Three Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Note: Today I have Ian Macleod as my guest contributor. Born and raised in Scotland, Ian is a Th.M. graduate of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. In 2015 he was ordained to the ministry at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church where he continues to serve as a pastor and teacher. Here are his three reflections, reflecting on almost three (quick) years of his pastoral ministry:

1. Privilege

I count it an enormous privilege to minister to God’s people as a pastor and teacher in my local congregation here in Grand Rapids. Because we serve in a seminary community, our congregation is blessed with a steady flow of students and families that come to us and go from us from all over the world. It’s really a little foretaste of heaven. And yet for all the enriching diversity we have, the basic need of each person, and the great answer to that need, is the same – the Savior who was dead and is alive forever (Rev. 1:18)! There’s not a different gospel for the American, the Egyptian, the Dutchman, the Malawian, the South Korean, the Scot, or anyone else. “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). It’s the greatest wonder and at the same time the greatest privilege to me that the Lord has called me to preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

2. Personal Holiness

Alongside the great privilege of pastoring and preaching, there is also the sense of great responsibility. I must give an account for the souls of my people (Heb. 13:17), I must rightly divide the word and preach the word (2 Tim. 2:15), I must “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” and I must do this “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s no wonder Paul said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). And yet, behind all these things, there is the greatest and most convicting need – my own personal holiness. John Owen said, “If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” Along similar lines, Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” This is very convicting.

I remember, as I contemplated a call to the ministry, telling my minister back in Scotland that one of my great concerns was this: “What do I do if I am spiritually cold?” There are so many great and glorious texts in Scripture – “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25) – but how do I enter a pulpit and preach from these texts if I am spiritually cold? My late minister knew what I was speaking about: “Often I feel that the earthenness of the vessel will take away from the excellence of the treasure, but it is often in these moments when we feel we have nothing that the Lord comes in a special way with His grace.” I’ve often found that to be true. But equally true is this: the gospel ministry does not allow for spiritual coasting. The most important way I watch out for the souls of others is to watch out for my own.

3. Priorities

In working through a series on Philippians, it has struck me again how Paul’s priorities are Christ- and gospel- and church-centered. Some have used the acronym JOY to describe these priorities: Jesus first, Others second, You last. Of course, Paul is pointing us to Christ Jesus himself, the one who prioritized the interests of others before his own, and though “being in the form of God,” humbled himself to the very death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). The searching question I have often been confronted with, as I have walked beside Paul in these verses, is this: Do I have the same priorities he does? I want them. “Lord, the beautiful, mutual, Christian love between Paul and the Philippians, give that love more and more to me and my congregation.” “Lord, the love and zeal Paul has for the gospel, even while maligned in a Roman prison, give that love and zeal to me.” “Lord, give me, and give the precious people I serve, the same Jesus-first, Others-second, Me-last priorities more and more and more.”

Sometimes I have felt that with our busy, hustle-bustle world, our priorities have become somewhat skewed. We all have a tendency to think that activity is good, and more activity is better, and relentless activity is best. Activity is certainly good. However, my own increasing conviction is that our activity needs some realignment (which will probably require some decluttering of our schedules). There is a beautiful simplicity to what the apostolic church prioritized. They were certainly active, but after decades of observation, Luke could sum up their activity in the following simple way. Literally, he says in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to (i.e., they gave priority to) the apostles’ doctrine and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Lord, give us these priorities too.”

John Owen

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