The Reformed Pastor: he shepherds the flock

Richard Baxter first published The Reformed Pastor in 1656, but stepping on toes and tipping sacred cows was apparently known then, too.

English: Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

English: Richard Baxter (1615-1691) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baxter pulls no punches in describing The Reformed Pastor , and pays particular attention to hitting would-pe pastors with the reality of their responsibility to shepherd the flock.Before going further, I should say to those who might recoil at the idea that Baxter, or I, suggest that all pastors must be Reformed, or that his instructions and guidance are only for those pastors who are Reformed, that the “reformation” Baxter refers to is not theological, but practical. Baxter does not address the pastor who has Reformed theology, solely, but all those who should be reformed, practically, which a quick perusal of the contents of his book would persuade us includes pastors of all theological stripes.

Baxter focuses on the biblical admonition to “take heed the flock” (Acts 20:28), and gives pastors specific things that heeding the flock involves. The pastor should:

First, “know every person that belongs to our charge.”

Here Baxter reminds pastors that the charge and responsibility are not simply to manage the flock as a whole, but to care for each individual who is a member of it.

Second, “be acquainted … with the state of all our people…their inclinations and conversations.”

The pastor’s care for each individual goes beyond simply knowing his name and whether he contributes to the offerings regularly.

Third, know the “sins of which they are most in danger.”

This requires that the pastor not merely preach on sin generally (if he overcomes the spiritual inertia and cultural pressure to do even that), but also be aware of the particular sins and temptations that plague individuals, specifically.

Fourth, know “what duties they are most apt to neglect.”

It might seem that this is the easiest component of “taking heed the flock,” at least in the areas of attendance and giving, but once a congregation exceeds a certain size, even this measure of spiritual duties becomes difficult to maintain. Further, Baxter’s encouragement would include other, less visible spiritual duties, such as Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism.

Baxter concludes this admonition by reminding the pastor that “if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians.”

Are Baxter’s notions antiquated? Impossible? If the pastor is not doing these things, or ensuring that they are done, who is actually shepherding the flock?

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