Better Than We Deserve

One of the fundamental points of the Christian faith is that what we have we do not deserve. We were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). We were ungodly (Romans 5:6). We were hateful and hating one another (Titus 3:3). We were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). And yet God in His great mercy because of His love for us, zeal for His own glory, and His covenant promises sent his only Begotten Son to deliver us wretches from sin, Satan, Hell, and death. That should lead us to one thought: We have it better than we deserve. We deserve condemnation, fire, brimstone, and the almighty, terrifying wrath of God poured out on us for all eternity. Yet in Christ God has given us every good thing (Romans 8:32). I am not a give fan of mantras to be repeated over and over, but most of us should begin and end each day with one thought: we have it better than we deserve.

Your wife is better than you deserve.

Your husband is better than you deserve.

Your children are better than you deserve.

Your in-laws are better than you deserve.

Your single life is better than you deserve.

Your house, apartment, trailer, room at mom and dad’s is better than you deserve.

Your pastor is better than you deserve.

Your congregation is better than you deserve.

Your fellow members at church are better than you deserve.

Your town is better than you deserve.

Your country is better than you deserve.

Your job is better than you deserve.

Your bank account is better than you deserve.

Your health is better than you deserve.

Your children’s health is better than you deserve.

Your trials are better than you deserve.

Your prosperity is better than you deserve.

In the end, even the air we breathe is a gift. So give thanks to our gracious God for all that He has given from the grass, clouds, sun, turkey, and football to His Son born of Mary, broken for our sins, and raised for our justification.

O give thanks to the Lord for He is good for His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136:1).

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Romans 8:32)?

The Right Medicine: Ten Principles for Pastoral Care

shepherd 3

Here is one final quote from Scott Mantesch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. As I have said before this book is a must read for pastors, elders, or men in seminary. It is pastoral theology disguised as history. While we do not live in 1550 the principles of ministry do not change.

Simon Goulart was among the first wave of pastors in Geneva following Calvin’s death. He ministered from 1566 to 1628. Calvin died in 1564. He was best known for his two-volume work Christian Discourses. In this work he uses a conversational style of writing to guide his congregation through trials and sufferings. He also gives pastors guidance on how to care for those who are suffering. Here are Goulart’s ten principles for pastoral care with some notes by me in brackets.  Continue reading

Lessons from Geneva: The Priority of Pastoral Care

Shepherd 2Here is the final lesson Scott Manetsch learned from his study of pastors in Geneva during the years of 1536-1609. The first was pastoring is hard work. The second was the need for pastors to learn from and be accountable to other pastors. The third was the centrality of the Bible.

Finally, this book has demonstrated the high priority Calvin, Beza, Goulart, and their colleagues placed on the ministry of pastoral care. For the reformers, the ministry of the Word involved more than the public exposition of Scripture; it also entailed the application of the divine message to people on every stage of life, from cradle to grave. Christian ministry needed to be Word-centered and people-centered. Geneva’s pastors fulfilled their calling when they baptized infants, taught children their catechism, welcomed young adults to Lord’s Table, conducted household visitations, comforted the sick, and consoled people preparing to die. At the same time, in weekly Consistory meetings, the ministers and elders confronted men and women suspected of moral failure or wrong belief, applying the “medicine” of church discipline in the hopes of achieving repentance, healed relationships, Christian understanding, and spiritual growth. Though dimensions of Calvin’s program of pastoral supervision and discipline strike our modern sensibilities as heavy-handed and unduly intrusive, the ministers’ sustained commitment to the spiritual well-being of adults and children in their parishes seems on the whole quite admirable. Indeed, in our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears relevant and important.

One of the great fissures between our fathers in the faith and us is that of pastoral visitation. Our fathers considered it the duties of pastors and elders to visit their parishioners. Today it is a rare pastor who regularly visits his people. Why is this the case? Here are a few reasons in no particular order.

  1. Pastors are busy with a lot of administrative duties, programs, etc. The private ministry of the Word is not a priority in practice, even if it is in theory.  It is pushed out by other things, which are less important.
  2. People do not want to be bothered. They view their lives as private matters where pastors have little say.
  3. Churches have become larger with little one to one action from the leadership. Most one to one interaction comes in small groups, which are not a good substitute for pastoral care.
  4. People are busy in the evenings when pastoral visitation often takes place.
  5. Church-hopping and the constant mobility of American people make it hard to develop long term relationships with members of a church.
  6. The rise of counseling and psychology. It is interesting that when tragedy strikes a community it is often counselors and psychologists are called in and pastors are not. There is a place to outsource certain types of counseling situations, but too many pastors pass their people off to the professionals.

There are probably other reasons as well. Our culture is far removed from the Reformation age. Yet pastors have a duty to care the flock of God, which includes meeting with them, praying with them, checking on their spiritual health, answering their questions, etc.  As Manetsch notes our age is particularly disconnected and lonely. Thus pastoral care takes on heightened importance at a time where the church, her members, and society at large work against it. Pastors and elders must be deliberate about their task of caring for the congregation.

In a future post I will describe how I do pastoral care. In the meantime, if you are looking for some good books on pastoral care, here are a few. If you know of other books put them in the comments.

  • Pastoral Care by Gregory the Great
  • Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer
  • Taking Heed to the Flock by Peter De Jong
  • Counsel Your Flock by Paul Tautges
  • Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition by Andrew Purves
  • Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
  • All Three of Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoring


Lessons from Geneva: The Centrality of the Scriptures

Pulpit BibleHere is Scott Manetsch’s third lesson from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609. The first lesson was pastoral ministry is hard. The second lesson was the need for pastors to learn from and be accountable to other pastors.

Third, this study has shown the leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.  In one of his first Protestant writings, Calvin summarized his central religious purpose with this concise statement: “I demand only this, that faithful people be allowed to hear their God speaking and to learn from his teaching.” Calvin devoted most of his career to making this religious vision a reality. As we have seen, between 1536 and 1609 the language and message of the Bible was nearly omnipresent in Geneva’s religious life as it was proclaimed in sermons recited in catechism, sung in the Psalter, studied in the Congregation, discussed in the marketplace, and read devotionally in households. At the same time, Geneva’s pastors produced a virtual tsunami of Bible translations, Psalters, commentaries, exegetical aids, and devotional writings that equipped preachers for the pulpit ministries and provided instruction and spiritual comfort for their parishioners. Calvin and his reformed colleagues believed that where God’s Word was faithfully proclaimed and gladly received, there the Holy Spirit was at work in power to effect moral transformation in the lives of men and women. Spiritual reformation and scriptural proclamation went hand in hand. It seems plausible that Geneva’s distinctive religious culture in the sixteenth century-described by one English visitor as a “model of true religion and true piety”-was in large part the result of this extensive engagement with Scripture. So too, one suspects that the path to spiritual renewal for moribund churches and tired saints in the twenty-first century involves, at least in part, recovering the central place of Scripture in the church’s ministry.

Christians today are woefully ignorant of the Scriptures. They may know a verse here or there. But they rarely know the scope of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Aside from this, pastors are not very good at applying Scripture wisely and pointedly. We are afraid of being accused of legalism so we leave the Scriptures impotent. One of the great needs of the hour in order to bring reformation is to believe that the Bible is sufficient for the needs of the God’s people.  The Scriptures must not be just a band-aid we slap on when there is a cut. It must be the lifeblood of God’s people. Pastors must be devoted to it. They must preach, read it, sing it, pray it, memorize it, and above all believe it and obey it. And they must teach their people to do the same. Until the Scriptures are once again placed at the center of the church and once again proclaimed with power from the pulpits reformation is an impossibility.

Lessons from Geneva: Pastors Need Other Pastors

calvin-in-genevaHere is the second lesson Scott Manetsch gleaned from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609. The first lesson is in this post.

Second, my study of Calvin and the Company of Pastors has highlighted the importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work. Woven into the DNA of Geneva’s reformed church were Calvin’s convictions that ministers of the gosple stood beneath the authority of Christ, that no Christian minister should hold preeminence in the church, and that ministers must be held accountable to the collective judgment of their colleagues. As we have seen, the Company of Pastors-to which each minister belonged as an equal partner-supervised the pastoral work and monitored the personal conduct of all of Geneva’s pastors. Likewise, in the weekly meetings of the Congregation, ministers studied Scripture together, evaluated one another’s sermons, and forged a common theological outlook. Christian understanding, Calvin believed, was achieved in community. The Ordinary Censure also promoted collegiality in providing a regular venue for Geneva’s ministers to air doctrinal disagreements and address interpersonal conflicts behind closed doors. Finally, when members of the Company committed serious moral failure, they were subject to the judgment and correction of their peers on the Consistory. Though this collegial model of ministry did not foster bold innovation, nor allow for strong dissent, it did create a pastoral culture in Geneva where ministers depended on one another, learned from one another, were subject to one another, and forgave one another. Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.

Of the four lessons Manetsch draws from his study, this one might the most neglected and hardest to implement in our current cultural climate, especially for small church pastors. What Geneva had was several ordained pastors who had weekly interaction, critiqued one another’s sermons, kept each other accountable, and learned from each other. Even in a church with multiple staff members often these men are not all ordained pastors. In other words, I know of very few situations where this type of weekly pastoral interaction is a reality.

I think most pastors would love to have this type of collegial relationship with other pastors. I know I would. But how can we do it in a culture where there is so much going on at our individual churches, there are not only denominational differences, but differences of vision and ministry style, and we are often so spread out? For now we will have to use the tools at our disposal, such as the Internet, as well pastoral prayer meetings and other face to fact meetings to fill the void. But it seems we need more work in this area so that pastors have regular face to face relationships with other pastors where they are learning from and accountable to one another.