Richard Baxter wrote The Reformed Pastor in the 17th century to some British and Irish pastors, but the truths in them transcend both his time and place. Certainly there are plenty of differences between our day and his, but God has not changed. His word has not changed. The problems of every human soul have not changed. The solutions to these problems are still the same. Therefore, we should expect not only a faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), but also the application of this faith to the hearts and lives of God’s people is once and for all. That is why much of what Baxter has to say is not only relevant, but it is an urgent message that is desperately needed in the church today. Particularly, the pastors of the church in America need to get Baxter’s big ideas. Some of the specific methods are not so important, but the main ideas are critically needed.
The first big idea that needs recovered by pastors today is that they see themselves as overseers of eternal souls. In other words, when someone reads this work they should quickly sense the weight and seriousness of the pastoral ministry. Baxter is not playing around for a second. He is dead serious and he should be. The work of pastoral ministry is primarily about helping people escape the eternal wrath of an almighty and omnipotent God. Only a few moments meditation of the reality of hell should help sober today’s pastors to realize that Sunday morning is not a bunch of games. Nor is it about building a pastor’s kingdom or a following of people who like him. Baxter’s words cut right to the heart as he peals away the false motives a pastor might have for going into the ministry. He reminds them that teachers will be held to a stricter judgment and will give an account for those whom God has given under their care. How can this work be irrelevant when we see all the cheap and tawdry activities that pastors are doing in the church today to hold the attention of the people? Oh, that the pastors of America would get struck down with a vision from God almighty and feel the weight of their responsibilities. Oh, that the pastors of America would stop trying look like the world and take their cues from corporate America. May it be so Lord!
The second big idea that needs to be recovered is that both pastors and church members know one another. This seems like common sense and most churches in America are small enough for this to happen. However, the aspired church leaders are not always those who know their people, but look more like CEOs. They lead a big business and might know their church staff intimately. The way Baxter describes the pastorate is pretty indicting to many (if not most) of the mega church pastors and multi-site leaders. Of course there have always been large churches throughout the history of the church and if you read Baxter closely he actually does not rant against having large churches. The question is, do the large churches of America paint a picture anything close to what Baxter paints for what a pastor looks like? Do the pastors of the large churches in America really know their people? Let’s just begin with their names. Do they even know their names? When was the last time they visited their homes or had them into their home? Do they have any idea how to pray for them or how they are doing spiritually? Is their preaching regularly influenced by the day-to-day conversations they are having with the people in their church?
The idea of relevance is usually misunderstood, but Baxter hits the nail on the head. There could not be anything more relevant than soul winning and caring for those souls that the Lord has given under your care. These are the major themes of this book and they could not be more relevant for a church in America that has mostly forgotten them.
***A free PDF copy of this book is on the RESOURCES page***