Properly pastoring a church is a task of such tremendous importance that God by His Spirit confers a special gift for it. Only the man who has been imbued with this special gift by the Holy Spirit can do successfully the work of pastoring the flock.
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11, 12).
In our study of the work of the pastor let us first consider him as an individual, noting his personal program and habits as well as the manifold aspects of his program for the church.
It is well to remember that in this work the greatest men without God are dismal failures. The pastor's work is not necessarily one of skillful maneuvering in an attempt to meet demanding pressures, but a work in which the deep and mighty movings of the Spirit of God must be felt. When the pastor is led by the Spirit of God he will be forceful and effective. Therefore he should first spend much time in the preparation of the preacher. Then give ample time to the preparation of the sermon, until it becomes a part of his own being. His life must be a life of prayer, a life of communion in his own heart with his God. The servant of God has beautifully stated:"He who calls men to repentance must commune with God in prayer. He must cling to the Mighty One, saying, 'I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. Give me power to win souls!' "—Gospel Workers, p. 509.
"Nothing is more needed in our work than the practical results of communion with God. . . . It will give to the voice a persuasive power. . . . This will impart to the worker a power that nothing else can give. Of this power he must not allow himself to be deprived."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 512.
"Morning by morning, as the heralds of the gospel kneel before the Lord and renew their vows of consecration to Him, He will grant them the presence of His Spirit, with its reviving, sanctifying power."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 56.
Machinery is useless without power to run it. With power properly and effectively harnessed we have machinery to do the work. But at no time can we substitute machinery and organization for the power from above.
To keep the channel clear between God and the soul is, therefore, of first importance in the work of a pastor. This is the only means by which we may be assured success as pastors and shepherds of the flock, as God measures success.
To prepare an effective pastoral program the pastor must give study to the organization of his own daily program as well as that of his church. A well-defined church program will give direction to his own plan of study and work. He should ever grow and expand in general knowledge by reading and by diligent study. He must never become mentally lazy. Daily he must dig ever deeper. He must absorb in order to give.
Consider the difference between a fountain—ever ready to pour itself forth when released—and a sponge, which must be squeezed to give out even a few drops of water. What can be squeezed from a dry sponge? It must be dipped in water and saturated that it may give. So must we become saturated with knowledge if we are to become reasonably successful in giving help in our service for others.
It is easy to let our study slide because of our many duties. "What can I do?" says one. "So many things are pressing continually; there is just no time for me to study."
We must make time to study or we shall not continue long, for pastoral work is exacting. I offer suggestively the plan I have followed and found satisfactory. The morning hours until noon are kept open for personal study, reading, and necessary desk work. These hours are chosen because usually they are the least desirable for visiting. This is not always true, however, for some members prefer morning calls, therefore this rule must be flexible. But in my usual program the afternoon and evening belong to the people, the members of my flock, and to other interests that can be developed in the homes of the people and in public meetings.
It is wise to keep oneself informed on general topics by reading from reliable sources of information, for in mingling with the people it is of the utmost importance that we keep abreast of the times, that we may converse intelligently with those we visit, and through this information have opportunity to make clear some vital, pertinent truth. Our reading should cover religion in the news as well as general reading about politics, economics, et cetera. Go to the library and select books and other material containing comments on these topics.
The apostle Paul admonished the young preacher Timothy to give attention to reading. The primary reading and most important study for the preacher-pastor is, of course, the Bible. This I emphasize, for this is the bread of life. Commentaries and the Spirit of Prophecy books, however, are wonderful aids in Bible study.
Let me here say a word on the study of the Bible itself. We shall never be able fully to fathom all its truths even if we study it continually for the rest of our lives. At best we can learn only some of its sublime teachings, but we can know and understand it better than we do now if we will diligently study it. The Bible furnishes the meat that we are told to give in due season. We should faithfully heed the admonition, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
Has the thought of studying your Bible to find the key truth of each book and then studying that book in the light of that key thought ever occurred to you? This method will give a grasp of the truths of this message that no other study can, and will help to lead God's people to drink anew from that wonderful fountain of life. It is possible to obtain in this way such a grasp of the books of the Bible that one can compress the lesson of the entire book into one small capsule.
Take the book of Leviticus as an example. I choose this book because many find it dull and uninteresting. It, however, is rich in lessons that can be used to build the Advent people in the faith.
The key thought of the book is "mediation." This ushers the reader immediately into the ministry of Christ, first as the Sacrifice, then as the great High Priest. The book divides itself logically into four sections:
- The Sacrifice. Chapters 1-7. Christ the Lamb of God.
- The Priests. Chapters 8-10. Christ the High Priest.
- The Congregation. Chapters 11-22. Purification of the people.
- The Worship. Chapters 23-27. What constitutes acceptable worship.
In section 1 Christ on the cross is seen in the sacrifices. Therein He is the Lamb of God of John 1:29 and 1 Peter 2:4. In the burnt offering we see how completely Christ gave Himself for us, for this offering was completely burned with fire. Nothing was left. It is also seen here that He voluntarily gave all, and further, that He wants all His people to be completely dedicated.
In section 2 we have the ordination of the priests, and what a basis we have here for the study of the priesthood of Christ! The sacrifices of section 1 and the priesthood of section 2 together have but one purpose—the purification of the people.
Consequently, section 3 brings us to the congregation and their purification. In view of the truth God has made known to us, it is interesting to note that the first step God took in the purifying of this congregation on the basis of the blood of the sacrifice and the ministry of the priesthood was the giving of a program of healthful living. This is narrated in Leviticus 11, and gives the people health reform as the first step. Only as we eat and drink properly can we develop physically and mentally in such a way as to fully appreciate God's truths and be inclined to walk in His ways and enter into true worship.
This eternal truth about health and diet, taught as the first lesson in the third section of Leviticus, which deals with the purification of the people, does not complete the fascination of the lessons in this book.
In section 4, which reveals the true, acceptable worship to be given by this people whom God calls His people, we find that the first lesson taught them concerning this acceptable worship is the lesson of the seventh-day Sabbath.
With this brief sketch it is not difficult to see how by a diligent study of this book we may find a firm foundation upon which to build many of the doctrines of the church. We could cover other books of the Bible in the same manner and find in them the same doctrines built around the Lord Jesus Christ.
(To be continued)