Reflections on Pastoral Ministry by a Pastoral Intern
I remember as a child traveling with my father on hospital visits as part of his pastoral duties. He took great joy and loved ministering to our church members while they suffered in pain or approaching death. Moments like these brought me to such a burning desire for God’s people, a desire to love, preach the gospel to, and teach them the whole counsel of God as a shepherd of the flock. I remember looking at the work that my father did and thinking childishly, “I could to that. Simple enough!” I could not have been farther from the truth then.
God, in his divine providence, allowed me the opportunity to serve as a Pastoral Intern at First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana under pastors Tom Hicks and Fred Malone. While my home church is Reformed Baptist Church of Kansas City, this family in Clinton became my family for a short but glorious time. Though my time seemed short, the time spent was not wasted. A short article is not enough to describe the lessons learned and practical truths that were applied to me.
While I am a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary working on an MDiv, there are many practical things the seminary cannot teach you for the role as a pastor. I hope this article reveals the importance of doing an internship and being mentored personally by experienced and wise pastors. I also want to briefly summarize the Internship and the discerning truths it taught me as one being called to pastoral ministry, Lord willing.
The Pastor’s Call
The call of every pastor is never to be taken lightly. While many men hold strict claim that they are praying, meditating, and waiting patiently on the Lord, they really seek to take matters into their own hands to get what they really desire; and that is to be a pastor. Others seem to call themselves to the ministry rather than be called or sent by their local church. These actions are very dangerous for the man’s ministry and more so for the church.
Many of the men in seminary will be quick to quote the first qualification of an elder from Paul: if a man desires to become an elder, this is good (1 Timothy 3:1). They will continue to discuss their ability to teach, abstinence from alcohol, and not in love with money. Yet, one will not hear many others speak of the other qualities. The rest of the qualities are equally important: “temperate, prudence, respectable, hospitable…gentle, peaceable…He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity… and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil,” (3:2-6).
I learned this summer the importance of how one is to go about this call. Brother Tom pointed to Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students and Brother Fred and I went through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers. Both books speak on the weight of the call of the pastor and how so often men give in to their pride in seeking the pastorate. Men, have patience and truly wait. The role of a pastor must never be filled in haste. Seek wise counsel, search the Scriptures, and listen to God and to your church.
While the word “ordination” is not found in the Bible, the concept of being confirmed, appointed (Acts 14:23), and considered is (1 Timothy 5:17). The role of a pastor is not a clock-in-clock-out job, not only meaning it is a 24-hour duty, but also that the way you go about entering the ministry speaks of your character. Pastors are to be raised up from within the church, that means men pursue this beautiful role through the church that knows them well.
The Pastor’s Care
I learned this summer more of the love and care a pastor is to naturally have toward his church. While Tom and Fred both set great examples of this, practicing what they preach, Scripture is very clear. The pastor is to pay careful attention to himself (examining himself) and his church (Acts 20:28), as they are stewards of God’s flock (Titus 1:7-8). This looks like Jesus practically speaking. The pastor loves his flock like Christ loves, preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), admonishing them (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and church discipline (Matthew 18:15-22). He is willing and able to serve his church in joy and love whenever it is necessary. Not only this, but also, he strongly desires to love and care for his church well and to the glory of God.
The Pastor’s Preaching
The pastor is to preach, able to teach, and willing to learn from his own preaching. Sometimes when we think about learning from our preaching or studies it is more doctrinal than wisdom that we desire to take out of it. Maybe an insight on the passage we never noticed before or fine tuning our understanding of the doctrine of grace. How often are we brought to our knees from the Word of God we are too weak in and of ourselves to preach? How often are we humbled by this high called duty to preach to the church of God? Who am I, that God would choose me? Learning more on doctrine is good, but if we are not humbled by this duty, seeking to communicate with excellence in love, gentleness, truth, and wisdom, then we walk down a path in ministry that can lead to many hours of temptation to pride. Possibly even a church that does not love you as their pastor nor trusts you.
The Pastor’s Doctrine
While preaching is of the highest calling in the church, a firm foundation is vital and necessary for speaking the whole counsel of God justly and accurately. This does not merely entail doctrine, but also how we attain and learn true doctrine with good hermeneutics. Tom and Fred emphasized strongly the importance of this, how the pastor is to know the Word of God, to know how to approach Scripture, and to understand its one Author.
In seminary, some professors teach us that good hermeneutics begin by swiping your mind of all presuppositions (historical, theological, cultural, etc.) so that when you approach Scripture you are not tempted to read something into the text that is not there. While this may sound like a good idea to some on the surface, the reality is that it is very dangerous to throw out of your mind, or ignore, systematic theology from the rest of Scripture when interpreting the text. This is because Scripture interprets Scripture. Augustine taught that the New Testament is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed. That means that the Old is made clear of it’s true and spiritual meaning and intent from the New. Should not what was revealed of the Trinity in the New help us to understand a less clear passage in the Old?
Moreover, how far into doctrine ought a pastor to go? Only as far as the rest of the church since that should be his only focus, right? No. While the pastor does not need a doctorate degree or to have written books on doctrine, the pastor must be well versed in the Word of God to combat heresy and defend truth in his church. As a pastor cares for his flock he fights off false doctrine from their midst to purify the church.
I learned this summer more of the beauty of confessional theology being discussed, taught, and practiced in the local church. As a pastor, you should encourage your church to ask questions, search the Scriptures, read books (have a book table!), teach regularly God’s law and gospel, talk about the church fathers of old, encourage them to discuss doctrine at home in family worship (catechism and singing hymns together), wrestle with the hard questions that come from reading the Bible, and to pray doctrinally. Studying systematic theology is a waste of time if it is not practiced, but the beauty of it is that all of it can be practiced because it is Scripture that came from the very mouth of God.
Much more could be said of what I learned this summer. However, I want to ask the reader, do you desire the ministry as a pastor? Are you seeking training, counsel, and experience in your own local church? Are following the leadership of your elder(s), listening to their counsel as they see your character? Are truly humbling yourself before the Word of God, willing to wait until the opportunity to serve his church, being raised up by your own covenanted church? Do you have a burning desire for God’s people, so that the thought of doing anything else puts a bad taste in your mouth? Then you desire a good thing, brother. I exhort you, while you learn and wait, watch and pray lest you enter into temptation (Mt. 26:41).