by Pearson Johnson

One of my favorite books on pastoral ministry is the hard-hitting classic The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. Baxter lived and ministered in the 1600s in the town of Kidderminster in Worcestershire, England. Baxter, a Puritan, was called by J. I. Packer, “The most outstanding pastor, evangelist, and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced” (back cover, 1997 Banner of Truth Reprint).

Don’t let the “Reformed” in the title lead you to a theological conclusion. The use of “reformed” in this book refers not to the pastor’s doctrinal position, but to the reformation or renewal of one’s pastoral practice (14). If you are looking at a renewal or reformation of your heart for ministry, I would prescribe this book. Baxter gives us good, straightforward medicine on having a pastoral ministry that is scripturally proportioned.

To whet your appetite, chapter one is titled, “The oversight of ourselves.” Baxter encourages us “to take heed to ourselves” (Acts 20:28) with the following considerations:

1. “See that the work of saving grace be throroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others” (53).

2. “Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others” (61).

3. “Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine… lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hindrers of your own labours” (63).

4. “Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn” (67).

5. “Lastly, take heed to yourselves, that you want not the qualifications necessary for your work. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge” (68).

In an age where pastors tend to either isolate themselves so that their people cannot get to know whether their lives match their lessons, or to profess plainly their sins in order that supposed “grace” may abound, Baxter exhorts us to a good middle road where shepherds humbly seek, by God’s grace and help, to have lives of biblical integrity that seek to lead those under their charge toward Christlikeness.