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The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter is something of a classic in pastoral training. It was a prominent book in its own day as well, Thomas Manton said of Baxter, ‘he came nearer the apostolic writings than any man in the age.’ I believe this book still has much to teach us about the needs of the soul every pastor bears, as Baxter said;

“We have the same sins to mortify, and the same graces to be quickened and strengthened, as our people have: we have greater works to do than they have, and greater difficulties to overcome, and therefore we have need to be warned and awakened, if not to be instructed, as well as they.” (pg. 51)

What I immediately appreciate from this brief challenge is the fact that Baxter tells pastors that their calling does not provide them with less sin or remove them from common temptations, No, they have the ‘same sins to mortify’. I believe one of the greatest areas where little focus is given in the training and developing of pastors today is the area of ‘mortification’ – i.e. putting to death the sins of our flesh. We have several classes in bible colleges and seminaries on theology, church history, biblical studies; we have on average 400 hours of ministry experience to fulfill, but what we don’t have is an engaging focus on the state of our own souls. In short we are lacking ‘spiritual theology’ in our preparation because we are lacking spiritual journeys in our lives. Baxter’s message still has relevance and poignancy even today.

There is a matter though that i’m left wondering about, the second half of Baxter’s quote;

“…we have greater works to do than they have, and greater difficulties to overcome, and therefore we have need to be warned and awakened, if not to be instructed, as well as they.”

Do our works require greater care than theirs, or greater difficulties than the ones they face? I think Baxter’s thoughts here reflect his acknowledgement that along with their own burden for the missio dei, pastors as well are called to care for the church as she does the work of the Kingdom. Where I find myself at odds with Baxter is the langauge he chooses to describe this, ‘greater works’ and ‘greater difficulties’. I want to make a suggestion that is more than semantics, ‘wider difficulties’ and ‘wider works’. It is not that pastors do things that are greater than the body they serve, but only that their callings have a special attendance to church as well as the world. I believe this is what Baxter’s point was in the first chapter, ‘The oversight of ourselves’. I believe I’m just revising Baxters words here, not his message in the book.

Does my suggestion help, or is it an unhelpful revision of Baxter’s reflections?