Theodore Pease was a powerful congregational preacher in the late 1800s. “It is quietly assumed in many quarters that the special charm of the Christian ministry is broken,” he declared in 1893, “that the distinctive attraction of this field of labor is in large measure irretrievably lost.”
Now 130 years have passed, and Pease’s claim has been echoed time and again, but we have a better word. The Lord Jesus assures us the church will never fail (Matt. 16:18). And so we’re confident the ministry will not fall either. Yet in my labor at Reformed Theological Seminary to shape future ministers for service in Christ’s church, I’m also training them to seek revival. In at least four key ways, pastoral ministry is a renewal-seeking enterprise.
1. Pastors seek revival in their piety.
Pastors must be children of God before they can preach God’s Word (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:17). They must be lovers of Christ before they can preach Christ’s love (2 Cor. 5:14; Col. 1:28). They must walk with the Spirit before they can preach in the Spirit’s power (Gal. 5:16, 25; 1 Cor. 2:1–5).
In October 1840, Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote to another pastor,
Remember you are God’s sword—his instrument . . . a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.
Personal piety is always the first lesson in pastoral theology. What Christ’s church needs most are pastors thriving in communion with the triune God. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching,” Paul commanded Timothy. “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
2. Pastors seek revival through prayer.
“Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer,” Charles Spurgeon wrote. “He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office which he has undertaken.”
Personal piety is always the first lesson in pastoral theology.
Revival comes through prayer. Study any period of awakening in church history, and you’ll discover the centrality of prayer—public and private. We need preachers who proclaim Jesus Christ with compassion and courage. We need men burning with the zeal that comes from an inflamed love of Christ. We long for men who expose the secret sins in the congregation and lead them to the balm of the gospel. We need angelic ministers who shine with the eternal weight of glory. But if we don’t ask, we won’t receive.
Before a man can be a preacher of Jesus Christ, he must be a man of prayer. Prayer is one half of our ministry and gives the other half—preaching—its life and power. Men will never preach properly if they don’t pray fervently.
3. Pastors seek revival in preaching.
We long for ministers who prize the treasure of heralding Jesus Christ. What glory belongs to faithful preaching! It’s the ordinary means by which God awakens cold, crusty, and callous hearts to breathe in the grace of faith. Preaching is the chariot that carries Christ to sinners’ hearts. It’s the spiritual sword God uses to assault hell’s gates and ruin Satan’s strongholds. The Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) dawns upon the earth in his proclaimed Word to harden clay hearts and melt icy souls. Preaching convicts, illuminates, rebukes, encourages, and enlivens the soul.
Young preachers must learn what it means to herald the gospel with logic on fire and eloquent reason. Preachers aren’t merely to preach about Christ; they’re to preach Christ. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained, “We are to preach the Gospel, and not to preach about the Gospel. That is a very vital distinction, which one cannot put into words, but which is nevertheless really important.”
4. Pastors seek revival in their perseverance.
The first three ways pastoral ministry connects with revival are essential and probably predictable. But a fourth and final characteristic is often forgotten.
Ministry is a mantle Christ places on his servants’ shoulders. The weight is heavy. Shepherding is both exhilarating and exhausting. So as we prepare students for pastoral ministry, we pray not only that they’ll be prepared in piety and prayer and equipped to preach but also that they’ll be ready to persevere.
Our Savior’s ministry was one of unblushing activity. He never lost an opportunity to be useful to lost and weary souls. The apostle Paul trod the same ministerial path. With undaunted perseverance, he was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8–9).
As we prepare students for pastoral ministry, we pray they’ll be ready to persevere.
Instructing the next generation in pastoral theology means calling them to the Lord’s joy, which is their strength (Neh. 8:10). Apart from Jesus Christ, the Lord’s servant can do nothing (John 15:5). We thus train students unto readiness in Christ, a readiness for giving their mental, emotional, spiritual lives in the church. We long to place this verse a frontlet between their eyes: “So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12).
A minister’s task is to grow in piety, be faithful in praying and preaching, and persevere through trials, and so he sets Jesus Christ before souls, preparing God’s children to live well and die well. That’s the kind of revived pastoral ministry we want to have, whether in the classroom, in the pulpit, or at the bedside.