Every couple of years, I try to re-read two books that have been very formative for my thinking on life in the ministry. One is Richard Baxters’ The Reformed Pastor, perhaps the most convicting book ever written (other than the Bible). Each year, after reading it, I am tempted to draw up my resignation, drop out of the ministry, and go sell carpet or something.
The other book, is Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, a veritable goldmine of advice and instruction for those of us in ministry (or heading there). Spurgeon covers a wide range of issue from the call to the ministry all the way to pulpit posture and how to project your voice (something quite important in that time period).
But, what both of these books have in common is a foundational focus on the character and personal piety of the minister. Indeed, both books begin with this critical subject. Ministers should take special care of their walk with God, they argue, precisely because they are public, visible representatives of Christ. We preach not only by our words, but also by our actions.
Baxter, in his typical fashion, reminds us of this important theme:
One proud, surely, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing (p.63).
But, no one puts it better than Spurgeon:
Recollect, as ministers, that your whole life, your whole pastoral life especially, will be affected by the vigor of your piety. . . It is with us and our hearers as it is with watches and the public clock; if our watch be wrong, very few will be misled by it but ourselves; but if the Horse Guards or Greenwich Observatory should go amiss, half London would lose its reckoning. So it is with the minister; he is the parish-clock, many take their time from him, and if he be incorrect, then they all go wrongly, more or less, and he is in a great measure accountable for all the sin which he occasions (p.9-10).
Thus, as ministers, we are the public clocks of our world. This is precisely why James could say, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1).
For those who are more interested in the life of Spurgeon, check out this interested docu-drama below. I watched it with my kids and it was quite good.