Gregory E. Reynolds
The shape of something is its form, outline, or contours. It gives one a good idea of a large subject, but it does not get into depth on any one issue. That is what I hope to do in this essay: present a portrait of the office of minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Ministry in the OPC is essentially ministry of the Word (Verbi divini minister). As ambassadors of Christ, ministers must exegete and proclaim the message of their King. Understanding the text of Scripture and the culture in which the embassy of the church is established is necessary in order to be faithful ambassadors. All aspects of the ministry flow from the ministry of the Word. This ministry is confessional, means-of-grace focused, and pastoral in execution. The narrower—that is, more biblical—the job description, the deeper the ministry of the Word. That description must be rooted in Scripture, which is clear in our Form of Government:
Minister or Teaching Elders
2. Every minister of the Word, or teaching elder, must manifest his gifts and calling in these various aspects of the ministry of the gospel and seek by full exercise of his ministry the spiritual profit of those with whom he labors. As a minister or servant of Christ it is his duty to feed the flock of God, to be an example to them, to have oversight of them, to bear the glad tidings of salvation to the ignorant and perishing and beseech them to be reconciled to God through Christ, to exhort and convince the gainsayer by sound doctrine, and to dispense the sacraments instituted by Christ. Among those who minister the Word the Scripture distinguishes the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher.
3. He who fills this office shall be sound in the faith, possess competency in human learning, and be able to teach and rule others. He should exhibit holiness of life becoming to the gospel. He should be a man of wisdom and discretion. He should rule his own house well. He should have a good report of them that are outside the church.
Christ’s undershepherd in a local congregation of God’s people, who joins with the ruling elders in governing the congregation, is called a pastor. It is his charge to feed and tend the flock as Christ’s minister and with the other elders to lead them in all the service of Christ. It is his task to conduct the public worship of God; to pray for and with Christ’s flock as the mouth of the people unto God; to feed the flock by the public reading and preaching of the Word of God, according to which he is to teach, convince, reprove, exhort, comfort, and evangelize, expounding and applying the truth of Scripture with ministerial authority, as a diligent workman approved by God; to administer the sacraments; to bless the people from God; to shepherd the flock and minister the Word according to the particular needs of groups, families, and individuals in the congregation, catechizing by teaching plainly the first principles of the oracles of God to the baptized youth and to adults who are yet babes in Christ, visiting in the homes of the people, instructing and counseling individuals, and training them to be faithful servants of Christ; to minister to the poor, the sick, the afflicted, and the dying; and to make known the gospel to the lost.
There are sadly many misconceptions of what the Christian minister is. He is not a celebrity seeking to influence people through the force of his personality; he is not a chief executive officer or social organizer developing and directing a program; he is not a motivational speaker who influences people through stories and moral lessons, promoting a more successful life in this world. A proper job description comes from God’s Word. It is the ordinary ministry of Word, sacrament, and prayer. It is through ordinary men called to minister God’s Word that God’s extraordinary redemption in Jesus Christ is revealed.
An OPC Minister is:
The centrality of live pastoral preaching is the heart and soul of pastoral ministry. Nothing digital or virtual can replace this spiritual reality. The ministry of the Word of God—the reading, preaching, and hearing of Scripture—is the supreme act of worship. All else in the life of the church flows from this.
The Bible, not the culture, defines the office of minister of the Word:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.… And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:1–5)
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:1–2)
The ministry of the Word must be protected from the latest fads in worship. Ways of worship are not different “styles” that suit different people. They must be conducive to worshiping a holy God with reverence and awe. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29). For example, the use of PowerPoint misses the point of God addressing himself to his people face to face through the mediation of his Son via the personal presence of his servant, the minister of the Word. Screens distance us from people and the churchly context of preaching.
Preaching demands explaining and applying the text of Scripture, the “whole counsel of God.” The preacher must “handle the Word of God correctly.” This means preaching the Christ of Scripture in the fullness of his mediatorial office as the God-man and head of the visible church: prophet, priest, and king; preaching the whole range of his benefits: justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.
In Luke 24:44–46 Jesus reveals his Old Testament hermeneutic to his disciples on the Emmaus Road, demonstrating that he is revealed in all of Scripture, the TANACH (Torah, Neviyim, Ketuvim); Christ is the eternal purpose of the history of redemption from the beginning. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev. 13:8, NKJV)
… making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph. 1:9–10, cf. Rom. 8:28–30)
Paul’s conception of the preacher is a herald, not a persuader. In 1 Corinthians 1:21 the ambiguity of the KJV translation best captures the range of meaning of Paul’s phrase “the folly of preaching” (mōrias tou kērugmatos μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος). It is important to appreciate the proper semantic range of the κηρύξ (kērux) word group. Both the message and the method are foolish. “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The ESV, NKJV, NIV, unfortunately all opt for the message being foolish.
“Unlike the orator,” a herald of the exalted King “was not results-driven; he was obedience-driven.” He is an executive instrument of the Lord, declaring a message with the authority of Christ. He comes with an announcement from heaven; he is not audience-driven, meeting audience expectation as the persuader. This is why the Second Helvetic Confession makes this startling statement: “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” The power of the message is given to the herald by the King himself; it is not determined by audience expectation. As Paul says in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Elsewhere he asserts the nature of his ministry with a different but equally humble metaphor, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1).
So, the message, the medium of proclamation, and the messenger as a simple herald, are perfectly suited to the Gospel of the suffering and crucified Christ. The preacher is utterly dependent upon the persuasive power of the Spirit of the King. As even the Apostle Paul says,
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly (confident, not brash) to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 6:18–20)
Trusting God in the preaching moment in the power of the Spirit of Christ is where the oral nature of preaching comes into its own. The notes are not a sermon, neither is the mere memory of a text. The sermon is the communication of God with his people through his messenger.
Ministry of the Word is rooted in the ancient historical traditions of biblical interpretation. We stand on the shoulders of our fathers in the faith, especially as theology has been articulated in the confessions of the church, beginning with the ecumenical creeds of the ancient church. To shun confessions is the folly of starting over when mapping the complex terrain of biblical revelation. As C. H. Spurgeon once wisely eschewed such Biblicism:
Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scriptures without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd that certain men who talk so much about what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves should think so little of what He has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn from holy men, taught of God, and mighty in Scriptures.
The confession and catechisms are time-tested road maps of the Bible. While they are not infallible they represent the work of thousands of pious minds seeking to accurately portray the terrain of Scripture in summary fashion.
Remember, also, that these confessional statements are compromise documents. Where men of orthodox faith disagreed, they agreed that these matters could not be the confession of the whole church. We confess what we agree the Bible clearly teaches. This is the confessional mindset.
Public worship is the vital center of Christian life. Preaching, the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and prayer, enjoyed corporately, undergird and shape all aspects of the ministry and life of the church. This is the ordinary, or regular, way that God disciples his people. This takes place primarily on the only holy day of the new covenant era, the Lord’s Day.
Attention should be paid to what we might call “covenantal liturgy.” That is the form of worship that is shaped by the attitude of worship “with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Our directory defines worship: “An assembly of public worship is not merely a gathering of God’s children with each other but is, before all else, a meeting of the triune God with his covenant people.” The content, or elements, of public worship are not only to be clearly warranted by God’s Word, but also ordered by that same Word. For example, while that order will vary from church to church, God must be approached through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ with prayer for forgiveness and blessing before the other elements of worship can be engaged in.
This order, or liturgy, then forms the life of the church in this world. We are told by some that we must imitate popular culture in our “worship style” or young people will not come. But that stance shirks the responsibility of teaching a better way—the folly of imitation supplanted by the beauty of Reformed worship, formed according to the Word of God. Ministers and elders have a pedagogical responsibility to teach that worship must be regulated by the Word of God, that is the “regulative principle.” The forms of worship must be suitable to the content of worship.
A ministerial oath from Genevan Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1561 demonstrates the Reformed commitment to the centrality of the church:
I promise and swear that in the ministry to which I am called I shall serve God faithfully, bearing his word with purity for the edification of this Church to which he has obligated me. I further promise and swear that I shall not misuse his doctrine to serve any human inclinations or to please any living man, but that I shall employ it conscientiously to serve his glory and for the use of his people, to whom I am debtor.
Being the church is the best thing Christians can do for our lost world. The doctrine of “the spirituality of the church” distinguishes the church as a uniquely spiritual institution bounded by the parameters of the Great Commission. In other words, the Bible defines the church’s mission. The visible church, structured according to the Word as an embassy of the risen Lord, announces and embodies his, not our, message to a lost world. Paul reminds us of his position in a pagan culture, preaching “the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20). The apostolic identity and mission of the church is clearly defined, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Ken Myers wittily reminds us of the danger of seeking to win the world by adopting its methods and media: creating a kind of parallel popular culture in which the church is “of the world but not in the world.” Terroir in viticulture is the climate, soil, and farming techniques, the environment in which good grapes are grown for winemaking. The terroir of Christian discipleship is not the culture but the Word that forms the life of the church. The uniquely transcendent reality of the gospel is the church’s authentic environment. The realm to which we invite people from the world is a domain antithetical to the world’s environment. They don’t need more of what they already have.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)
World conformity is the default position of every sinner born into the world. The church, formed by the preached Word, is the only environment that transforms lives that glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Being an embassy requires understanding of the surrounding culture to which one comes as an emissary of another country. This means cultural participation along the lines of the Lord’s advice to the exiles in Jeremiah 29:7 “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” But proper exegesis of the culture demands understanding and interpretation from a biblical perspective, through the lens of Scripture.
It is significant that Princeton Theological Seminary is embedded in a university. Reformed ministry is to be well-rounded in the context of the liberal arts. That is the Princeton tradition in which we stand. Properly understood this does not compromise the antithesis of the church. Thus, OPC ministry seeks to avoid cultural compromise, which imitates the world, and cultural separatism, which seeks to create a culture all its own. The believer is to be spiritually separate in the midst of the world, as Paul reminded the Corinthian church, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:9–10). So, Jesus prayed for the church in his petition to the Father: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Another temptation among Christians is the quest for cultural dominance, often referred as redeeming or transforming culture. That healthy churches will have a salutary effect on a culture, no one should doubt; but it will only do so if the church pays attention to its biblical job description—to being the church.
So, respectful engagement with our culture retains the antithesis, while enjoying the presence of natural law and common grace in the world. After all, God is the Lord of both the church and culture. Peter addresses this engagement:
In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Pet. 3:15–16)
Modern people, by and large, live for the world, believing that the present evil age is all there is. Foreign to this mindset is the idea that here we have no continuing city, but in Christ there is a glorious city on the horizon. This perspective is coupled with the present access that Christians enjoy through the unique mediation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, connecting us with transcendent heavenly reality, experience of the new creation now. The future is already partly present in the true church. The writer of Hebrews captures this “now and not yet” perspective:
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. …These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.… For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. (Heb. 11:9–10, 13–16; 13:14)
As citizens of heaven, the church is tasked with making the invisible visible to a lost and dying world. Jesus makes this clear in his high priestly prayer:
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22–23)
An OPC minister shares pastoral oversight of the church in every arena—local, regional, national, and international—with ruling elders. The biblical model of Presbyterian governance fosters corporate wisdom among leaders in planning and spiritual warfare:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.… Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.… for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6)
The minister must not allow secular concepts of leadership (mentioned in the introduction) to subvert his biblical calling. God’s Word gives the minister his job description. So you are not a business manager, a psychologist, or an entertainer. Also certain tasks, which may be legitimate in their place, must not be allowed to compromise the time devoted to local ministry. OPC ministers are not called primarily to be conference speakers, perpetual bloggers, blog readers, or even authors.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:1–2)
In the midst of our so-called “communications revolution,” the electronic environment is seriously undermining face-to-face encounters in our culture and in the church. Thus, for the ministry the centrality of personal presence, once assumed, has now become imperative as a healthy corrective to the loneliness and alienation of our culture. An all-round ministry means the pastor preaches and leads the people in worship, together with the elders personally overseeing the life and ministry of the church.
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, … Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (1 Thess. 2:17; 2 John 1:12)
Ministers should consider their personal presence with those to whom they minister in the church essential to effective ministry: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.… continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim. 1:4; 3:14).
It is the duty of the minister and the elders to be aware of and seek to correct some of the most deleterious effects of the social media: they may undermine ecclesiastical authority, foster gossip, and lead to depression among adolescents, among other things. OPC ministers are called to teach media wisdom and stewardship (media ecology), along with technological etiquette. When we know people well face to face, then texting, email, and phone calls can be effective supplements—in that order, from the least personal to the most. But they never replace personal, face-to-face presence.
There are many dimensions to this pedagogical need. Ministers should encourage people: to read good literature deeply, especially the Bible; to have a “cool spot” to eliminate distractions. They should discourage people: from coming to doctrinal and ethical convictions on the Internet; from gossiping; and from making decisions about the church on Facebook. Encourage them to seek out church officers with questions about doctrine and church life. Encourage them to spend time with their families, developing the art of conversation. Emphasize the importance of Sabbath keeping and family and personal devotions. This is the day the Lord has set aside for us to enjoy the Lord’s presence in the presence of his people. This is what forms the Christian life. Be ready to instruct people about why we worship the way we do.
An OPC minister cares for all kinds of people. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14). This means a ministry of humility and gentleness (church militant is not to be confused with the church belligerent).
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24–26)
Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians in the most tender parental terms:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:7–8)
The minister should be cultivating the full range of church ministry in congregational life:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:14–18).
An OPC minister is institutionally and personally connected with the larger church, regionally in the presbytery, and nationally in the general assembly. This connectionalism is a vital part of Presbyterian government.
Because we are united doctrinally by our secondary standards, the confession and catechisms, we keep extra-confessional agendas in check. It should be remembered, as stated above, that those standards seek to enumerate the doctrines we all agree are biblical. Our own personal opinions about a wide range of issues must take a back seat to the maintenance of the peace and unity of the church.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1–3)
The OPC is mostly made up of small congregations. While smallness is not a virtue, Scripture reminds us not to despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10). There are times in the history of the church and circumstances in various communions when the Lord uses small things for his own grand purposes. This is often humbling. The stories of Paul and one of his best twentieth-century interpreters, J. Gresham Machen, remind us that the gospel of a crucified Christ will require the suffering of his disciples and leaders. While few will suffer to the degree that Paul did, the soft persecution of cultural rejection, humble church building, modest budgets and salaries, all call for an unwavering commitment that only our Lord, who gifts and calls men into his ministry, can give.
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Cor. 11:21–29)
So, an OPC minister is: a minister of the Word, an ambassador of Christ, and an under-shepherd of Christ. May he bless us in each new generation of ministers with men willing to forsake all for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.
 Originally “The Shape of Ministry in the OPC” was a lecture given each June since 2010 at Camp Shiloh to the students gathered at the annual Shiloh Institute, introducing aspiring ministerial candidates to ministry in the OPC. This, of course, is my perspective over four decades of OPC ministry, but not the only perspective.
 The Form of Government, The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Containing the Standards of Government, Discipline, and Worship (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education, 2011), VI.2–3; VIII, pp. 9–11.
 This is the burden of my book, The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001).
 The Directory for the Public Worship of God, The Book of Church Order of the OPC Containing the Standards of Government, Discipline, and Worship (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education, 2011), II.A.3.a, p. 134.
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, The Confession of Faith and Catechisms as Adopted by the OPC, Q. 23–26; 33–38.
 I have explained this in greater detail in “A Medium for the Message: The Form of the Message Is Foolish, Too,” in Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the OPC, John Muether, ed. (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the OPC), 2011, 311–34.
 Duane Litfin, “Swallowing Our Pride: An Essay on the Foolishness of Preaching,” in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes, ed. Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 119.
 C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, 1876 (repr., London: Banner of Truth, 1969), 1.
 The Directory for the Public Worship of God, I.B.1, p. 125
 Pierre Ch. Marcel, The Relevance of Preaching, ed. William Childs Robinson, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963), 110.
 Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1989), 18.
 See Gregory E. Reynolds, “Face to Face: The Importance of Personal Presence in Ministry and Life,” Ordained Servant (2012): 20–26; Ordained Servant Online (Dec. 2012), http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=340.
Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, December 2017.