Day of all the week the best,
Emblem of eternal rest.*
Preparing for the Lord’s Day is the obligation of every Christian, and especially gospel ministers. A part of that preparation means cultivating the right attitude toward Sunday. Yes, it is the best day of the week!
Francis Grimké has just the attitude we need:
Sunday is a great day for the minister; and if he is the right kind of a minister, it will also be a great day for his flock. Sunday is the day particularly on which he is to meet his flock, on which he is to feed them, to lead them into green pastures and beside still waters. It is the day particularly in which he has the opportunity of reading and expounding to them the Word of God.
How anxiously he should look forward to it, and how carefully and prayerfully he should prepare himself for it, careful as to how he feeds them and what he feeds them on. It is his opportunity, preeminent, of instilling into them the ideals and principles set forth in the Scriptures and upon which their whole future welfare will depend. It is to him or should be ‘the day of all the week the best.’**
* John Newton, “Safely Through Another Week”
** Francis Grimke, Meditations on Preaching (Log College Press, 2018), 88.
My first attempt to become a candidate for ministry stalled in the early 80s. I was a member of a rural church in Middle Tennessee, and my session enthusiastically recommended me to Presbytery. We were an evangelical congregation in a theologically liberal Presbyterian denomination and that was a problem.
Far from home, studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Presbytery informed me that my candidacy would not move forward. I was so disappointed. Soon, notes and letters began arriving from members of my congregation telling me how proud they were of me, assuring me of their prayers, and urging me to persevere. Notes and letters from caring people were God’s gift to me – just at the right moment when I needed that encouragement to persevere.
Throughout my life people have taken time to write me. A grandparent and aunt, a father, and many, many members of my church families. Depending on the situation, they have buoyed my spirits, comforted me in sadness, and inspired me to achieve. Some were sent just to make me laugh – which, I’m told, is pretty good medicine.
I’ve been blessed by notes and letters, so it’s not surprising that I want to bless others through my own writing. And I want to encourage you to write as you serve the church while preparing for ministry.
Why write? After all, it’s so easy to call or email.
- Notes and letters take time and effort to compose, a fact not lost on me when I discover a letter in my mailbox. Someone has given of himself in my behalf.
- Notes and letters are easily accessible. Put them on your desk or nightstand. Read and reread them. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
- Notes and letters endure. I have letters that I’ve kept for more than fifty years. One, a lengthy letter from my Dad, was written to answer questions I asked about military service. Though he’s no longer with me, his voice continues to speak through the written word.
When to write:
- To say “thank you.” We should thank others for gifts of kindness. We owe it to those who’ve gone out of their way to be kind to us. And saying thank you is good for us. Isn’t thanksgiving the remedy for a complaining spirit? Writing thank you notes is one way to cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude.
- To congratulate. Celebrate promotions, achievements, and recognitions. Rejoice with those who rejoice.
- To express sympathy. Mourn with those who mourn. Take the time to think about someone who has gone to be with the Lord, and put your memories and gratitude for his life into words. Pass those words along to a grieving family.
- To celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. On those occasions, I write about a virtue I see in a someone’s life. I want to lift the spirits of a dear believer by letting him know that I see the grace of God at work in his life.
Notes and letters strengthen the bonds of affection between pastors and their people. Keep your eyes open. Look for opportunities to write. Make writing one of the ways you enjoy the congregation God has entrusted to your pastoral care.
First year students at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson are introduced to the remarkable life, ministry, and writings of Francis James Grimké through Thabiti Anywabile’s The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors.
Born in 1850 to a white South Carolina plantation owner and slave mother, Grimké lost his father at an early age and, along with him, the protective care that sheltered him from some of the inherent brutality of the slave system. After escaping the cruelty of a white half-brother, he was recaptured and sold to a Confederate officer.
After emancipation, Grimké proved himself a gifted and industrious student, graduating from Lincoln University and, later, Princeton Theological Seminary. At Princeton, he was among the last of Charles Hodge’s students. Ordained in 1878, he would spend most of the next 50 years serving Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., where he distinguished himself as a vocal advocate for biblical Christianity and racial equality.
Thanks to Log College Press, second year students will now read Grimké’s Meditations on Preaching, a gem of a book, full of biblical wisdom and common sense. Indeed, anyone interested in the faithful ministry of the word will want to purchase and read.*
Grimké reminds ministers that their work “is a most serious business – the business of calling men to repentance and faith, of warning them against a life of sin, and of showing them the better way through faith in Jesus Christ.” (15)
The minister must pay strict attention to his preaching. “The business of the preacher is to state the truth of God, clearly, fully, simply; the rest the Spirit will take care of. We need not trouble ourselves about the survival of Christianity. God will take care of that; what we need to be concerned about is that we faithfully preach it, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (33)
The minister must not waver in his determination to preach the Bible. “It is God’s Word that the people need to hear, whether they wish to hear it or not, and it is the special mission of the minister to see that they hear it.” (70)
Preaching “helpful” sermons should be the goal of every preacher. A sermon is helpful when it “awakens us to a sense of our condition, our failings, shortcoming, imperfections, and at the same time, so sets before us the higher, purer nobler, things that are open to us as to create within us a desire for them and to start us in the direction of them.” (85) “This thought of preaching helpful sermons is one that cannot be too strongly emphasized. If it is not to help people to be better, purer, nobler, more Christ-like of what value is it?” (86)
Before setting foot in a pulpit, wise ministers will put their labors in eternal perspective: “Before we speak again, we may be in eternity; before they hear again the message, they may be in eternity. Into every effort, therefore, we should put our best, we should enter with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (94)
The minister must pay strict attention not only to his preaching but also to his character, taking care to cultivate a life worthy of his calling. He “should be a man of brains, of sense, of high character, of piety. The ministry is no place for a fool, for a rogue, for a hypocrite, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He must be a man of sense, of intelligence, an upright and God-fearing man.” (42) Ministry is hard work, and “a man who is not willing always to make the proper preparation has no business in the pulpit, and the sooner he gets out of it the better.” (43)
Although the minister must not ignore wrong, pointing it out should not become the chief part of his work. He must guard against a “scolding ministry,” which “is not likely to be a happy one or a helpful one. . . . People get tired very soon with that kind of ministry.” (49) “Religion should be presented as an attractive, not as a repelling force.” (74)
I found particularly moving Grimké’s reflection on 50 years of ministry, which is full of gospel trust. “I am fully aware of the fact that I am not now, and never have been all that [I] ought to be. All that I ought to be, however, I most earnestly desire to be. Fortunately, it is not in our own righteousness, that we are to stand at last, but in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone.” (40-41) Amen!
*The meditations in this volume are taken from The Works of Francis J. Grimké, vol. 3, ed. by Carter G. Woodson. Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1942.
140 years ago today, Francis James Grimké was ordained and installed as pastor of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., a congregation he would serve during two stints for most of the next five decades.
His Meditations on Preaching begin with this observation:
“Every preaching service on the Sabbath is a feast spread by God, and to it all are invited. But not a great many come, and the excuses given are various. Even professing Christians are found dodging behind excuses of one kind or another, of which they ought to be ashamed – excuses that would not keep them away from business, or pleasure, or anything they really want to do.”
Course syllabi in a moment. But first a word about calendars.
Calendars do more than remind you about upcoming events. They are an essential part of planning and the effective use of time.
At RTS, I want you to learn how to make your calendar an ally in completing your studies.
A good place to begin is your course syllabi. When you access a syllabus for the first time, review it carefully. Then go to your calendar.
- Add each class session to your calendar. For example, my Communications 1 class meets on these dates: 8/29, 9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26, 10/10, 10/30-11/1, 11/28
- Add all work due on the date it’s due.
- Think carefully about the amount of reading required. In addition to selections from other books, you will read in Comm 1 these books in their entirety:
Chappell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the expository sermon.
Grimké, Francis J. Meditations on Preaching.
Johnson, Dennis E. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures.
Still, William. The Work of the Pastor
Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church.
- If you find the amount of required reading challenging, do this: Build into your calendar a daily reading schedule. Break down your readings into manageable portions. Do this for all your readings in every course. Each day have a reading goal and meet it. I follow this practice.Each year I like to read one or two lengthy works in theology. This year, I’m rereading Calvin’s Institutues. Last year it was few of John Owen’s works. For twenty minutes, I read a small number of pages five days a week and easily meet my reading goals.
- If you already have your syllabus, start reading now! Read as much as you can before the semester begins.
- Use fall break as a reading and writing week. A seminary semester is fifteen weeks of intensive work. Keep the Sabbath. Build in times of rest and refreshment. But a nine-day break from your studies in the middle of the semester may not be the optimal use of your time.
- Don’t wait until classes start to work on assignments. Think about term papers and book reviews. In this course, students submit a 10-page term paper on Him We Proclaim. Each semester, I will have several students who turn their term papers and book reviews before classes start. I grade and return promptly.
Get off to a good start this semester. Well before your first class, coordinate your syllabi and calendar.
Rape is a horrific weapon of ancient and modern warfare. When countenanced by leaders of armed forces, it is a tool that brutalizes, demoralizes, and subjugates occupied peoples, leaving them hopeless and despairing, unable to resist. Those who survive the savagery bear wounds that never heal. Few survivors have either the desire to recount their experiences or the ability to voice articulately the cries of their fellow victims – which is why Nadia Murad’s The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State is so valuable.
One of the million or so adherents of the Yazidi faith, Murad was born in 1999 in the remote northern Iraq village of Kocho. Although their safety was always precarious, the Yazidis were left alone by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party to practice their faith and live out their lives. That peace came to an end with the American invasion in 2003 and the civil conflict that followed. Murad observes that while most Yazidis welcomed the Americans, they were skeptical that regime change would lead to a better quality of life, a skepticism that proved justified as Sunni insurgency gained momentum.
Reflecting on Yazidi culture, Murad observes: “We treat happiness like a thief we have to guard against, knowing how easily it could wipe away the memory of our loved ones or leave us exposed in a moment of joy when we should be sad, so we limit our distractions.”
Catastrophe came in 2014 when Kocho fell to ISIS. Most of the its men were killed, and its women sold into slavery. Her mind-numbing abuse at the hands of ISIS and harrowing escape to Iraqi Kurdistan offers a portrait of courage, perseverance in the face of evil, and a tenacious desire to see ISIS put on trial for genocide. The unexpected aid of a Sunni family reminds that human compassion can flourish where least expected.
Murad describes feelingly the plight of many refugees:
I still think that being forced to leave your home out of fear is one of he worst injustices a human being can face. Everything you love is stolen, and you risk your life to live in a place that means nothing to you and where, because you come from a country now known for war and terrorism, you are not really wanted. So you spend the rest of your years longing for what you left behind while praying not to be deported.
I want to listen to representative voices of suffering people. Nadia Murad’s story is compelling. Sadly, her heart’s desire will go unmet: “More than anything else,” she writes, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”