Richard Baxter was a 17th century pastor in England. During his 19 year stint at St. Mary’s and All Saints Church in Kidderminster, he was able to get pastors and ministers to come together and meet from all different denominations. As a result of these meetings, he wrote his book The Reformed Pastor as a training manual/record of the offices and duties of those in ministry. What is fascinating about a book that was written over 300 years ago is how accurate it speaks to those who serve today.
Baxter begins his book with a picture of what Church leadership looks like as well as the downfalls of those that would not take warning. In his 17th century context, Baxter takes great care to remind those in ministry to put into practice what they preach every week. He was very concerned with the spiritual well being of those in ministry and bides them to guard and watch their own hearts as carefully as their parishioners. He worries thatteachers “study hard to teach exactly, yet study little or none at all to live exactly.” He worries that “we may gain others to heaven, yet lose ourselves.” I have learned many of the hazards of ministry, and have lived some of them, but have never seen it put so succinctly or completely as he laid them out.
When it comes to the work of a pastor, Baxter spends a great deal of time communicating what he means by shepherding the flock. I went into more detail in a previous post about this, but I was in shock as to his counsel on shepherding families and his concern for leadership in the home. He also describes some of the people that ministers need to focus on and instruct: those who are young and weak (in confirmation); those who labor under vices (in progression); those who are declining in faith (in preservation); and those whohave fallen in temptation (in restoration). Everyone in some form of leadership can think of people who fit into these categories, and Baxter makes it a point to remind the leaders about the necessity to minister to them.
The section of this book that I found most interesting was his thoughts on the office of ministry. Though I doubt that this is a book that would be very helpful to a ministry class outside of seminary, his thoughts on the office of minister was inspiring and uplifting. Baxter casts a vision of not only what the work of a pastor can be, but the dignity and honor by which it must be undertaken. Whether it study (which he thinks pastors don’t do enough of) or the intellectual and relational labor which must be put forth (which he thinks is lacking as well), he makes it a point to portray ministry as a job worthy of the mostrespect and effort. He would have had a difficult time fitting into church today I think.
Baxter, no matter the topic, makes certain that the pastor’s heart above all else is taken care of. If this book comes across as nothing else it is a call for pastors to guard their hearts, to maintain their relationship to God, and to grow in discipleship before they can lead their congregations. This book was an awesome read…though I don’t know how much anyone outside of ministry could glean from it. Baxter is incredibly well written and studied and he writes with a passion that cannot be duplicated. I found myself feeling like the scottish army listening to William Wallace ready to charge the english as I read the way he described ministry. This book was easy to follow as it was rigidly outlined and heavy on the practicality of it. Check it out if you ever need a short book on ministry to read.