Lessons for a Young Pastor: Catechise those in your care

Every pastor needs a pastor, especially young pastors.  Timothy had Paul, and for young pastors today we have a wealth of experienced pastors (both past and present) to teach us through books, blogs and talks.

As a young pastor I want to and need to listen and learn from these men.

Here are some lessons I’ve learnt from Richard Baxter through an updated version of his book The Reformed Pastor called Watch Your Walk.

Lesson 34: Catechise those in your care 

Richard Baxter in his introduction for pastors urges them to do three things.  The first is to catechize and teach personally all who are submitted to their care.  The second is to practice Christian discipline.  The third is for faithful pastors to unite and associate with one another for the furtherance of the gospel.

Now out of those three things, it is the first, catechizing and teaching personally those who are submitted to their care, that Baxter stresses the most.

What does he mean by this?  He said this means six things:

  1. People must be taught the principles of religion and matters essential to salvation.
  2. They must be taught these principles in the most edifying and beneficial way possible.
  3. Personal tutorials, examinations, and instruction have many advantages for this learning process.
  4. Personal instruction is recommended to us by Scripture and by the servants of Christ throughout all ages.
  5. Since our care and love of our people must extend to all, we need to catechize and teach all in our congregation.
  6. Such work should properly take up a considerable part of our time. 

Baxter then writes about how he practically went about doing this in his parish:

“We spend Mondays and Tuesdays from morning to about nightfall taking some fifteen or sixteen families each week in this work of catechism.  With two assistants, we make our way through all of the congregation – about 800 families – and teach each family during the year.  I have not been refused by a single family when I have asked it to come and visit me.  And I find more outward signs of success with those who come than in all my public preaching. 

I am forced by the numbers to take a whole family at once, for an hour each.  The clerk of the church goes ahead a week beforehand to arrange the schedules of the timetable.  I also keep notes of what each family member has learned, so I can continue to systematically teach him or her.”

It’s clear that Baxter’s reasoning for encouraging pastors to “Make it your great and serious business to teach the fundamentals of the faith to all the members of your congregation by these private tutorials” is the words contained in Acts 20:28 which he goes on to expound in the rest of the book.

Paul’s admonition in this verse contains a twofold duty and a fourfold motive.  The two duties are to take heed to themselves and to take heed to all the flock, that is, “the main work of the flock that is thus to be done heedfully is to feed them or to be shepherd for them.”  The motives for doing this are: their office is to be overseers of the flock; the Holy Spirit whose authority has called them to be such; the church of God whose dignity is their object of devotion; and the tender regard of Christ, whose blood has purchased them.

Baxter closes his introduction with a really helpful remark for pastors to remember that flows out of this verse in Acts 20.

“It is plain then, if the flock is to be overseen, no church should be larger in size than the pastors can personally supervise, so that they may “take heed to all the flock.”

[Taken from Chapter 1: An Introduction for Pastors and Laymen]