Consider how faithful our Lord Jesus is to His church. Every generation of the church has had to defend the truths of the gospel against error. Many times in church history, Christians have been persecuted for the gospel, even to the point that they were put to death. Each generation must proclaim the Lord’s works to the next in order for the truth of the gospel to be maintained. If the gospel is lost, so is the church. However, in these last days, the Spirit has been at work in every generation, raising up faithful pastors who “guard the good deposit” (2 Tim 1:14) that has been entrusted to them.
Even now, the Holy Spirit is raising up yet another generation of pastors who will shepherd and preach Christ to the one after it. The Lord is actively keeping His word to His church: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
I desire to be a pastor one day, if the Lord is willing. The Lord has been very kind to me by allowing me to spend my summer as a pastoral intern at First Baptist Church of Clinton, LA under Pastors Fred Malone and Tom Hicks. As someone who is aspiring to be in the gospel ministry full-time, their instruction this summer has been indispensable, and I’d like to share three of the lessons that I’ve learned from them. Perhaps these lessons will be helpful to others like me who are seeking the ministry.
First, Jesus is beautiful, and He’s worthy of all my love and devotion. I have been re-learning this fundamental truth ever since I became a Christian. This is the first and most important lesson for an aspiring pastor to learn, and only the Christian can truly know it. Before pastors are pastors, they are Christians. Before you dismiss this point as obvious and skip to the next, consider the office. Unlike any other profession, the gospel ministry requires personal holiness on the part of the minister. If I become a pastor, how could I hold forth Jesus as glorious to others unless I myself see Him as such? How could I faithfully preach Christ from the pulpit without first preaching Him to myself in my study and throughout the week?
This summer, I’ve realized once again that I need Jesus now just as much as I ever did. I still need His righteous life to be counted to me, or else I stand condemned. I need His bloody death for me on the cross, which atones for my sins once for all, cancels the record of debt that stood against me, and purchases life for me. And even now, I need His unceasing intercession and His precious and very great promises in order to live another day. Every pastor must personally know Jesus and be holy. This leads to another lesson that I learned.
Second, faithful pastors are whole men preaching a whole gospel to whole people. This pithy saying is Pastor Fred’s summarization of one of the points in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, a book I read this summer. Consider the saying:
- Faithful pastors are whole men. As I mentioned above, pastors are men who have genuinely become enamored with Christ. His person and work have entered into every part of their person: mind, will, and emotions. These are the men who make good preachers: men who are really themselves in the pulpit, who don’t assume a “preaching brogue,” and who preach Christ genuinely from their whole selves. Don’t believe the lie that you must have a dynamic personality in order to change people; only the Spirit can change people. Something helpful and encouraging that Pastor Tom said to me was, “If you are flat, it’s better to be flat than to pretend to be full and powerful. In the end, your sincerity will mean far more than a performance.”
- Faithful pastors preach a whole gospel. In other words, pastors preach the whole Christ. They speak of the sin that merits God’s righteous wrath by preaching the law, and with the same breath, they also proclaim the glorious news that those who are united to Jesus by faith are dead to sin. This all-glorious Christ is found on every page of Scripture, either in type and shadow, or in antitype and reality. So then, pastors do as Jesus did with his disciples on the road to Emmaus when He showed in “all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk 24:27), and as Paul taught to the Ephesians “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
- Faithful pastors preach to a whole people. They don’t just preach to people’s minds. They don’t aim merely to stimulate their emotions. Neither do pastors simply try and get people to “behave,” by preaching only to the will. Instead, these pastors, as whole men themselves, realize that Christ died for whole people. Holiness is not just for the mind. It is for the emotions and will, too. Faithful shepherds have the heart that Paul had for the Galatians, whom he called, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal 4:19, emphasis added).
Third, pastors must rightly understand the law (summarized in the Ten Commandments) and the gospel. A person’s understanding (or lack thereof) of the law-gospel relationship directs the way he/she thinks, speaks, and lives. Accordingly, the way a pastor lives, preaches, and counsels also flows straight from how he thinks of the law and gospel. I love Samuel Bolton’s short work, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, which is another one of the books I read this summer. It has been instrumental in helping me see the law-gospel relationship from the Scriptures. In chapter 2, Bolton says, “We cry down the law in respect of justification, but we set it up as a rule of sanctification. The law sends us to the Gospel that we may be justified; and the Gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified.” I could not state it more simply.
What is the duty of Christians? To trust God, love Him, and keep His commandments. God doesn’t just tell His people to love Him and love others. The Lord is so gracious. He shows them what love looks like by giving them His righteous rules, which are embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. God defines what love looks like, not us. Understanding this not only simplifies Christian obedience, but the pastor’s task as well: he must preach the law and the gospel. “Through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20), but the gospel is that Jesus takes away sin, so that the believer can exclaim with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It Is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97).
These are three of the things that the Lord taught me over the course of my internship. I will conclude by asking the reader to consider how great a need there is for true gospel ministers, and for men who are already pastors to train them. Is there a man who adores the Lord Jesus? Has God’s grace led him to live a holy life? Is he desirous of the office and able to teach others? Let him consider the ministry.