Daniel is a member of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He wrote this essay for the 2003 Protestant Reformed Scholarship.
What is the work of the pastor? When we ask ourselves this question we immediately think of the preaching, teaching, visiting, leading, and ministering work of the preacher. These represent the most important activities in human life. The ministry is considered by God to be the most vitally important and highly honorable of all callings. This can be seen in I Tim. 5:17 where Paul says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” But what does Paul mean by ‘ruling well’ with regard to the minister? Or in other words, how does the pastor’s work reflect an obedient service to God and His people? This is a very worthwhile question for a future minister to pry into because it puts the ministry into perspective and mentally prepares him for the demands of the calling. (So let’s venture into the life of a good pastor to see how he “rules well” in his service to God.)
In order to rule well a pastor must first be called and qualified by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls a man by powerfully and effectually working in his heart in a way that guides him to the ministry. He gives the man no rest, and instead He gives him a continual struggle with the purpose of his life. In this way the man of God is brought to the realization of his calling and is made to act on it. The Spirit also qualifies the man for the work he will be taking on himself. This means he is given the talents, characteristics, and abilities needed for the work of the pastor. Not just anyone can become a minister. There needs to be certain attributes, to a lesser or greater degree, present in the man. This is why the training of preachers must be rigorous, so that they are tested as to their abilities and shown to be acceptable or wanting.
Once a man is called and qualified, he will become a minister and thus take on the tasks of the ministry. The pastor’s work consists of many demanding activities. The Netherlands Confession says that, “there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities” (Art. 30). The most important task of the pastor as we all know is to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the person of the pastor is the actual mouthpiece of our Savior in heaven, so when he speaks with authority from Scripture we hear Jesus speaking to us. The minister serves Jesus in his preaching, and he does it well when he is faithful to the Word of God.
Preaching is one of the keys to the kingdom by which God’s people are gathered and the wicked are hardened in their unbelief. The Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord’s Day 31, Question and Answer 83, “What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven? The preaching of the holy gospel,…[by this] the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers, and shut against unbelievers.” By means of the preaching, Christ gathers His Church; so the work of the pastor in preaching is a very important service and calling. The pastor further shows his service to God by preaching with great humility, giving all glory and praise to his Father in heaven. Peter himself exhorted preachers when he said, “be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).
The pastor also serves the people of God in his preaching. As the mouthpiece of Christ, he is the minister of grace unto them. It is by his preaching that the people of God receive faith and by it the grace of our Lord and Savior. The preaching of the gospel is the means God has chosen to administer grace to His people even though it is done by a sinful man for “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Cor. 1:21b). If we who are the people of God were no longer given the preaching of the gospel, it would be like denying a fish its watery environment. As a fish cannot live out of the water, so we cannot live spiritually day to day without being nourished by the Word of our God. We must remember this when we become weary of church attendance and would rather not go. We are very really fed in our souls by the preaching which we hear. Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life by which His people would no longer hunger, and we hear that Bread of Life proclaimed when we hear the preaching.
There are many ways in which believers are served in the preaching. In the preaching is God’s Word to His people in the form of doctrine, exhortation, judgment and comfort among other similar categories. We hear of our complete depravity and of the salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus, and we are commanded to turn from our wicked ways and serve the Lord. We are turned by the power of the Holy Ghost from our old man into a new man by that preaching. We are renewed in heart and mind as the Canons of Dordt confesses in the Fifth Head, Art. 7 where it says, “…by His Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them (people of God) to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins…” and later in Art. 14, “…as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues, and perfects it in us…” So as we can see, we are given all of our great and many spiritual needs in the preaching, and thus it is an incredibly important service to all believers.
The preacher serves the people of God in other ways as well. The whole life of the preacher is a service to believers, so it involves many other activities in addition to the preaching on Sundays. One of the main tasks it involves is visitation of the sick, elderly, distressed, and all others with special needs. As the earlier quote from the Confession said, “…also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities.” A good preacher will be active in going in and out among the people of his congregation. He will find out the needs of the people and then come to each individual in his or her unique situation and bring a word of comfort. He will not only bring his own sympathy however, but he will also and more importantly bring the Word of God as comfort. In this way he will be a servant of the psychological and spiritual needs of the people of God.
Now we can ask ourselves again what it means to ‘rule well’ with regard to the preachers of God’s Word. How does the preacher ‘rule well’ and thus obtain the double honor that he is entitled to by the Lord? First, he must take his education seriously because by it he will see whether he has been called and during it he will develop in being qualified. Secondly, as an ordained pastor he must preach the true Word of God as it is found in Scripture and do it with all meekness and humility, giving all glory to God. Lastly, he must serve the people of God in his preaching, visiting, consoling, and all other activities, giving freely of himself for the benefit of the flock. As I discover these necessary tasks with regard to the pastor, I can’t help but be awed and humbled by the great calling and responsibility placed on the servant of God. I look at the daunting task of the seminary training and then the ever-continuing work done by the pastor and I know that without the grace of God I could never ‘rule well’ as the good pastor does. But I also know that one who is called will be qualified and made able to perform the tasks required of him. So with this in mind and the Lord as my guide, I begin the great and wondrous journey of the pastor.
The Bible. King James Version.
The Three Forms of Unity. The Protestant Reformed Churches in America. 1999. Bedsole, Adolph.
The Pastor in Profile. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958 Kuiper, R. B.
The Glorious Body of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.