(Second in a series.)

Please allow some personal context for this discussion of training for the pastorate.

Generally, boys that grow up under a good father want to be like him. That starts with them wanting to help him—to work with him. Last Friday night I spoke twice to the men of another reformed church on why men need the church and her shepherds. We looked at fatherhood some and Sunday morning one of the men told me he found working with his children was an effective way to bond with them.

I responded, “Yes, and particularly your sons. Generally you’ll find your sons prefer to work alongside their father and your daughters alongside their mother.”

He seemed a bit surprised that anyone was making such a sex-specific point, but after thinking about it a second or two, he agreed.

Sons want to share the work of their father:

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. (John 4:34)

So you’ll understand it was natural Dad’s three sons wanted to follow him in his work, and that meant we desired to preach and shepherd God’s flock. Dad did it a bit differently than my two brothers and I. He preached and shepherded without having a particular church issue him a call to be their senior pastor, but he spent his life—and we grew up watching him—pastor God’s flock. (If you’d like to know more about Dad’s leadership and love for the Church, get a copy of Church Reformed and read about it. The book will encourage you to serve and love your church, and this is the necessary prerequisite to your getting more specialized training for pastoral ministry.)

So, as I said, my brothers and I grew up listening to Dad’s teaching and preaching and watching Dad and Mud’s (our pet name for Mother) pastoral care. Naturally then, we grew up desiring to share this work with them.

Myself, I don’t remember Dad or Mud ever saying anything to me like, “You know, Tim, you should think about pastoral ministry.” It may have been because I was the most unlikely prospect among their sons. Maybe they did make this suggestion to my younger brothers, David and Nathan? I know I never said a word about my plans from a very young age to enter the pastorate. It was that or farming, but pastoral ministry soon won out and each Sunday sitting under Dr. L. P. McClenny’s preaching at College Church in Wheaton, I would sit and think about how it could be done differently. Never breathed a word of it to anyone, though.

In high school I began to date my future wife, Mary Lee Taylor. Seven long years later we married, at which point Mary Lee was shocked to find out it was my plan for her to be a pastor’s wife! We’d loved each other quite a while already, but I’d never breathed a word of it, even to her.

Truth be told, I think Mary Lee’s parents and mine were all shocked when I took a year of Greek my final year at University of Wisconsin, Madison. “What on earth is he taking Greek for?” They were shocked to learn I was planning to follow my university BA with a seminary MDiv.

All this to say that there’s nothing wrong, and much very right, with a son wanting to do the work he grows up watching his father doing. This is the principle of the Levitical priesthood established by God. Assuming the birth of a son, this is the principle of succession in monarchy. This is the principle of the family farm. This was Isaac, Jacob, Esau shepherding after their father. This was the Apostle Paul’s beloved “son” Timothy being taught to shepherd God’s flock as Paul himself did.

In the dedication of his commentary on Acts to the king of Denmark, Calvin sp0ke of this:

It is a matter of such great importance for noble and wise princes to be set over the world by God. …But so that such an extraordinary blessing of God might not be lost through the death of one man, as usually often happens, the succession of his son was added to preserve the situation for a long time, for he would continue and establish the order admirably set up under the father’s auspices. Sometimes it does indeed happen that sons are not only unlike their fathers, but that when they have gained power…they allow themselves just as much freedom to violate the father’s laws, as if they were eagerly attacking the greatest of enemies. But god has generously provided for the kingdom of Denmark in this respect, that you are a most outstanding king, with the heroic stamp of your father’s nature, educated in his most virtuous discipline, having embraced the way of life delivered by him from hand to hand, as the saying goes, and think of nothing else but following in his footsteps…

And I do not doubt that among the principle gifts of God, with which he is splendidly adorned, he justifiably counted this, that a son was given to him, not only one to whose fidelity he may safely entrust his kingdom, but one from whose services he may now receive other fruits in very great abundance, as well as feeling a certain alleviation.1

Across history, we see this pattern of sons doing the work of their fathers; and not just generally, but also in the church. Jonathan Edward’s dad was a shepherd of God’s flock and Jonathan soon succeeded his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, as the pastor of the church of Northampton, Massachusetts. Sometimes, family succession in pastoral ministry skips a generation or two, but when we went back and looked at our family tree, it was amazing how many ancestors here and in Ireland served as Presbyterian pastors or married Presbyterian pastors.

Why write about this in a series on training for pastoral ministry?

Because the same people who are prepared to discourage men from aspiring to shepherd God’s flock unless “they can’t do anything else” are even more likely to discourage men from following in the footsteps of their father if he’s a pastor. A hyperspiritualized mystical view of the call to pastoral ministry prone to telling men it’s wrong to desire this calling doesn’t just fly in the face of the Apostle Paul’s statement that shepherding God’s flock is a “good thing” to desire. It also runs counter to the normal desire God places in sons to share their father’s work.

My two brothers David and Nathan (now deceased) and I all quite naturally desired to follow Dad in his work, so all three of us went to seminary, got our MDivs, received a call to a local church, were ordained, and gave our lives to shepherding God’s flock.

We all went to the same seminary for the same reasons, and in the next post in this series I will explain why we all went to seminary and what advice Dad had for us about being trained for pastoral ministry by a seminary.

His advice is surprising and will begin to open up why we are now encouraging men to be trained in pastors colleges, instead.

(Second in a series. To be continued.)

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1Calvin in his dedication of the second part of his commentary on the book of Acts, “For the most serene King-Elect of Denmark and Norway, Frederick, the most excellent son of King Christian.” (in 1542 the father, King Christian III, had caused him to be elected to share the royal authority with him when he was still a boy of eight. He succeeded his father to the throne on his father’s death in 1559.

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