Advantages of the Parish Ministry

It is always a good thing to rethink one’s calling as to whether the particular position that he has is the best place for him, or if he ought to consider a change. This question in certain instances no doubt would necessitate a total transformation in business or occupation. When a man graduates from the seminary, however. he faces a sizeable number of choices as to where he will carry out the calling that God has given him.

Now I am convinced that whereas God most assuredly calls those who are in the ministry, there is also a high degree of human responsibility that is present in the particular area wherein the minister of the gospel fulfills his calling. Among the choices that are open to the minister are included military chaplaincy, inner city ministry, foreign and home missions, going on to school with the view to teaching or writing, teaching Bible and related subjects in our Christian Schools and colleges. And of course, there is the opportunity to enter the parish ministry.

A Noticeable Decline – Now it has been my observation that in recent years there has been a decline in the number of seminary graduates who have entered the parish ministry. It can also be observed that there has been in the Protestant world, if not within the Christian Reformed Church itself, a large number of ministers who have left the parish ministry. In view of these observations. it occurred to me that I would like to present what in my opinion are some advantages of the parish ministry. By the very nature of the case, these advantages would be my personal feelings on the matter, although I suppose that most of my fellow parish ministers would feel much the same.

Nature of Parish Ministry – We ought to understand first of all what the parish ministry is, and how it differs from other ministries. The parish ministry involves especially the spiritual care of a particular congregation of people who have been committed to the minister by the Lord. This spiritual care is exercised especially by the regular and systematic preaching of the Word of God. Combined with the preaching is the important task of giving encouragement and instruction to the people by means of catechism teaching. home visitation, and calling on the sick and sorrowing.

With the emphasis upon the regular and systematic preaching of God’s Word, the difference between the parish ministry and other forms of the ministry becomes quite apparent. I do not intend by this to disparage other forms of the ministry as I am sure that they also have a place in the life of the church. It is my intention, however, to point out that for one committed to the preaching of the Word, the parish ministry has no equal.

Emphasis on Preaching – It is my firm opinion that the New Testament concept of the preacher is most nearly met by the parish minister. The emphasis in the New Testament is upon preaching in regard to the minister. Preaching is the means that Cod has been pleased to use in the building up of His Church. Preaching is that means because it is the official proclamation of God’s Word—it is the voice of God to the people. It is the prophetic word, “Thus saith the Lord” to God’s people. No other form or medium for the message can claim such authority.

Therefore if a man seeks to speak as a prophet of God today, then the New Testament clearly describes what he is to do. He is to preach. He is to declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” That kind of ministry cannot be carried on by a “coffee-house” ministry, no matter how appealing such contacts may be. Nor can that kind of ministry be done by a teacher, no matter how effective his classroom instruction may be. That kind of ministry can be carried out only by the regular, systematic preaching of the Word of God. So from the point of view of Scripture and its lofty description of the minister, I heartily commend the parish ministry.

Blessing and Satisfaction – However, the advantage of the parish ministry is to be seen also in the everyday work of leading a congregation of God’s people. There is tremendous blessing and satisfaction in seeing young people, for example, making spiritual strides in catechism and society. There is no greater thrill than to be able to bring comfort and encouragement to those who need it most, and to see them respond by spiritual growth through these experiences.

The advantages of such a ministry come from living among a congregation as a man among men, ministering to the people as an under-shepherd, speaking God’s Word with authority in humility and love. Such is the great calling of the parish minister.

Help from a Consistory – In speaking of the advantage of the parish ministry, we ought not neglect the advantages for thc pastor himself. The parish ministry offers a great and wonderful opportunity for personal growth for the pastor-preacher himself. It is true, I am sure, of every graduate of the seminary who seeks to enter the ministry, that he is both in+ experienced and, humanly speaking, unable to meet the many demands upon him in the ministry. It has been my experience that there is no better help than that which the consistory is able to give. Many a young minister has been able to see the guiding hand of God in using a wise consistory or a particularly capable elder in helping him to gain experience and grow spiritually.

Working with a consistory is one of the most precious and important advantages that parish ministers are privileged to have. I have often felt that candidates would be very wise to serve an established congregation under the God-fearing guidance of a consistory for a few years before entering the very difficult work of Home or Foreign Missions. A consistory that sees its task in a truly Scriptural light can do more for a minister of the Word than many hours of formal education.

Learning Study Habits – It is also my conviction that the parish ministry offers real growth to the preacher in terms of his studying, his devotional habits, and his sermon making. This is the most difficult as well as the most satisfying aspect of the parish ministry. A minister is called upon to do what is virtually impossible to do—prepare and preach two good sermons every single week. It was Charles H. Spurgeon who said that a good preacher can make one sermon a week; an average preacher can make two sermons a week; and a poor preacher can make three or any number of sermons a week, His point, of course, was that to make a sermon requires much study and prayer and time so much so that to do full justice to one’s work would be simply impossible. Therefore the minister does the best he can with the time and talents he has.

But in such a demanding calling, the young minister will have to establish study habits which will enable him to meet the responsibilities placed before him. Those study habits are made during his first years in the ministry. Because he is placed before a deadline—two sermons every week—he cannot afford to dawdle away his time.

That deadline (which Halford Luccock described aptly as the wings of a windmill that inexorably come around to knock the hapless victim to the ground) will make the sincere and dedicated minister a real student of the Word. For if he is serious about his calling to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s Word, he will become a student indeed. He will grow into a man who learns how to use his time to the best advantage, and who will be a workman about whom Paul could say that he does not need to be ashamed.

Enthusiastically Recommended – If you arc facing life as a young man and want something that challenges you to the best that God has given to you, I recommend the parish ministry. If you have a real interest and desire to work with people who really need the comfort and encouragement of the Word of God, I recommend the parish ministry. If you feel that evangelism is your calling within the spectrum of the ministry, I recommend the parish ministry where there are opportunities unlimited for evangelistic work both within and outside the congregation.

And if you desire to develop into a man of God with spiritual growth that will bring glory to God, I recommend the parish ministry. It is by no means the easiest form of ministry that you could enter. Indeed, many ministers who have been in various areas of service will say that the parish ministry is perhaps the most difficult. But for spiritual life and work, the parish ministry still offers tremendous challenge and blessings which in many ways are unequalled by any other form of ministry.

Henry B. Vanden Heuvel is pastor of the Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa.