I was flipping though my copy of Baxter’s Reformed Pastor this evening and ran across the following quote concerning the preparation of the pastor’s heart and mind before preaching:
Therefore, go then specially to God for life: read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are to speak, and on the great necessity of your people’s souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house. Maintain, in this manner, the life of grace in yourselves, that it may appear in all your sermons from the pulpit,--that every one who comes cold to the assembly, may have some warmth imparted to him before he depart.
I want to highlight a couple of thoughts raised by this brief quote. First, read a book—a good book. Pastors and church leaders should not just be reading books on contemporary marketing practices or leadership models. They should be reading books like Baxter’s. There is a depth to the soul they create as we interact with people who were close to God, serious about their souls and their minds, and serious about shepherding the flock all at the same time. I can always tell when I am not reading. As I prepare sermons, the books that have sunk into me sometimes come out in amazing ways. Their depth of insight becomes part of the insight my congregation benefits from. If all I read is written by sports coaches, leadership and marketing gurus, and newspaper columnists, then that is the “depth” the congregation will languish under.
Second, what Baxter means by congregants leaving with “warmth” is wrapped up in the consolations of the Gospel of Christ. Baxter strikes a note over and over in this work in which he admonished pastors to be solidly doctrinal, and to pass that along to the flock. One of the primary themes, in fact, is the necessity of catechism, or the teaching of right doctrine to the lay people. If the pastor is not serious about right doctrine him or herself and serious about communicating it, the congregants will not leave with “some warmth imparted to them.” The last thing Baxter intends to convey by “warmth” is a feeling of niceness or goodness left after a good story or two.