John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is simultaneously a challenging and encouraging read. Pastoral ministry is serious work. It is not to be taken casually or viewed as a less strenuous alternative to a other professions. It is a glorious, demanding, painful, thrilling, satisfying endeavor with eternal ramifications. Pastors are charged with the accurate handling of God’s Word and responsible for the souls of men. It is no wonder why Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:16)?
Lesson #1: Pray for Your Ministry
It is Paul’s question above that made Piper’s chapter “Brothers, Let Us Pray” stand out with immediate relevance. In this chapter, we are reminded of a ministry reforming truth: God is glorified in answering prayer because it displays his sufficiency and our dependence upon his mercy.
This truth is intensified if one considers another truth: genuine Christian ministry is entirely a supernatural work. Regeneration, conversion, spiritual growth, heart-change, Godward affections—all these things can only finally be effected by God Himself. We have a role to play, but it is the kind of role a garden hose plays: a hose cannot water the grass, but it can be used by the gardener to spread the life-giving water to the dry seed. God must provide the supernatural element to our ministry, or church will be nothing more than a glorified social club, and our ministries will bear no lasting fruit.
As Piper makes unmistakeably clear in this chapter, if we desire to see God do the impossible—that is, change haters of God into lovers of God—then we must pray, pray, pray.
If we want to see the men’s ministry flourish with guys who are devoted to Christ and devoted to serving and loving and encouraging and admonishing one another, we must pray. If we want to see our fellowship classes glow with the heat of passion for Christ and for the lost, we must pray. If we want to grow in holiness and in love for our wives, we must pray. If we long to persevere in the ministry and finish well, we must pray. If we desire to see our church have massive saving impact on the community around us and in the world, we must pray.
Along with Piper, I “[r]efuse to believe that the daily hours Luther and Wesley and Brainard and Judson spent in prayer are idealistic dreams of another era” (57). I want to see prayer as an indispensable element of ministry, not just something I politely tack onto church meetings and before meals.
Lesson #2: Live and Preach Justification by Faith
Secondly, I was helped by Piper’s chapter “Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith.” I had read this chapter several years ago when I was personally struggling with assurance and the nagging doubts that pervaded much of my spiritual life. It was the truth of justification by faith which slowly but surely began to lift the stubborn veil of guilt and doubt.
Yet I wonder how many people in our church struggle silently with a unrelieved conscience. How many people under our ministries are walking in the joy and peace of believing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Christ has fulfilled the law and borne fully the wrath of God in their place? How many of these saints are regularly delighting in the righteousness of Christ? How many of our people are making little if any headway in their pursuit of holiness because they have unwittingly confused justification and sanctification?
We can’t brush off these questions as impractical theology, unimportant to the health and vitality of Christians. A proper understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith which determines the relative joy, peace and assurance of believers.
So how can we “live and preach justification by faith?” An essential question is answered by the order of the words in the sentence: We must first live justification by faith before I can preach justification by faith. We must be enjoying the peace and assurance that comes from a clear understanding of the doctrine of justification. Pastors should be able to rightly apply the balm of grace to their wounded soul before they can know how to apply it to others.
But as as we are personally making progress in this area, I believe it will be helpful to expose those under our care to this doctrine in all its fullness and to help unearth the underlying anxiety and spiritual disquiet that pesters their souls. Not only is accurate teaching of this doctrine necessary, we also need to help other others see for themselves how understanding this doctrine beyond a superficial level can begin to uproot their bent toward legalism and self-righteousness.
I am thankful for good books, and I am especially thankful for the men who have labored to provide such rich food for our souls and wisdom for our labors in the gospel. Piper’s book on the pastoral ministry is no exception. Get it, read it, and take home some lessons of your own. (This book was recently updated and expanded. You can find the revised edition here.)