This is my final post in a series I began over a year ago on “Two Men I Thank God For.” I am so thankful for the ministries of R.C. Sproul and John Piper. They have shifted my focus time and time again away from myself to the glory of God and the splendor of his holiness (Ps. 29:2, 115:1). These men have what I call a holy passion. Their lives and ministries are consumed with the reality of a holy God. This is what drives them. This is the legacy they will leave. And this is the legacy I want to continue.
It is the job of every generation of pastors to continue the legacy of faithful ministry. Paul told Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). I want to be one of those faithful men. I want to be entrusted with the Scriptures and teach others the same glorious truths about our sovereign God and our glorious Christ that I have heard, not only from R.C. Sproul and John Piper, but from Pastor Osborne, Pastor Pete, Pastor Jerry, Pastor Bobby during my time at Faith, and now here in Louisville, from Pastor Tom Schreiner, Pastor John Kimbell, and all my professors at Southern Seminary. This is why I am in Louisville going to seminary: To learn to teach others also. I want to carry on the legacy of the faithful men who have taught me.
Pastors: “God-Besotted” Men
What does it take to become a faithful pastor? This is a question I often ask myself. Taking into account varying levels of giftedness, how does one reach the sustained faithfulness of a R.C. Sproul or a John Piper or a Pastor Osborne or a Tom Schreiner or an Albert Mohler? I think what it takes most of all is a radical focus on God above everything else, a striking God-centeredness of life. John Piper writes:
Our people need a God-besotted man. Even if they criticize the fact that you are not available at the dinner on Saturday night because you must be with God, they need at least one man in their life who is radically and totally focused on God and the pursuit of the knowledge of God, and the ministry of the word of God.
How many people in your churches do you know that are laboring to know God, who are striving earnestly in study and prayer to enlarge their vision of God? Precious few. Well then, what will become of our churches if we the pastors, who are charged with knowing and unfolding the whole counsel of God, shift into neutral, quit reading and studying and writing, and take on more hobbies and watch more television?
In other words, it takes a holy passion. It is no surprise to me then that every time I visit home and talk to Pastor Osborne and update him on my seminary studies, he always tells me the same thing: “Don’t lose your passion!” Why does he say that? Out of all the things he could say, he repeats these precise words. What is he getting at?
I think he recognizes, rightly, that the most important thing a pastor must be for his people is “a God-besotted man.” He must be the one man who will forsake other legitimate uses of time in order to read and study and write about the things of God. His entire pulse of life beats to the rhythm of knowing God more truly and loving God more fully. And this, it is known, is the secret to serving God more faithfully.
Satan’s Quest to Kill Passion
But I think another truth Pastor recognizes is that passion can be lost. It can dry up. We can lose our first love. The love of many can grow cold. And that’s why Pastor’s words to me are both an admonition and a warning: An admonition to keep fanning into flame the fire of passion for God, and a warning to not allow the Enemy to douse the fire with his deceitful snares. Therefore I must not become lukewarm in my affections for God lest I gag Jesus and he spit me out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16).
Seminary is an academic institution. Seminary exists to give people an education. It does not exist to give people experience. That is what the local church is for. There are two training institutions for pastors today: The local church and the seminary. Both are necessary. But each has its own function. The seminary does “head” stuff really well. It equips men and women to think well and to think rightly about the Bible and theology. Thank God for seminaries!
But there is a difference between loving the Bible and loving its Author. All my study should serve to help me love God more. The final destination for truth is not the brain; it is the bloodstream. The greatest commandment is not to know right things about God; it is to love God. We fill our heads to fuel our hearts. Again, Dr. Piper says it best:
Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart.
So seminary can be a great place if used correctly. But seminary can also be a dangerous place. Seminarians must be careful. Satan can misuse the seminary to produce proud people. He knows that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). And therefore, Satan will try to short-circuit my study. Satan wants nothing more than to snuff out the heart-adoration of Adonai with the heady atmosphere of academia. He wants to produce professionals, not pastors; proud pedants, not poor-in-spirit preachers.
What must I do then? How can I cultivate and sustain a holy passion? I must stay on my knees. I must go to God in prayer every day, bending his arm to change me and make me more humble, make me more loving, make me more Christlike. And I echo the point of my previous post: The greatest asset of any pastor (and seminarian!) is people who pray for him.
So brothers and sisters, I ask you: Pray for me. Pray for my time here in Louisville at Southern Seminary. Pray that I will study in the strength that God supplies. That I will not just affirm truth with my head but adore truth with my heart. That theology will lead to doxology. That I will work diligently to worship deeply. That God will make me a pastor, not a pedant. That I will always remember that systematic theology did not die on the cross for my sins; Jesus did. That I will stay free from deceitful desires of the flesh and live a life that is above reproach. That I will be faithful and carry on the legacy of many faithful pastors.
I covet your prayers. Thank you for your faithful intercessions on my behalf. I cannot thank you enough.
“I pray that the great, initial passion of our hearts at the beginning of formal theological training would be the great, persevering passion of our hearts at the end, both of our training and of our lives. That we would say, we have not studied nor have we lived for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).” ~ Jonathan Parnell
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