Nathan is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. He wrote this essay for the Protestant Reformed Scholarship.
The minister of the gospel is called to labor in the church of Christ. This calling is an important work because the church is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ. This important work requires a minister to labor diligently in his pastoral duties, and it requires the minister to have a certain love for his congregation. The work of the minister is similar to that of a shepherd and a disciple. The work of the minister is a reflection of the work of the chief shepherd and disciple: Jesus Christ.
The duties of a minister toward his congregation are similar to the duties a shepherd has toward a flock of sheep. The shepherd protects his sheep from roving predators that seek to devour them. The shepherd may even risk his life in order to provide safety for the sheep. The parable of the lost sheep illustrates the extent of a shepherd’s love for his sheep. The shepherd was concerned about the one sheep that had gone astray into the wilderness. He was not content to have ninety-nine sheep in his fold. No, the shepherd left the ninety-nine and searched until the lost sheep was restored. The love that the minister has for the saints should be similar to the love of the shepherd. He labors among the saints of God on account of the love that he holds for the church. The minister also seeks the spiritual welfare of the people of God. When a child of God wanders into the wilderness of sin, the minister labors unceasingly in order to restore the child of God into the church.
The shepherd is also responsible for providing pasture and water for his flock. In John 21:15-17, Jesus commanded Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Here the Lord exhorts every under-shepherd to busy himself in the ministry of the Word (Calvin 291). The minister labors in the study of the Word so that each Sunday he may lead the people of God into the green pastures of His Word. When the believers come into the house of God on Sunday after a week of trekking through the wilderness of the world, they need to be fed and watered. It is the responsibility of the minister, the ambassador of Christ, to seek green pastures and living water for the people of God. The saints desire the living water that flows from the atonement of Christ on His cross. The desired pastures are rich with the doctrines of the Christian religion that provide true comfort to the saints. The saints enjoy this comfort after they hear about the Great Shepherd, who purchased His people not with gold or silver but with His own precious blood.
Preaching the Word is the primary duty of the minister of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is considered one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The Heidelberg Catechism answer 84 states:
When it is declared to every believer, that, when they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, and on the contrary, when it is declared to all unbelievers, and such as do not repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath and judgement of God.
The emphasis the catechism places on the preaching of the Word motivates people to note the seriousness involved with preaching. The preaching serves the purpose of gathering all believers into the body of Christ, but it also serves as a warning to the unbeliever. In order to accomplish this purpose, the minister must preach exegetically and interpret Scripture on its own account. It is through these means that God is glorified in the preaching and the saints are nourished with the Word of God.
The work of the minister is also reflected in the life of a disciple. The disciple is one who follows and takes upon himself the example set forth by his master. The minister must follow the example of the Master who denied Himself even unto death because of His love for His chosen people. The life that Christ portrayed is truly the best example of the life of a disciple. Christ was busy in His earthly ministry preaching and teaching among the people. He then humbly submitted Himself to the will of the Father by suffering and dying on the cross and descending into the torments of hell. He bore all this suffering so that the saints might receive life everlasting. What an inspiration this is for the men who labor in the ministry of the Word and sacraments. The zeal a minister has for his work stems from the work of Christ in his heart, and he is motivated to busy himself in the work of the church. The minister seeks to serve his Master by laboring in the church. The minister denies himself and his own interests and strives for the good of the church.
The work of the minister in the church is a labor of love and obedience to Christ. The minister must realize that Christ called him to labor in the church. This calling places a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the minister. Since the minister has been called by Christ to serve His church, the minister is held responsible for his labors in the church directly to Christ Himself (DeJong 29). Hebrews 13:17 states: “For they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief.” This text motivates the minister to busy himself in the work of the church because he must watch over the very souls of God’s children. What a calling it is then to be a laborer on the walls of Zion!
Should God be pleased to call me as an undershepherd to labor in His fold I must submit to His will. Submission to the will of the Father is what it means to be a disciple of God. Remember the idea of a disciple, one who denies himself and his own interests in order to serve the Master. The idea of discipleship truly involves every child of God, but a minister has a spiritual calling to deny himself and live in servitude to the church. The disciple must also follow the spiritual teachings of the Master in heaven. I believe the Protestant Reformed Churches are blessed with one of the purest manifestations of the truth. The Protestant Reformed Churches preach and teach the whole counsel of God; therefore our churches follow the command of Christ to feed the sheep. The work of the minister reflects the service of Christ after he denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows in the teachings of Christ. Whether God calls me to labor as a minister in His kingdom or not, I pray that whatever I do may be done to the honor and glory of His name. To God alone be the glory and may His name be praised!
Calvin, John. (1949). Commentary of the Gospel According to John. (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co.
DeJong, Rev. Peter. (1955). Taking Heed to the Flock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.