True Shepherding a La Baxter

I have been thinking about ecclesial issues intentionally now for a number of years. In part it is a way of resisting the drift of North American Evangelicalism’s laxity when it comes to ecclesiological matters. One critical question for our day is: what is ministry according to the new covenant? What does it look like when “all shall know the Lord” and his Word is written on all of the hearts of the members of the community? Surely, it entails the minister becoming a true shepherd of the sheep—guiding them and guarding them, being a custos animae. In his response to the award he was given last night at the Centre for Mentorship and Theological Reflection in Toronto (see previous blog entry), Dr. Packer spoke about the God of happy surprises. He described how, when he was called to be a pastor, he responded to the call by insisting that he was a bit of an “odd fish”—a good English expression—and really very shy. How was such a person to do the work of ministry, he asked himself and God. But he sensed God telling him to go forward and he would enable Dr. Packer.

What struck me afterwards as I reflected on this was that Dr. Packer hit the nail on the head regarding pastoral ministry. It is work among sheep, minding them, nurturing them, making sure that they do not fall into a thousand and one calamities. And to do all of this one must get among them.

In other words, the shepherd must smell of sheep! I am sure shepherds when they come home from their labours smell “sheepy.” So must true pastors. Here, Richard Baxter is the guide, is he not? For all of his oddities regarding certain soteriological issues, he laid out a true guidebook to pastoral work in his The Reformed Pastor. It is a very convicting book—but so necessary in our day for Reformed brothers whom God has called to pastoral ministry.

The task of the true pastor is a multi-faceted work: prayer and preaching, mentoring and discipleship, caring and loving. Please brothers who are called to this ministry, give your selves to this task: 1 Peter 5:2, shepherd the flock of God in all of its dimensions.