It has been said by one great Reformed theologian that we are living in the most anti-intellectual age in the church’s history. We are the TV generation, making way for the Internet generation. Images tickle our eyes, and sound-bites massage our brains. We are, compared to our Puritan fathers, ignorant shepherds leading sensate sheep in a dry and dusty land. Surely what we need then is more thought, more scholarship, more earnest hours spent pouring over the ancients in our studies. Right?
We are worldly when we, like the world around us, give ourselves to an entertainment mentality, when we amuse ourselves to death. We are still worldly, however, when we rightly reject the eye candy and froth of pop culture and then conclude that our problems are intellectual, and our solutions more learning. It was the enlightenment, not the Light of the World, that gave us education as its high and holy sacrament. What Jesus calls us to is to repent and believe the gospel. It is more important to us and our sheep that we would learn to believe more, than that we would find more to believe.
That means first that when we prepare to serve in the ministry, we have to prepare to serve in the ministry. Our seminaries, if we must have them, should more reflect a training hospital than a university. Divinity is not a body of knowledge to be mastered like geology. The Bible is not a book to be dissected like Moby Dick. We go there, if we must go there, not to study the Word, but to begin to learn to have the Word study us. We go to pursue not advanced degrees but the fruit of the Spirit. We go to lose our reputations, not to gain them. We go not to be thought wise, but to learn what fools we are.
That means next that when we are called to the ministry, that we minister. Our pulpits, sadly, are filled with men who started as seminarians eager to shepherd a flock. There they were introduced to a dynamic, likely godly professor, and suddenly the student determines he will pursue still more degrees, that he might follow in the footsteps of his hero. As seminary comes to a close growing debts, a growing family, and a growing urge to go and teach derail the plan to become a professor. Instead the young pastor determines to take a church that his flock can become his student body, and His Body, a tiny little seminary. He will lecture then during Sunday School, and regale them through each sermon. The Shepherd, however, calls us to feed His Sheep. We are not to give our wisdom, our insights, the fruits of our scholarship. Rather, like Paul before us, we serve up our weakness, our frailty, our need. That’s how the Word breaks through, where the power comes from.
Brothers, your flock may need some more information. What they need more, however, is someone to lead them, to show them the Way. They need to see you repenting. They need to see you wrestling with your sins. They need to see you preaching the gospel to yourself, not because you like the sound of your voice, but because you hate the sin that yet remains, and you need grace. They need to see you rejoicing in the fullness of His promises, and mourning both sin and its fruit, the last enemy, death.
No man needs advanced degrees, and arcane letters after his name in order to follow Jesus. Which means that no man needs these things to lead others in following Jesus. If you follow Him, they will follow you. If, however, you merely tickle their brains, they will soon go off in pursuit of someone who seems smarter than you. If they are taught to hear your voice, they won’t discern the voice of the Master.
When our days of ministry come to an end, our labors will either be dust, or they will be dust. No matter how many downloads our wisdom garners, no matter how many journals publish our insights, these will all one day decay. Our scholars’ hoods and robes, pulpits and libraries will become mere chaff. If, however, we spend our days as shepherds, pasturing the flock, our labors will last forever. For we minister to dust, to men into whom the Spirit breathed twice. We minister to dust that is, through faithful, pastoral preaching, being burnished into the image of the Pearl of Great Price. Brothers, we are not doctors, but the sick, not scholars but fools. Let us then be fools for Christ. Preach.
"Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry" is the theme of the Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors (February 4–6 in Minneapolis).
The forthcoming revised and expanded edition of John Piper's book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is now available for pre-order.
Other posts in this series:
- Brothers, Praise Somebody Other Than God, Sam Crabtree
- Brothers, Live a Visible, Exemplary, Everyday Life, Jeff Vanderstelt
- Brothers, Supernatural Does Not Mean Stupid, John Piper
- Brothers, the Ministry Is Supernatural, John Piper
- Brothers, Build a Gospel Culture, Ray Ortlund
- Brothers, We Are Not Sisters, Doug Wilson
- Brothers, Train Up the Next Generation, by Mike Bullmore
- Brothers, We Should Stink, by Thabiti Anyabwile
- Brothers, We Are Not Superstars, by Daniel L. Akin