Irresistible Grace & Shepherding

Front office and back office, cast and crew, sales and operations, business development and customer care: what do each of these pairs have in common? Typically, members of the first group in each couplet will have very little - if anything - to do with working in the second group. Such separation may be necessary for large businesses or entertainment productions, but what about for the church? Are evangelism and pastoral care two mutually exclusive functions in which pastors may, or must, choose to specialize? The doctrine of God’s irresistible grace – or, effectual calling – clarifies the answer as we continue our study through shepherding and the doctrines of grace.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines effectual calling as “the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” It is the Holy Spirit’s work of giving us a new spiritual vitality such that we recognize the horror of our sin and respond in faith to Christ’s call to “repent and believe” on Him alone for salvation. What does this have to do with relating evangelism and pastoral care to one another?

In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Christ Jesus identifies Himself as the “Good Shepherd” (vv. 11, 14). In connection with this self-designation, Christ asserts that He lays down His life for His sheep (v. 11), and that He knows His sheep who in turn know Him (v. 14). These are indispensable features of faithful pastoral care in the church. However, Christ continues in verse 16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” For His immediate hearers, Christ expanded the definition of His flock to include those outside the nation of Israel. What’s more, He has expanded the nature of His shepherding to include bringing foreign sheep into His fold, and He does so by means of calling out with His voice.

Christ’s earlier teaching in John 6:37-40 guarantees the effectual nature of Christ’s shepherd-call. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Whereas John 10:11-16 presents the connection between pastoral care and evangelism in Christ’s ministry, John 6:37-40 makes the connection between God’s irresistible grace and Christ’s shepherding of His flock. These realities have deep implications for our local church ministry insofar as we seek to relate the “front office” of evangelism with the “back office” of pastoral care.

When Christ ordains a man for gospel ministry, He sets him apart to shepherd the flock of God (1 Ptr. 5:2; Jn. 21:16), and to teach His church (Matt. 28:20; Acts 20:20). Furthermore, He ordains ministers to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth (Lk. 24:47), and to preach the word of faith (Rom. 10:8) for the salvation of those who would confess Him as God’s resurrected Christ (Rom. 10:9-13). Thus, we use different terms to describe the Christian minister: pastor, teacher, ambassador, evangelist, preacher, steward of the mysteries of God.

In fulfillment of these various but related roles, ministers confidently hold forth the truth of Christ, assured that God is effectually calling and irresistibly drawing His wayward sheep into His fold. Pastors are called to be evangelists. There is no option available to pastors to “specialize out” of the blessed ministry of evangelism. This ministry is characterized by great confidence in Christ the Good Shepherd’s purposes through His ordained ministers. The Good Shepherd, as Christ’s parable (Matt. 18:12-14; Lk. 15:3-7) illustrates, will abandon none of His sheep to destruction. Indeed, He shall surely extend His unfailing grace to the remotest bound to save His sheep. The call of the Good Shepherd is irresistible and effectual for those recipients of His grace.

Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC and he serves as Director of Advancement & Admissions at GPTS in Taylors, SC.

Zachary Groff