to God and the Church can heal the wound.”
This is the sort of pastoral leadership we need today.