A Complete Pastoral Education

Founders Journal · Spring 2002 · pp. 14-18

A Complete Pastoral Education

Tom Hicks

In the last two decades, the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention has reclaimed the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and moved the denomination back to the theological foundation upon which it was originally built. As a result, the six Southern Baptist seminaries have reaffirmed their commitments to orthodox Protestant Christianity placing great emphasis on the original languages, sound exegesis, right interpretation and application of the Word of God. Such a sweeping repentance from theological liberalism to conservative orthodoxy is unprecedented in the history of denominations and of theological education. Thus, those who love the Scriptures are well justified in their expectation of a bright future.

Conservative Southern Baptists hope that God will use the ministers trained at these institutions to spark a wild fire of reformation that will sweep across the denomination. During my internship this summer with Pastor Fred Malone at First Baptist Church, Clinton, Louisiana, I became convinced that this can only take place if pastors are steeped in a deep understanding of the law and gospel and learn how to apply the gospel to their own hearts first and second to the hearts of the men, women and children in the pew.

Means of Reformation

Reformation must occur at the level of the local church. The only way of effecting it is by training ministers of the gospel thoroughly in biblical shepherding. Certainly the seminary is an important and legitimate means of filling the minds of young men with the knowledge of the Scriptures and of equipping them with the necessary skills for accurate Bible study and for teaching them to engage in polemics against erring doctrinal positions. In a manner reminiscent of the seminary, the Scriptures record that Paul offered academic instruction outside of the local church structure as he taught his disciples to hold fast the fundamentals of the faith against those who spoke evil of the Way, “reasoning daily with them in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). However, more help is needed.

Internships

Because of its nature, the seminary by itself is not sufficient to train pastors. It can only be a servant of the church and it needs the church to finish the task. This is mainly true because it is not a very good laboratory for imparting the kind of practical and experimental understanding with which ministers of the gospel must be furnished in order to carry out their callings.

Often men leave the seminary and must work out for themselves many of the most important questions of practical ministry while already in a position of responsibility and authority. This would not be the case if experienced pastors took it upon themselves to train them for gospel ministry. Paul not only taught men at Tyrannus, but also invested himself into men within the context of the local church, urging Timothy to pass on the instruction he had received. “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). God’s Word charges pastors with the weighty but happy responsibility of training other pastors. Internships are one way by which seasoned and established pastors may invest themselves into younger men who believe they are called to the office.

What are the most important lessons one pastor may pass to a man seeking the position for himself? Though it is helpful to learn the practical details about what it takes to be good at scheduling and to become equipped to deal with the minutia pertaining to administrative questions, those sorts of issues are not the things most needed by men training for gospel ministry. What the young man needs are principles of the heart, mind, and will to govern his whole ministry. In instructing his pastoral intern, Paul says,

Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:22-26, NASB).

The Pastor’s Heart – 2 Timothy 2:22

The greatest hindrance to biblical pastoral ministry is the pastor’s own heart. This is where the war is waged and battles are won or lost. The Bible calls on God’s men to flee from sin and to pursue righteousness with those who call on the Lord Jesus Christ. A pastor’s sanctification drives and controls every aspect of his ministry because whether he likes it or not, the degree to which he is able to lead his congregation in their growth is determined by the degree to which his own heart is filled with the grace of the gospel and therefore burns with affection for Jesus Christ.

An experienced pastor may have the greatest influence upon another seeking the pastoral office by teaching him to live under the influence of the gospel. Such training is crucial because before he can treat the souls of others, a pastor needs to grow in his comprehension of the law and gospel and learn to apply these truths to his own soul first. The law reveals the holy character of God, exposes sin, and boxes the sinner up in such a way that he has no place to run but into the arms of the Savior which are stretched wide and are ready to receive any who would come to Him. The pastor must know himself, learning to probe his heart prayerfully and deeply with the law of God, in order to locate the root of sin that it might be mortified. After he identifies his sin, it is essential for him to apply the soothing medicine of the gospel of Christ in order to treat the bleeding wound opened by the law and to bring healing to his heart. There is power in the gospel, and powerful pastors are men capable of applying the life and ministry of Christ to the lives and circumstances of other men because they are diligent to minister the grace and mercy of Christ to the sin in their own hearts first. When a man believes that Christ loves him and when he rests in the cross, he certainly will love Christ in return and gladly obey Him, being motivated by the gospel of grace. “Soul doctors” are made when pastors become students of the souls of men, and those who are good students of their own souls are most likely to become good students of the souls of others. Some of the most encouraging times during my summer internship where times when Pastor Fred Malone poured out his heart to me and spent hours with me in one on one instruction teaching me to be Christ centered in my thinking and to treat my spirit with the precious gospel of our Lord.

The Pastor’s Mind – 2 Timothy 2:23

To “refuse foolish and ignorant speculation” (2 Timothy 2:23) implies the opposite. The minister must give his mind to the standard of sound words revealed in sacred Scripture (2 Timothy 1:13), making them the end and focus of all his mental effort, always with a view to applying every doctrine of the faith to himself first and then to the members of the congregation. In the Scriptures, theology is never taught exclusively in abstract, but is always used in a way to bring comfort and encouragement to those who hear it; therefore, all biblical theology serves the local church and finds its greatest expression in proclamation.

However, if the pastor is not taught to think in terms of sound Christ-centered application, then his messages may seem more like academic lectures or moralistic persuasive speeches than New Testament sermons. Teaching that fails to terminate in the hearts of men by means of the gospel of Christ is incomplete. For this reason, students of exegetical, biblical, systematic, and historical theology all reach their high point reflection and maturity in understanding when practical theological application works itself out in pastoral counseling and preaching. This is true because the end goal of theology is ministry to the person in the pew. If the pastor in training is taught to see Christ-centered applications of every doctrine of the faith, he will be better equipped to wrestle with the hearts and minds of his parishioners from the pulpit. Thus, he must be taught to think in these categories.

My mind was most stimulated and stretched this summer as I observed the way Pastor Malone applied the doctrines of the trinity, predestination, and the death of Christ to marriage relationships, Christian freedom to a grieving widow, the resurrection to a family mourning for a lost loved one, and the Sabbath to a hospital patient. Unless the lines connecting theology to the everyday lives of men are drawn, then biblical doctrine is likely to remain in the ivory tower of the academy, never seizing the hearts of men and never impacting them as significantly as they might.

The Pastor’s Task – 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Pastoral ministry is not about “setting those people straight,” winning arguments, or making them do something. It’s about loving them and leading them by serving them and by applying the power of the gospel to them, not by issuing commands of bare law void of any ability to change them but by heralding the good news of Jesus which alone is the power of God unto salvation. Though God’s man must certainly be able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9), his greatest strength must be in the application of the grace of God (2 Timothy 2:1; Ephesians 4:15). His call is to exhibit and exercise deep love for the congregation, patience, and willingness to forbear difficulty and personal offense for the sake of the gospel. Love and grace are the dominant characteristics of pastoral ministry in both counseling and preaching. In his service, the minister must love others without regard to how he is treated, to forsake personal interests, and to die to pride. Even as the Chief Shepherd loved the church to death, so His under shepherds are called to die for the church.

The pastor is called to be an example of growth in holiness, not setting himself up as the model of perfect righteousness or as the one who has it all together (Romans 7:14-24; Philippians 3:12-16), but of progress in sanctification (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17), consistently frank and honest about the fact that he has shortcomings though earnestly striving to conform to the moral law out of love for his Lord. Further, rather than merely giving answers to every question posed by his congregation, he is called to equip them to think in terms of the law and the gospel for themselves, so that they may know how to act and respond in a Christ-like manner to any of life’s circumstances according to the Word of Truth and the gospel of grace revealed therein.

The Lord’s servant is tender and gentle (1 Thessalonians 2:7), never lording it over the flock (1 Timothy 5:3), but leading with humility and washing the feet of those he has been charged to feed. Instead of a preacher arrogantly making a display of his personality from the pulpit, humility in preaching is the mark of the Lord’s bond-servant. The goal of the minister’s instruction is “love,” and the primary way to teach others to love is to model it. If Christ is to shine through a man, then that man’s personality must never be the controlling element of his leadership, but only the power of the gospel. God uses the gentleness and kindness of the pastoral minister to bring men to repentance as they hear and observe the gospel of Christ worked out in his words and in his life.

Another of the lessons I learned this summer is that wise, humble, and loving leadership begets wise, humble, and loving followers. The attitude among the leadership at First Baptist Church Clinton was one of kindness, respect, patience, and willingness to forego personal agendas for the sake of the glory of Christ. There was no visible contention and I am convinced that this is due to the godly leadership of their pastor.

Conclusion

If we desire the winds of reformation to blow through the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, then we need pastors who are committed to pastoring pastors. We need men who are not only committed to the inerrancy of Scripture but who understand and know how to apply its doctrinal content. We need men who grasp the biblical theology of law and gospel and who are able to apply these doctrines first to their own hearts and second to the hearts of those to whom they minister. In short, we need men taught to progress in sanctification, to pursue Christ, and to witness His gospel in word and deed to the people of God.