Friday, 17 December 2010

The Reformed Pastor (Visiting)

Baxter was critical of those who saw their ministry as being restricted to preaching and gave two days a week to the practice of visiting for the sake of catechising. He encouraged his readers to distribute catechisms to every family in the congregation and then to visit each home in the congregation once a year to work through the catechism with them.  Commenting on Baxter, Peter Adam explains that ‘there are more forms of ministry of the Word than what we call preaching.’

This is not to say that Baxter only visited for catechism. He states that the minister must be diligent in visiting the sick. However, again such visits are focused on the spiritual life on those being visited, the pastor should be ‘helping them to prepare either for a fruitful life, or a happy death.’ Offering a slightly different perspective William Still suggests that sometimes even less focused visiting can be of value: ‘Some people gain the strength they need from their ministers by his calling to see how they are, making a few homely remarks, and going his way without any attempt at what some would call pastoral ministration.’
Baxter not only sees the value of going house to house to catechise the congregation but longs that congregational members would come to consult with the pastor. He writes:

What a happy thing would it be, if you might live to see the day, that it should be as ordinary for people of all ages to come in course to their ministers for personal advice and help for their salvation, as it is now usual for them to come to the church to hear a sermon, or receive the sacrament! Our diligence in the work is the way to bring this about.
The challenge to the modern reader of The Reformed Pastor is how to put this practice of pastor-led, home-based catechising into practice in a very different environment. For example Packer points out that Baxter approved of the parochial system of that time and so would have identified the whole of the village as his responsibility. The present day pastor has a less straightforward task in deciding who they should visit—as well as those who are members and attend church services, they have to choose what approach to take towards those who have attended in the past, those with a loose association to the church, and contacts that are formed that may have a loose association with another church.

Baxter recognised the fact that a minister may have more people in their care than they can know personally. He suggested that such ministers should seek assistance—even paying for such an assistant out of their own salary if needs be. In The Trellis and the Vine Marshall and Payne see the value of teams for pastoral ministry, although their main emphasis is on seeking volunteers from within the congregation to be involved in this task. They also comment upon Baxter’s model from The Reformed Pastor. Recognising that our context is undeniably different from that which Baxter was addressing—culturally, politically, socially, educationally—they suggest that his insights inform our understanding of ministry in the following ways:
- ‘Evangelism is at the heart of pastoral ministry …’
- ‘Ministers need not be tied to traditional structures but should use whatever “means” (Baxter’s term) available to call people to repentance and faith'
- ‘We should focus not only on what we are teaching, but also on what people are learning and applying’, and,
- ‘In many respects, in our era of widespread education, there is even more scope for Baxter’s vision of personal catechising. In many parts of the world, there is now a highly-educated laity who can not only learn well, but also very ably teach others.’

1 comment:

Delme Linscott said...

Thanks for this great food for thought.
God Bless you
Delme Linscott