A Spiritual Brotherhood
A number of years ago, Sinclair Ferguson made the observation that "the Puritan movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries...underlines for us the significance of spiritual brotherhood in the movements of the Holy Spirit." The more we study the writings of the great pastors/theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the more we find a close interconnectedness--not to mention a mutual sharpening--that existed among the Puritan pastors/theologians. Perhaps, this has been one of the most overlooked aspects of the Puritan movement as a whole. In the same lecture in which he made that observation, Ferguson went on to make an application of that fact for pastoral ministry in our day. He suggested:
"We need a spiritual brotherhood of brothers in the ministry, spread throughout the nation and the world. Yes, one the spiritual father of another, and another the spiritual brother of another-no hierarchy, no formal supremacy, not seeking to establish their own kingdoms in this world, but bound together by the gospel to establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ in a world that is in such desperate need. I dare say that God ordinarily does great things when ordinary ministers of the gospel are bound together as blood brothers, to live and die together. Then God has in His hands the kind of vessels He is pleased to use as vessels of honor for his glory."1
During my time in the pastoral ministry, I have certainly been on the receiving end of the blessing that comes from such an interconnectedness and collective brotherhood. The Lord has graciously surrounded me with some incredibly gifted, wise and godly ministers. While I can, in no objective way whatsoever, measure the end result of such friendships and ministerial fruit, I can observe tangible ways in which the Lord has used this spiritual brotherhood. Here are a few:
1. The Impartation of Experiential Wisdom Through Counsel. There have been countless times when I have reached out to one of the ministers with whom I stay in contact on a regular or semi-regular basis in order to get counsel about a particular situation in which I find myself. I have also been on the receiving end of the request for counsel from one of these brothers. Just as Christians cannot live the Christian life without one another, Gospel ministers cannot carry out Gospel ministry with care and skill without the aid of other Gospel ministers. I can only imagine how many mistakes have been avoided on account of such mutual counsel. It almost always proves to be the case that when I am facing a particularly challenging pastoral case, one of the men with whom I stay in contact has already been through that same case--or some case that is similar in nature. The old adage about not reinventing the wheel holds true here. Why try to pull yourself through difficult situations without seeking counsel from those who have more biblical, practical and experiential experience than you have? This is one of the greatest benefits of a spiritual brotherhood between ministers.
2. The Exchange of Valuable Theological Resources. Following closely on the heals of the first tangible benefit of a spiritual brotherhood is the exponential increase of knowledge through the sharing of theological resources. Over the years brothers in ministry have shared a seemingly immeasurable number of books, articles, sermons, essays, and blog posts with me. It is quite likely that I would not have come across a number of these resources if it were not for the intentionality with which others have shared them with me. I have sought to make it my practice to pass along those same resources--as well as others that I have come across--to fellow ministers who I sense might benefit from them at the stage of ministry in which they find themselves.
3. The Extension of Ministerial Outreach and Visitation. A young girl in our congregation was recently scheduled to have heart surgery out of town. While it is my desire and practice to be with members when they are in the hospital or scheduled to have a particular surgery, I could not drive out of town on this occasion to be with the girl's mother. The day prior to the surgery--that was scheduled on something of a short notice--I called two fellow PCA ministers in the city where the surgery occurred. I asked if one of them could go by and sit with the mother and pray with her--if only for a few minutes--on the morning of the surgery. Both men--who have full schedules, no doubt--made it a priority to go by and pray with this girl's mother. I realized anew the great privilege that we have when we are interconnected as brothers in ministry.
In the realm of evangelism, this often holds true as well. There have been many times when a pastor has called and asked me to reach out to one of their family members or former church members who have moved to our town. When we are living in loving spiritual fellowship with other men in ministry, we have the opportunity to share in the work of the Kingdom of God with them--even when we are separated by geographical limitations.
There are many others ways in which "God does great things when ordinary ministers of the gospel are bound together as blood brothers, to live and die together." If Gospel ministers would ask God to increase in their hearts and minds a desire to intentionally integrate themselves into such spiritual brotherhoods, I am certain that we would be encouraged and astonished by what great things God will do through them.
1. An excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson's lecture "The Puritans: Can They Teach Us Anything Today?" delivered at the dedication of the Purtian Research Center at PRTS on October 20, 2005.