When we want to think about the shape of pastoral ministry we usually turn up Paul’s pastoral epistles—written to Timothy and Titus. This instinct is not wrong. However there is much more to learn concerning pastoral ministry, throughout the New Testament. One way to do this is to observe how pastors like Paul, James, John, and Peter shepherded their flocks through writing. For in their writing we are often afforded windows into their ministry practise, ambitions, and convictions. In this article I want to draw your attention to 2 Peter 1:12-15. It is a clear and convicting window into Peter the pastor’s heart, which ministry workers should seek to imitate.
A pastor’s heart must be concerned with theological truth.
Before we get to those verses, where Peter’s pastoral heart is perhaps most evident, we must consider both the book as a whole and its historical context. In short, Peter wrote his epistle to correct theological error. It seems that his readers were being taken in by “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). But far from theological error being simply a matter of the head, it manifests in how we live. Thus Peter has to rebuke immorality (2 Peter 3:3-4). This sin appears to have been a direct result of the denial that Christ will return to judge. Theological error distorts both our lives and our witness (2 Peter 3:17-18; Titus 1:9). Thus a pastor’s heart must be concerned both with theological truth and its expression.
Pastors Don’t Need to be Visionaries
It is with the above purpose in mind that Peter says, “I intend always to remind you of these qualities [2 Peter 1:5-7], though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in the body, to stir you up by way of reminder…And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-13, 15).
Peter was a man with wonderfully godly aspirations. These marked his ministry.
We could hardly call these words gripping. Peter doesn’t come across as a visionary or inspiring leader. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have invited him to your seminar on church growth and dynamic ministry after reading 2 Peter. Yet despite this ordinariness of Peter’s vision, he was a man with wonderfully godly aspirations. These aspirations marked his ministry. Now aware of his imminent death (2 Peter 1:14), the apostle plots out his hopes for this congregation. They are simple, revealing a desire for his congregation to believe the gospel and live consistently with it, especially once he was gone. This is a pastor’s heart.
1. Gospel Saturated Preaching
From those verses quoted above learn that the apostle understood his ministry as one of repeatedly calling Christians back to biblical truth. Even though they are established in their faith, he makes it his mission to continually point them back to fundamentals of their faith. In other words, Peter kept things simple. He didn’t major in the minors.
Peter makes it his mission to point them back to fundamentals of their faith.
The comfort and challenge of this observation is that Peter did not feel the lure of innovation, novelty, or trends. I imagine that today most pastors are tempted by all of those. But his pastor’s heart was about teaching and reteaching. Of course, this does not mean Peter only preached the basics, or that he was content with spiritual immaturity (cf. 1 Peter 2:2-3; also Hebrews 6:1). But it does mean that he didn’t feel the need to move outside of the revelation of God in Christ. He was content to faithfully preach the gospel, week by week.
A pastor’s heart is content with bread and butter ministry. Thus local church ministers should lovingly and repeatedly teach their congregation the truth.
2. A Desire for Christian Maturity
In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter lists a set of qualities or characteristics. We must add these to our faith (2 Peter 1:5), as we depend on God’s power and pursue godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Therefore a pastor’s heart will be concerned when the lives of those in the congregation remain unchanged.
Notice what Peter says about those qualities in 2 Peter 1:8, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful”. While the presence and propagation of godly characteristics mean productive Christian living, Peter then delivers an uncomfortable point about their absence. He writes, “Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9). The Christian is incomplete apart from these things, even lacking in assurance (2 Peter 1:10-11). Therefore the apostle seeks to stir his congregation up by way of reminder (2 Peter 1:13).
A pastor’s heart will be concerned when lives remain unchanged.
It is very important to note that Peter does not whip up spiritual fervour by something other than the truth. For true godliness is inseparable from the gospel. Nor does he resort to moralism, seeking to guilt his readers into action. In seeking to provide assurance he both reminds them of the truth and urges them to faithfully live it out. No pastor should be content with a congregation of nice people. Nor can a pastor settle for nominalism. By constantly sounding the gospel truth, pastors must exhort believers to bear gospel fruit.
3. Happily Overshadowed by Christ
Finally, a pastor’s heart does not aspire to be remembered. Any legacy is completely centred on others. As we have seen, Peter’s ministry pointed away from himself and translated into Christian maturity not personal recognition. There are no ambitions beyond that. Peter’s aspiration was that once he had put off his body his congregation would remember Christ. Admittedly, I am venturing beyond what the text says when I imagine that Peter would happily have been forgotten. But his ministry was clearly not about himself. Pastors must point believers to the true Shepherd of the flock (1 Peter 5:4).
Peter’s ministry translated into Christian maturity not personal recognition.
Pastor, what do you aim to leave behind? Does it hurt that you may not be remembered. Do you worry that they might never name a youth hall or library after you? If it bothers you then seek to imitate Peter in your ministry at present as well as your aspirations for the future. Here is a desirable, noble and God-honouring ambition: that your congregation will be able to recall the truth you taught and continue living that truth out when you’re gone.