For there is no reason to fear that a minister, if tolerably furnished with gifts, will be remarkably deficient or negligent in any known branch of pastoral obligation while his heart is alive to the enjoyments and to the duties of Christian character. It is from the pastor’s defects, considered under the notion of a disciple, that his principal difficulties and chief dangers arise. -Abraham Booth
First, is this true? If Booth means something akin to “seldom do ministers get fired for skill but often they are fired for immorality” then it is only partially true. I can think of more ministers that are politely asked to step down because of inadequacy in their “skills” than because of immorality.
However, I think Booth means something more eternal than simply being asked to step down from a position. Booth is speaking of that which is eternal. We will not be pastors in heaven—but we will be disciples. Every faithful pastor is first a faithful disciple. It’s when pastors are no longer disciples that their “ministry” is longer fruitful before the Lord.
I agree, then, with Booth’s sentiment that pastors are disciples first. And when being a disciple is neglected the ministry will typically not flourish. But even here we can be deceived. Booth continues:
Take heed to yourself, lest you mistake an increase of gifts for a growth in grace. Your knowledge of the Scriptures, your abilities for explaining them, and your ministerial talents in general may considerably increase by reading, study, and public exercise, while real godliness is far from flourishing in your heart.
He then says something that I think all of us that preach and proclaim gospel-centrality need to heed:
I have long been of the opinion, my brothers, that no professors of the genuine gospel have more need to be on their guard against self-deception, respecting the true state of religion in their own souls, than those who statedly dispense the gracious truth.
In other words we can preach the gospel to others quite faithfully while neglecting to preach the gospel to ourselves. A pastor may begin his day in his study, a disciple will begin his day on his knees. A pastor may begin his day reading Scripture to prepare for the sermon, a disciple will begin the day reading Scripture to preach a fitting sermon to his own heart and soul. A pastor may begin his day thinking of ways to serve and extend grace to others, a disciple will begin his day pleading for mercy and grace for his own soul.
All that the pastor does, above, is not necessarily wrong. But he has to remember that he is a disciple first. Pastor he must; but a wise pastor will not forget that he is a disciple before he is a pastor. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is eternal—pastoring is not. Or to tweak a wonderful Piper quote, “[Pastoring] exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not [pastoring], because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, [pastoring] will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”
Be a disciple first. A pastor next.
I know that many of my readers are not pastors. You can just as easily replace the word pastor with whatever you are doing: mothering, banking, sword-fighting, or working in a factory. The main point still stands---disciple first, _____ next.