Christ’s church needs preachers. She is no employment agency or recruitment center that uses flashy ads and promises of earthly bonuses. She is the church. As church, she sends out the cry: “We need preachers!” She urges the Head of the church, the Lord of the harvest: “Send labourers!” (Matt. 9:38; Luke 10:2). She asks, seeks, and knocks, so that God will give her what she needs.
The church needs preachers.
The PRC feel this (enduring) need in a sharp way at present. With five vacant pulpits, over a thousand members are without an undershepherd. In addition, the Lord has removed some ministers and missionaries in various ways, at the same time that He gives more pulpits to fill. When this summer’s synod meets, she will confront the policy: call another man to the seminary because our eldest faculty member will, by that time, be sixty-six years old—emptying another parsonage. And, though a decision to postpone implementing that policy is not impossible, it would only briefly put off the crucial process of preparing the next professor of dogmatics and Old Testament.
The seminary has students, but only five of them for the PRC. Two more are applying for admission next fall. But only one graduates this year (Mr. John Marcus). Two the next (Mr. Andrew Lanning and Mr. Clayton Spronk). One each of the following two years (Mr. Nathan Langerak and Mr. Heath Bleyenberg). All this, subject to the Lord’s disposition.
The church needs preachers. Soon.
Because of this need, more than a couple of the PRC synods in the past decade have asked the churches to “note the urgent need for ministers and remind the churches and consistories to press this need upon capable young men” (Acts of Synod, 2004, p. 24).
Besides, another not unimportant consideration: the church always needs missionaries. Even if the pulpits were all filled, there is still need to hear Jesus’ call: “Pray ye therefore … that he will send forth labourers into the harvest.” The harvest is “truly plenteous.” Now, as much as or more than ever before, the PRC membership have the financial means to support missionaries. Till the end of the age, God’s elect must be drawn into the church—the harvest’s ingathering.
The church needs preachers. Always.
The laborers are few. “Sovereign of the harvest, send them!”
Preachers are vital for the church because, by their work, God’s church is gathered, defended, and preserved. There is high regard for preachers, and earnest desire for one on every pulpit, because the preaching is the fundamental means of grace for sinners.
The PRC member has high regard for preachers, not first of all because the young people need a role model, not because they want others to think well of their congregation and be attracted to join, not because the elders can hardly shoulder the weight of teaching catechism. Though who would deny the importance of each of these?
Rather, the Reformed church member has highest regard for preachers and entreats God for them because of their primary work: preaching. Preaching is the power to gather the harvest, from within and without. By preaching, God lives covenantally with His gathered family. Preaching is the heart of the church’s worship. By preaching, God is glorified. Nothing is more important to the believer than this.
We pray that God will use the Standard Bearer to maintain in the PRC (and the rest of the Reformed church world) the living and clear consciousness that the church needs preachers because:
* Preaching is the powerful means to save sinners.
By preaching, the elect come to faith (“faith cometh by hearing…”), believers receive the gift of justification (“the just shall live by faith”), the righteous are made holy (“sanctify them by thy truth: thy word is truth”), and saints are preserved to the end (“holy Father, keep through thine own name…”). Because the gospel is covenantal, God not only befriends believers through preaching, He also draws their elect children to Him by it. Knowing this, Reformed churches will never allow the preaching to be replaced by games or gimmicks, films or programs, bands or music. Preaching saves.
* Preaching is such a power because in the preaching Christ speaks.
Calvin taught his flock that “the office of teaching is committed to pastors for no other purpose than that God alone may be heard there,” and that “Christ acts by ministers in such a manner that he wishes their mouth to be reckoned as his mouth, and their lips as his lips.” To believe anything less of preaching is to dishonor Jesus Christ who says, still in 2005: “My sheep hear my voice.” The Spirit-inspired Paul told the church, “when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (I Thess 2:13). Reformed believers confess, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God” (II Helvetic Confession, Chapter 1: emphasis mine: BLG).
* Preaching is the voice of Christ for the church, His Body and Bride.
God forbid that Reformed believers get the sense that preaching is politicking for earthly influence or, worse, for establishing an earthly kingdom in the “city.” Faithful preaching—let us never lose this sense—proclaims the kingdom of God in the church, and over against the kingdom of Antichrist, the threatening and powerful kingdom of this world. Reformed believers seek preachers who antithetically focus on God’s glory in the church. They train preachers to be “churchmen.” These men of the church feed the flock “with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15) that every member is a pilgrim here, for the church’s sake. “The time is short…the fashion of this world passeth away.” So we call our preachers to resist the thousand distractions and keep up with their essential work: 1) public preaching, 2) teaching the youth, 3) ministering the Word “from house to house,” and 4) evangelism to gather the lost sheep into the fold of the church.
* For the preaching to be a saving power, it must be true to Scripture.
Not all preaching saves. In much preaching is heard the growl and howl of wolves (Acts 20:29, 30), the roar of devouring lions (I Pet. 5:8), and the voice of a dragon (Rev. 13:11). With foul breath, these herald a “salvation” that is by man, and for man. This preaching scatters rather than gathers, destroys rather than saves! Reformed believers pray that their ministers are willing, with Luther, to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” for the sake of true doctrine.
* Therefore, it will be fatal for the church to be without the gift of good preachers.
“Nothing is more ruinous for the church than for God to take away faithful pastors,” Calvin wrote in explaining God’s good promise inJeremiah 3:15: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart….” He knew the ecclesiastical wrecks caused by infidel pastors. Pray the Lord provide us with believing preachers. May He deliver us from members whose itching ears cannot endure them. May He create in us the spirit to “receive (our) minister in the Lord with all gladness,” and to “let the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace…be beautiful and pleasant unto” us (Form for Ordination of Ministers). And may He maintain among us a church-run seminary where the professors truly know God (with all that this implies).
But the church must do more than pray.
She must be busy “exerting herself…that there may be students …to be trained for the ministry of the Word” (The Church Order, Article 19). The church should seek out good men.
The church would never expect a man to ask for the office of elder or deacon. But she does expect a man to propose himself for the preacher’s office. Of course, the process is different because the office of minister requires lifetime commitment and extensive training before a call. Yet the church could be more forward in encouraging capable men (even “pressing” them, according to Synod 2004) to go forth to study for the ministry.
The church begins this work through the parents. Christian parents will present to their believing sons the high calling of the ministry. They will count the costs, for they are high for the parents too. As they ask God for wisdom not to exert undue pressure (with disastrous results!), the parents pray for their sons and encourage them to do God’s will with the gifts they have. “My son, the Lord’s beloved church has great need for preachers.”
Because the Christian school teachers represent the parents, teachers will notice the capable and spiritual young men and ask them to consider the ministry. Has not the seed of desire for this “good work” at times been planted by a respected teacher?
Then there is the work of the minister himself, whose opportunities with the young men are so many. How I quietly delighted to observe the serious silence descend on the catechism room when I applied the lesson to the need for preachers…and silently prayed, “Lord, use this word to move one of these young men!” What delight when a pastor mentions at family visitation the great calling of the ministry, and the maturing boy responds, “I have given it serious thought.” And the girls? At times, the young girls may be reminded that Christ’s church needs godly, willing pastor’s wives, too, to support the ministers in their sacrificial giving of themselves.
Elders, take every opportunity to get to know the young men of the church so that you can observe gifts and see who ought to be “pushed” a little. Recently your calling has increased. Early on, you must be active in the process of evaluation (Acts of Synod, 2003, pp. 51, 52, #13). Then, with confidence, you can write the (weighty!) letter of recommendation to the Theological School Committee.
Especially, treat the preachers well. I did not say, “Pay them more.” As far as I know, our ministers are sufficiently supported. But treat them honorably. Pray for them at meal time. Esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake (I Thess. 5:13). Speak with joy of the church’s labors on the mission fields. Let your children observe this in you. They are watching.
If parents can drive children out of the church by speaking evil of the church, how much easier to drive young men away from the ministry by a critical attitude toward the preacher. But how a godly home that supports the preacher and the missionaries can be a good influence of God to lead men to say, “Lord, here I am, send me.”
(Young men, next time the question is for you: Does God call you to this rewarding work?)