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In a day when many pastors are downplaying serious study of God’s word and the necessary time for their own sermon preparation, I found this quote from Andrew Pervis bracing and prophetic:

To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ.

Get out of your offices and get into your studies.

Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians.

Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time.

Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.

Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.

So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts.

Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is.

Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people.

Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ.

Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church.

Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly.

Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in.

He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.

HT: Wesley Hill

Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (IVP, 2007), 44-45.

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36 thoughts on “Pastors: Recommit Yourselves to What You Were Ordained to Do”

  1. Chris says:

    I don’t understand what he means when he says, “Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.”

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      Um, isn’t exegesis for understanding the original text? That’s not just for preachers and teachers.

      1. Ian says:

        Exegesis is for the whole church. There are endless wells of living water in Scripture which pour out over everything from the way the church organises it’s staff to the use of property and engagement with local business and government.

        1. Ben Thorp says:

          Agreed – I think the implication was the exegesis is not merely for the intellectual stimulation of the reader, but rather for the preaching and teaching of His people. The line above is “Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.”

  2. Is this really what we see in scripture?

  3. Chris says:

    I am all in favor of reading great books, by great men and studying the Word…but I would add, get out of the studies and into the hearts and lives of those you shepherd. Pastors spend far more time studying and reading than they do truly shepherding. Consequently you have a bunch of sheep struggling to overcome their heart issues and sin and are basically dead in the water. And they certainly aren’t taught to “observe all the commandments” that Christ taught.

    Preaching from a pulpit is a minor part of shepherding. Unless the pastor knows the heart and lives of his sheep it is very difficult to truly disciple them. Yes sheep need to be taught good, sound doctrine, but as important, they need to be discipled one by one and heart by heart. The pastor/elder that is not intimately involved in the lives of his sheep and helping them conform to Christ, is not doing what he was ordained to do. And I am afraid that is the case for most of them…even the ones many of us revere.

    A lot of sheep are pounded theology every week, but never receive discipleship and help to overcome heart issues and therefore they may know a lot, but aren’t that sanctified.

    I would encourage pastors/elders and those that understand the need to disciple to read The Reformed Pastor by Baxter, Instruments In The Redeemers Hand by Paul Tripp and Peacemaker by Ken Sande to start.

    1. Abram says:

      Chris–I agree that many pastors need to hear your encouragement to “get out of the studies and into the hearts and lives of those [they] shepherd.” While Taylor’s post is a good reminder, there has to be prayerful discernment involved, since surely some pastors can use the study as a place to hide from engagement in the lives of their parishioners.

    2. R. Delaney says:

      I completely agree with Chris. The ministry isn’t for bookworms with few social skills. That will kill a church. You need to be a lover of men, and that means more than loving to share what you have learned in the study with them. That means lifting boxes and helping them move across town, or attending their kid’s 11th birthday party.

      Bookish men who can prepare sermons, but not get their hands dirty in the lives of their people are not what our churches need.

      1. Matt says:

        Are you saying that we need more deeds than creeds? The office of pastor is the preaching office. What makes the office of pastor unique is that he proclaims the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word. I agree that the pastor can be in the lives of the flock but never at the expense of the Word. The proclamation of the Gospel must come first and foremost, for if that is lost, then we are left works, and works do not save. Only an extra nos Gospel, from the scriptures saves.

        1. R. Delaney says:

          I’m saying we need both, in biblical balance. A man who preaches to, but doesn’t know and love his people as he ought, will soon lose their hearts. That is slow death to a church. Trust me. I was a member of such a church for years. Theologically orthodox, expository preaching of Christ by pastors who were introverts outside of the pulpit, didn’t know their people or their problems, and who were awol when needed most (in their studies, enjoying their full time pastoral salaries for one sermon a week). When problems became apparent, they didn’t know how to address them…in spite of their theological orthodoxy.

          1. R. Delaney says:

            Remember, the ministry is about people…and helping them follow Christ. Not about books and theology, except where they serve the above purpose. A pastor who spends more time with his books than his people has missed his ministerial calling…

          2. Matt says:

            Several thoughts!

            Yes, theology is for proclamation! Right on.

            Yes, a pastor needs to be with the flock, to feed them the Gospel. When the pastor goes to the flock his number one goal is to feed them the Word. Apart from the Word, he has nothing else of real substance to offer them.

            While your personal experience is surely legitimate, I do believe that this article is hitting on an overall trend that we need pastors to be in the Word ‘more’ not ‘less.’ There is a Famine of the Word in America right now. Most Americans adhere to moral therapeutic deism or some form of Pelagianism.

            While the church has been ambitiously trying to turn the trends of declining church attendance something more disturbing has subtly emerged. Christian Smith and Melinda Denton state, “We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical tradition… It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.”

            1. R. Delaney says:

              My personal experience was a small part of my point. We do need faithful preachers of Scripture, but to say that the pastor has no real substance to offer his people but the Word is an imbalanced assertion.

              I have no doubt that more study is needed per the post, but the danger is swinging too far in the opposite direction. That presents a danger equally tragic.

              Lastly, do you really want to quote Christian Smith as an authority on what ails Christianity? What ails Christianity is professing christians like Smith.

            2. Matt says:

              Yes, I do want to quote Christian Smith. Both of his books “Soul Searching” and “Souls in Transition” have been very valuable to many in understanding the Religious Ethos of American Spirituality. Both of these books cover the results of the “National Study of Youth and Religion” quite well.

              Secondly, in light of your comments, what are we to do with the descriptive words of Acts chapter 6? “And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the Word.”

              It seems to me that Justin Taylor’s article is not advocating for pastors to go to an unbalanced extreme, but for pastors to be restored back to where they should be. (i.e. ministers of the Word)

              I am not trying to be rude when I ask this… “What is the danger of pastors spending too much time in the Word and in prayer? Why is this an extreme?”

              Finally, what can and should a pastor offer the flock other than the Word? It seems to me that he has no business and no authority to speak apart from the Word of God.

              Now keep in mind that there is an aspect of the pastor where he is a part of the body of Christ himself and a part of a local community. In being a part of the body of Christ and a community he will wash dishes at church potlucks, rake the church lawn with parishioners and attend local community events. However, I would see this as being a part of his vocation as a citizen, father, husband, etc… not as his main vocation/office as pastor.

              1. R. Delaney says:

                Odd that you should endorse someone like Smith who denies the inerrancy of Scripture, yet you want to put such an emphasis on the preaching aspect of pastoral ministry. Be that as it may…

                Acts 6 isn’t everything the Bible has to say regarding the ministry. Furthermore, your application of it is acontextual as it has particular reference to the twelve and a specific deaconal task. Overall, the Bible certainly doesn’t teach that pastors cannot be troubled with mundane matters like serving people, they should be praying and studying. The rest of Scripture doesn’t support such an assertion.

                The danger of pastors spending too much time in the study is that they become insolated from the real world, it’s real problems, and the real people who need their pastoral care. Have you ever tried to get pastoral counseling regarding a matter affecting your career from someone who hasn’t been in the workforce for over 30 years, for example? Theological study has to have practical value and application. What good is your pastor’s theological education if all you receive from it is the parsing of Greek participles and an explanation of the historical controversies regarding atonement theory? Let me tell you something, when the single mother with an abusive boyfriend shows up at your church door, you had better have something more to say than theological platitudes. Pastors who spend too much time in their studies can be as big a liability to the gospel as those who spend too little.

                The pastor has no authority to speak apart from the Word of God. My point is that he is not simply there to instruct from Scripture, but to be an example of faith and good works. Pastors are, in many ways, simply those who wash the feet of the saints.

              2. Matt says:

                My friend there is a fundamental flaw to your argument. You speak as if the Word does not address real sin and real problems. It is quite the contrary. It is the Word that speaks of real world problems (i.e. sin) and a real solution (i.e. gospel). The Word defines and speaks into our stories and culture.

                Pastors speak of sin & grace, Law & Gospel. When a person comes to the pastor about workforce problems, the Pastor is called to help identify sin and apply the Gospel. When the single mother comes beaten, bruised and scared, the pastor is to apply the healing salve of the Gospel.

                Furthermore, the pastor is not to be an example. He is to decrease so that Christ may increase. Pastor are to point the flock to Jesus just as John the Baptist did. Heaven forbid that we look to pastors as examples. We look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Pastor are shepherds that feed the flock by pointing the flock away from themselves and away from the pastor to Jesus their atonement.

              3. R. Delaney says:


                Scripture must be applied, you can’t just quote a text or regurgitate a Puritan sermon. Of course the Word addresses sin and gospel, whoever said otherwise? You are ministerially naive.

                You said:

                “Furthermore, the pastor is not to be an example.”

                Well, isn’t that a novel assertion in light of Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:10-11; and 1 Thess. 1:16?

                Christ cannot be properly preached without the living examples of those who preach Him. Otherwise, pastors would not have qualifications as laid out in 1, 2 Timothy and Titus.

              4. R. Delaney says:

                That last reference should have been 1 Thess. 1:6

              5. Matt says:

                R. Delaney,

                Scripture “is” applied when it is proclaimed. The very Word of God that spoke the world into existence is the very Word that brings about conviction of sins and creates faith (Romans 10:17). Keep in mind that the Law “kills” and the Gospel “creates faith.” How much more application do we need than that? The Word is effective, active, etc…

                Keep in mind that the Word is not merely informative words that Christians need to act upon. No! The Word is performative words that act upon the Christian. (Romans 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23-25, Hebrews 4:12) Furthermore, pastors are not merely called to announce good advice that is to be applied. Rather, they are primarily called to announce good news that is to be believed. (Acts 8:35, Romans 10:13-17, 1 Peter 1:12)

                As a pastor myself, if you ask my congregation about how good of an example I am, they will say, “Pastor Matt is a sinner who clings to the forgiveness and merit of Christ.” If anything, I have been an example of what not to do as I daily confess with Paul that I am the chief of sinners who has been saved by Christ (1 Timothy 1:15) If anything I have been an example of one who daily confesses sin and a pastor who needs the grace of God daily. I have never been and will never be perfectly qualified to be a pastor in light of the qualification put forth by the pastoral epistles.

                Think of Paul’s confession in Philippians chapter 3. He classifies his whole spiritual resume as “rubbish” (i.e. dung) and says that he is found in Christ. That is my prayer for myself and my congregation… that we would rest in humility in the shadow of the cross. That we would “not” think less of ourselves, but think of ourselves less.

                I have always appreciated this Oswald Bayer Quote:

                “May we and can we look away from ourselves and solely at Christ? Or do we look back at ourselves as made anew, seeking to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, in the progress we make, even in the sanctification that is said to follow after justification? When we are blessed by God and born anew, do we seek to feel the pulse of our own faith? Doing this is a dangerous displacement that leads us away from the Reformation understanding of faith. The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God’s promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God. That is why it is so important to take note of the means or medium by which justifying faith comes. According to Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing. It comes by hearing the Word that addresses us. It comes in the promise and pronouncement by which Jesus Christ opens up himself and the kingdom of God to me, bringing me, within the Christian community, back home, to paradise, and making me a new person.”

                Grace and Peace to you my friend.

              6. R. Delaney says:

                This has been an exercise in missing the point, but thanks anyway…

                I guess you can bypass the clear references in Scripture I cited about being an example to the flock, and insert others which are addressing other matters. Regardless, I know your intentions were good.

                Best to you


  4. Timothy says:

    One aspect of preaching that is hard to get right is the ration of visiting the congregation and time spent in the study on preparation. JC Ryle saw pastoral visiting as an essential part of PREACHING as well as an essential part of pastoral ministry. But the visiting can so take over one’s life that sermon preparation is shortchanged. Then the temptation is the reverse, to so prioritise sermon prep that visiting is neglected.

    1. Matt says:

      I agree with your comment and with the article. I am trying to learn this balance as well. One way of uniting these things is to realize that in visitation and pastoral care, we are STILL there to teach and preach, guiding and discipling those in our care into obedience to Christ. Thus the article is right, we need to be in the study again. As the Apostles said, “it is not right” that they would be taken away from prayer and the ministry of the WORD!” It is just that preaching does not take place only on Sunday worship, but also in our relationships and shepherding. If we meet with everyone who wants to, we will be shallow men. We have to be wise about this.

  5. Daryl Little says:

    I believe Wesley has it exactly right.

    Even in a smallish congregation, the largest impact of a pastor on the church, is in preaching.
    Even the most over-worked pastor can neither personally disciple nor visit everyone often enough to make a huge impact.

    The preached word, on the other hand, can and does change lives. Even lives that don’t personally know the pastor.

    Not that visitation and personal discipleship aren’t important, but if they trump, or equal preaching and study time…there will be trouble. Even if the congregation wants that kind of thing.

  6. Roger says:

    Curious. This seems in opposition to another Gospel Coalition blog post from just yesterday where we were told “Gospel preaching isn’t enough.”

  7. Robert says:

    I don’t believe that Justin nor Dr. Purves is encouraging pastors to neglect the hands-on shepherding that is so vital to pastoral ministry (I speak as a pastor). Rather, I think that Dr. Purves is attempting–with a certain amount of hyperbole–to establish a necessary course correction for much of what passes for contemporary pastoral ministry here in the United States.

    I don’t believe that our greatest pastoral blunder is that we are spending too much time in our studies as pastors today. We need to be in our studies and amoung our people, but I fear that the evidence for many pastors does not favor the depth of ministry that comes from what Dr. Purves has described in this post by Justin.

    God help us to do both well!

    1. Joseph Huang says:

      Amen! Pastor Robert, you are right on!!

    2. mike says:

      Yes Robert! I agree wholeheartedly.

    3. Jim Haw says:

      Good clarification Robert. The more in depth the teaching of God’s word from the pulpit, the more encouraged everyone will be to read their Bibles, having more confidence in their understanding of it. I have observed a growing functional illiteracy among believers when it comes to reading their Bibles. We live in a time where we are saturated with Bibles of numerous translations, great Bible apps and an overwhelming amount of Bible resources and study guides. Yet it is like having too much candy, sooner or later we just don’t want any more. So instead of preaching to the lowest common denominator, I would like to see pastors raise the bar and help people become self feeders of God’s word.

  8. Joshua Bolaji says:

    I agree with Pastor Robert. I have come to an agreement with the church where I serve that, out of my five day working week (not including Sundays), one of those days is dedicated to systematically visiting the church members. Any deviation from this is only in the event of an emergency, other visits are carried out by a pastoral care team; and we’re not a “large” church. Another four hours is spent in the prison and coaching football with boys in the townships. The rest of the time is spent studying and praying (roughly three and a half days). The lions share goes to the study of the Word and prayer.

  9. Charles says:

    It’s “both/and” not “either/or” when it comes to preaching and shepherding, people. The quote makes no claim that this is the only thing that matters for pastors.

  10. Matt says:

    “It is the Preaching Office. Don’t forget that. Your relationship to the congregation is the same as the prophets to Israel. Work on teaching and converting your own people– which includes scores of folks not on the books. Preach the Gospel to them — from the pulpit, the podium, the bedside, and behind the desk. They come looking for marital advice? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They come looking for sympathy and a listening ear? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They have a new baby, lost their jobs, are afraid of retirement? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified. Never compromise the simple Truth that has saved you.”

    Taken from:

  11. Tom Thiessen says:

    Amen. Good reminder. Also, when I see preaching in the book of Acts it includes publicly proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. A high view of preaching should include this as part of the preaching of the gospel by pastors.

  12. Bill says:

    If there’s one thing I have found to be true about being a pastor it’s this, people don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. There’s a balance between teaching and shepherding. God had issues with shepherds not tending to His sheep in Eze 34 and Paul reminds us in 2 Cor that while he not only endured beatings, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger etc., he suffered from “deep concern for all the churches”.

    God’s flock needs to know that we will be there anytime they need us. His Son seemed to have as much time to hang out as He did teaching.

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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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