The church has many ministries that address the social or physical needs of people, but it must remember that its core calling is the ministry of the Word. God entrusted to the church this unique gift: his special revelation in its authority, clarity, necessity, unity in Christ, efficacy, inerrant veracity, and sufficiency. Like the apostles, pastors and teachers today must not “leave the word of God, and serve tables,” but resolve to give themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).
God’s promise of a transformed community (Jer. 3:17) comes with a promise of competent pastoral care: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (v. 15).
The Lord here pictures church officers as shepherds who care for his flock. The phrase “according to mine heart” means obedient to God’s will and conforming to God’s character, in contrast to those who stubbornly follow their own “evil heart” (v. 17). It alludes to David’s faithfulness in doing the Lord’s will in contrast to Saul’s disobedience (1 Sam. 13:13–14; cf. Acts 13:22). These shepherds give to the people the “knowledge and understanding” of the Lord that is the greatest blessing they have in their power to bestow (Jer. 9:23–24). In summary, God promises to give to his people pastors who shepherd them with a beautiful combination of faithfulness to God in both their lives and their teaching.
Pastors and theological students, you must bring to the church both experiential piety and doctrinal truth; your right believing must be adorned with right living. You must embrace this subjective-objective balance in your ministry. As John Murray liked to say, we aim for “intelligent piety.” Your preaching should exhibit the loving heart of God and faithfully expound his unchanging truth.
Your personal ministry should do the same. Whenever a pastor visits someone, whether at home, in a counseling session, or in the hospital, he should say to himself, “I am here to promote the truth and piety of Christ. I am called to be a man after God’s heart who does his will. I am to bring the ‘sweet savour of Christ’ wherever I go (2 Cor. 2:14–15).” Of course, this does not mean that you preach a sermon every time you open your mouth.
However, it’s a travesty of pastoral visitation to engage in nothing more than casual conversation. After listening and learning about what is going on in the lives of the people whom you visit, open your Bible, read some pertinent verses, provide pastoral wisdom and counsel, and pray with them. Go with them to the throne of grace and pour out your heart in holy desires for their temporal and eternal good.
Likewise, if you’re a member of a church, don’t expect your pastor to serve as the president of a social club or the CEO of a nonprofit organization. He’s a man of God, set apart to the ministry of the Word and prayer, called to lead the people of the Word with the Word. Do not resent or resist him when he speaks the Word of God to your personal life or lovingly encourages you to seek the Lord in obedience to God’s commands. He is not putting you down. He is seeking to lift you up to eternal happiness.
Depend on the Word and Prayer
The pastors and elders of Christ’s church should learn from the doctrine of revelation that wisdom does not originate from them, but from the mouth of the Lord (Prov. 2:6). Being wise in our own eyes ill suits those who teach and command others to submit to God’s Word. What do we have that we did not receive? When did we become infallible? Therefore, we should always consult the wisdom of God’s Word in our work as the shepherds of Christ’s flock. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (3:5).
In the Scriptures, God has given the man of God a sacred manual that, if humbly studied and followed, will equip him completely for all the good works of ministry (2 Tim. 3:16–17). The Lord has revealed in his Word how we should conduct ourselves in “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Leaders should have the attitude of Solomon, who weighs the responsibility of service in God’s kingdom and confesses, “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in,” and who therefore pleads for God to give him “an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:7–9). They should pray for the wisdom from above (James 1:5). It was said of John Cotton (1584–1652), “In his study, he neither sat down unto, nor arose from his meditations without prayer: whilst his eyes were upon his book, his expectation was from God. He had learned to study, because he had learned to pray.”