Recently there have been books released that deal with the heart of the pastor. They aren’t books about how to do ministry but how a minister should be. Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification is the second of these books I have read. Earlier I had read Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.
Both books are very good but quite different from one another. They form a good “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine” when read in tandem. Tripp’s book is a dangerous read. Perhaps I should say a hard read because he is ruthless. This doesn’t mean he’s legalistic or avoids the gospel. In addressing our sin he does bring us back to the gospel regularly. His concerns, reaped from talking the numerous pastors, center on the gaps in their preparation and a sense of having arrived that cripples men spiritually. He puts his finger on many common struggles for pastors.
“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem.”
Jared’s book is kinder and gentler. This doesn’t mean he ignores sin because he doesn’t (see the above quote). You will feel the sting of conviction here as well. He also keeps bringing us back to the gospel regularly. The point of Jared’s book is one that I got from Tim Keller a few years ago: preach as a justified man. Of course it is about more than preaching.
[This book is not just for pastors though. Missionaries would likely benefit and see a great deal of overlap. It would be a helpful read for elders and ministry leaders as well. They will experience many of the same temptations and need to find the same freedom in Christ pastors need.]
When pastors live in the knowledge of their justification thru faith in the finished work of Christ they will not try to find justification in the many idolatrous routes ministry offers: money, prestige, building programs, ever expanding ministries. Okay, ministry does not offer those to everyone but many pastors seek them and die inside every week when they keep preaching to the same ol’ people (or fewer). If you aren’t grounded in the doctrine of justification a struggling ministry will destroy you.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5
Wilson’s book has two distinct sections. In the first section he works through 1 Peter 5:1-5. He calls this section The Pastor’s Heart. He wants our hearts to be free, holy, humble, confident, watchful and justified as a result of the gospel working deeper into our hearts (not just our heads). All of these adjectives are important to ministry. Their opposites are deadly to ministry. When we know we are fully accepted and righteous in Christ we will stop living in fear and begin to pastor people boldly and lovingly. We are also free to pursue holiness in accordance with the Scriptures.
“It is only from the grounding of the gospel of Jesus that the evangelical pastor is set free to pastor freely.”
Ministry is a difficult (and dangerous) calling. It is difficult because it does involve people we can’t control. It is dangerous because our hearts are prone toward idolatry and blaming others instead of owning our faults and mistakes. Wilson, I think, does a good job balancing the “what is” and the “what ought to be”. One one hand he points out the struggles we experience in ministry. He’s realistic and honest avoiding some kind of pipe dream that will never come true. On the other hand, he’s not pessimistic but points us to a greater vision of what ministry can be if we keep the gospel at the center of our hearts.
The second section of the book focuses on the Solas of the Reformation and applies them to how we approach ministry. This was a very helpful section as well. Ministry is about presenting Christ thru the Scriptures as the source of all grace in whom we believe and whose glory we seek. Among the many good things he says is advocating Christ-centered, expositional sermons. There are also many temptations to get off the well-worn path by leaning on the wisdom of men, preaching moralism or seeking our own glory.
Wilson does not write down to pastors. He writes as our brother who has lived many of these things, and seen many live these things. It is, as one of my professors would say, avuncular in tone. While some chapters are better than others, this is a solid, faithful book meant to encourage pastors, not simply admonish pastors. Some of us may feel admonished and rightly so. The purpose is not to point of finger of judgment but to call you back to God’s plan and purpose.