01 June 2007
Tending God's Flock
Caring for the spiritual state of the congregation is a significant part of a pastor's life. May you find encouragement to develop an atmosphere of spiritual development in your church through reading this letter recently written to my congregation:
I can remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to tie my shoes. But there isn’t a time I can recall when I wasn’t being read to or reading books. I learned the value of books on my mother’s knee, and a better gift has hardly been given me! I’ve been surrounded by books ever since. Though not a substitute for in-the-flesh ones, books are my friends—I benefit greatly from their influence. Pastorally, one book has proved pivotal, Spurgeon’s Autobiography (published by the Banner of Truth), partly due to the other “friends” it has pointed me toward. I first learned of the puritans from it and my ministerial life hasn’t been the same since.
Puritan Richard Baxter’s strong charge to fellow ministers, titled The Reformed Pastor, gripped me and has sharpened my thoughts about pastoral ministry, especially in how to fulfill my responsibilities as stated in Acts 20:28, “Pay attention to yourselves and to all of the flock among which the Holy Spirit has set you to be overseers to shepherd God’s church, that He acquired with His own blood.”
In The Reformed Pastor, Baxter presses home the priority and place of pastoral visitation in order to help encourage the spiritual growth of the flock under his care. After offering several reasons for carrying out regular visitation, he remarks, “I am sure my arguments for this duty will appear strongest at the last when they shall be viewed at the hour of death at the day of judgment and, especially, in the light of eternity. And now, brethren, I earnestly beseech you, in the name of God, and for the sake of your people’s souls, that you will not slightly slumber over this work, but do it vigorously, and with all your might; and make it your great and serious business.”
Baxter’s words reinforced my conviction of the Bible’s emphasis on pastoral visitation—he’s proven to be a friend and advice giver in that area. And like a good friend, he’s often told me things I needed to hear, even if I wasn’t really ready or willing to hear them.
Regarding pastoral ministry, Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
This is no small task. Church officers will give an answer to God for the discharge of their office. In fact, Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them. They are keeping watch over your lives as men who will have to give an account.” One of the principle ways this oversight is exercised is in pastoral visitation.
And so after deliberation, the elders are instituting regular pastoral visitation among all members and regularly attending folk at TRC. I’m conducting the first round and inviting each family to the manse; doing that will give me the opportunity to know everyone more personally at this early stage of my service at the church. Afterwards, the other elders will join me in conducting regular pastoral visits.
In order to help you receive the greatest spiritual benefit from these visits, let me share with you the four areas we’ll discuss during these visits.
First, we’ll talk about your understanding of yourself. Here are some questions you may hear: Do you know for sure that you are a Christian? Are you engaged in regular Bible Study? How is your prayer life? Can you point to areas of your life where you have grown recently?
Next, we’ll talk about your understanding of God. What has He been teaching you about Himself lately? The other two areas will concern your understanding of your world and your understanding of the church.
We hope you’ll use the occasion of the pastoral visit to take a spiritual inventory of your life. It is our desire it will prove helpful to you and lead you and your family to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.