Wisdom for Pastoral Ministry from Abraham Booth

Abraham Booth

Abraham Booth (1734-1806) was a longtime London pastor and leader among the British Particular Baptists in the 18th century. Among his most famous books were The Reign of Grace, The Death of Legal Hope, and An Apology for the Baptists. You can find these works (and most of Booth’s writings) in the three-volume Select Works of Abraham Booth, which can be purchased at a very affordable price through Reformation Heritage Books. (Unfortunately, this edition is published as flimsy paperbacks.) Particular Baptist Press is issuing a new hardback multi-volume collection of Booth’s works, which is edited by Michael Haykin. Volume I has already been published.

In 1784 Booth preached an ordination sermon for a young pastor named Thomas Hopkins. The title was “Pastoral Cautions” and the text was 1 Timothy 4:16-“Take heed to thyself.” The sermon was soon printed and circulated among Baptists all over England. Among the pastors who were positively influenced by the printed sermon were Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Sutcliff, and John Ryland Jr. These men were the key leaders in the evangelical renewal of Particular Baptists and the launching of the modern mission movement in the English-speaking world.

In the sermon, Booth outlined ten pastoral cautions that are just as applicable to our contemporary context as they were 200 years ago.

  1. “Take heed to yourself, then, with regard to the reality of true godliness, and the state of religion in your own soul”
  2. “Take heed to yourself, lest you mistake an increase of gifts for a growth in grace”
  3. “Take heed that your pastoral office prove not a snare to your soul, lifting you up with pride and self-importance”
  4. “Take heed to yourself, respecting your temper and conduct in general”
  5. “I will now adopt the words of our Lord, and say, Take heed and beware of covetousness”
  6. “Take heed, I will venture to ask, take heed to your Second-Self in the person of your wife”
  7. “Take heed to yourself, with regard to the diligent improvement of your talents and opportunities, in the whole course of your ministry”
  8. “Take heed to yourself, respecting the motives by which you are influenced in all your endeavours to obtain useful knowledge”
  9. “Take heed of yourself, with regard to that success, and those discouragements, which may attend your ministry”
  10. “Once more: Take heed that you pay an habitual regard to divine influence; as that without which you cannot either enjoy a holy liberty in your work, or have any reason to expect success”

I would heartily recommend that every pastor, seminarian, and missionary read the full text of this sermon, which is available in Michael & Alison Haykin, eds., The Works of Abraham Booth, Volume 1: Confession of Faith & Sermons (Particular Baptist Press, 2006), pp. 57-84.

(Note: This blog post was first published on May 1, 2009. It has been republished with minor edits. Image credit)

Reconciling Congregational Polity and Pastoral Authority: Part One

Baptists have historically affirmed congregational polity, or the idea that the church’s membership governs itself by means of democratic processes under the lordship of Jesus Christ. But Baptists have also affirmed strong pastoral authority, of the idea that a church’s members are to submit themselves to the leadership of their pastor or pastors. Seminary students sometimes ask if these two ideas can really be reconciled.

I think I know why seminarians (and many others) raise this question. Many Southern Baptists have past experiences in churches where these two concepts weren’t always balanced properly. Some have been members of churches where the pastor (or staff) made almost every important decision related to the church’s ministry. There were rarely, if ever, church conferences. When the church did assemble in conference, they tended to focus almost exclusively on financial matters like the annual budget, building programs, and the buying and selling of church property.

Others have been members of churches where the pastor had little or no authority of any kind. Instead, pastors and other staff were treated as merely paid employees who worked for a personnel committee or deacon board. Almost every ministry decision was put to a full vote before the entire congregation. The pastor had to seek approval to make any changes whatsoever to the status quo. And if the pastor failed to toe the party line, it was time for him to find another ministry elsewhere.

In both of the above scenarios, I think there is a lack of trust between pastor and congregation, though it obviously manifests differently in each case. It is also possible that in both scenarios, the pastor and staff aren’t considered “real” church members, but are rather seen as either private ministry contractors who are working at their current church or ministry experts who use their present church as the laboratory for all their grand ideas.

No doubt most churches are somewhere between these two extremes, but I know of several churches that could accurately fit each of the above descriptions. And they are of every size and located in every corner of the Southern Baptist Convention, though I think it’s fair to say that in general larger churches tend toward an overemphasis on pastoral leadership while smaller churches tend toward an overemphasis on congregational decision-making.

This is not a recent debate. During the 1980s, one of the common differences between conservatives and moderates were their respective views on pastoral leadership. Moderates frequently accused conservatives of holding to an “authoritarian” view of pastoral ministry. Conservatives responded that too many moderates downplayed pastoral leadership and advocated a polity that was too egalitarian in terms of roles and responsibilities. In 1988, The Theological Educator at New Orleans Seminary even invited Richard Land and Ralph Langley to dialog on this debate in a special issue dedicated to “Polarities in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Land represented conservatives and Langley represented moderates.

For my part, I’m convinced congregationalism and pastoral authority can be reconciled. In my opinion, when we look at all the New Testament has to say about church structure and leadership, and when we take into account the reality that we cannot perfectly replicate their model because there are no contemporary apostles who exercise unilateral authority over churches, it seems like the best way to apply apostolic practices to contemporary churches is something like the following:

  • A healthy local church is an assembly of regenerated individuals who testify to their salvation by confessor immersion and covenant together for the sake of the gospel
  • Local churches are ultimately ruled by Jesus Christ, who is the Head of a redeemed people that he has called into existence through his saving work and who receive that salvation through repentance and faith
  • Local churches are governed by decisions made by the whole congregation, who constitute a royal priesthood in submission to the lordship of Christ as it is revealed through the Scriptures
  • Local churches are led by biblically qualified and congregationally authorized pastors who guide the congregation through their godly example and their proclamation of the Scriptures
  • Local churches are served by biblically qualified and congregationally authorized deacons who care for various needs within the body and thereby free the pastors to concentrate on the ministries of prayer and proclamation

I think most Baptist churches would affirm something like the above, though not every church would say it exactly the same way. But as with so many debates, the devil is in the details. In my next post, I hope to tease this model out in some practical ways that I hope show that we really can be congregational and really follow the leadership of our pastors.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 7: Communication

I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.

Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.

With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 7: Communication

The seventh principle that must guide any new leader in the midst of transition is the principle of communication. There is much written and said in our day about communication. As we counsel men and women preparing for marriage it cannot be emphasized enough the importance of communicating with one another. As we think about our own relationship to God, the principle of communication is always before us. We teach new disciples that through God’s Word He communicates his plan and His will for our lives. We also teach them that through prayer we communicate our hearts to Him. Thus, we teach the most basic tool of discipleship in a personal quiet time with God each day, emphasizing the importance of communication in the relationship. Well, it is also accurate that a new leader, in transition, must truly understand the importance of communication with staff, with lay leaders, and with the church family as a whole. What must be communicated? There are at least three primary things that every leader must communicate: who he is as a person; what his vision for the organization is and how that vision will be achieved.

Every new leader must allow his organization to know who he really is as a person. We live in a world where privacy has been established as a premium. Yet, there is no substitute for individuals within any organization getting to know their leader on a personal level. This is especially true in the church. As I dealt with the Pastor Search Team, they indicated they were looking for four things in the next pastor. First, they wanted someone who preached God’s Word unapologetically, communicating God’s truth week after week. Secondly they wanted a strong family man, whose wife and children complemented his life. Thirdly, they wanted someone recognized as being a leader in a city where he served. Finally, they wanted a pastor who would love the people, and who would allow the people to love him. There is a desire among believers to know their pastor, and to be able to love him and his family. As leaders of these congregations, we must be willing to open our hearts and lives to people.

There must also be the communication of what the new leader casts as a vision for the organization. Every organization should have core values that clearly define who the organization is and what it considers its primary goals. William Plamondon, author of the article on “Energy and Leadership” writes: “Leaders need to help set the standards to which the organization aspires, to challenge its members with a lofty goal, and to make sure that everyone understands the goal and what he or she must do to attain it. It is the leader’s responsibility to communicate this goal in a clear and compelling way that inspires the organization to move to new heights and at faster speeds that it would ordinarily attain on its own” (The Drucker Foundation, The Leader of the Future, 277). John Maxwell, in one of his Injoy Life Club lessons, quotes the legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, as stating that there are five things that winning team members need to know: 1) Tell me what you expect from me; 2) Give me an opportunity to perform; 3) Let me know how I am getting along; 4) Give me guidance where I need it; 5) Reward me according to my contribution. Without question the new leader must communicate effectively the vision God has placed on his heart.

The new leader must communicate some specific steps that will be taken to achieve the vision and goals. Each year I have found that our staff retreat has become a real highlight for me and for other staff members. It is a time of vision-casting from my heart as the pastor and it has become a time of reporting what the previous year yielded in terms of successes and lessons learned. One of the greatest responses of feedback that has been received is the gratefulness for specific numeric goals that have been placed before them and specific ideas of programs to be executed. Each staff member has their area in which they are encouraged to dream, plan, and execute programs that will reach out to the lost as well as grow and develop believers. They must not be micromanaged, but rather they must be empowered to lead out in their respective areas. However, there are some major church-wide emphases that must come from the heart and vision of the pastor. They key is for everyone to walk away sensing that they have been valued, heard, and understood. This will be accomplished only by clear communication from the leader.

In the closing words of The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker pens these words: “Only executive effectiveness can enable this society to harmonize its two needs: the needs of the organization to obtain from the individual the contribution it needs, and the need of the individual to have organization serve as his tool for the accomplishment of his purpose. Effectiveness must be learned” (174). The issue of leadership is a multifaceted issue. The new leader moving into a role of transition will find challenges and blessings that will be very unique to the situation where he has been called to serve. And yet, there are some essential principles that will serve any new leader well as they carry out the call Christ has placed upon their lives. These principles that we have discussed are certainly not exhaustive. They have become in my life however, guiding principles that continue to impact decisions made and steps taken as I carry out this call of leadership in my own personal life. I pray that I will continually look toward godliness, integrity, courage, passion, compassion, competence, and communication as principles to lean upon each day.