Encouragement for Today’s Pastors by Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter

Stephen A. Migotsky

Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, by Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013, 211 pages, $16.00, paper.

All Christians can become discouraged, and all Christians are to encourage one another. There are manifold examples and instructions of encouragement in the Bible (Acts 14:22, 15:32; Rom. 1:12; Col. 2:2, 4:8; 1 Thess. 2:12, 5:11; Heb. 10:25). This encouragement is often to be personal and face to face. Such encouragement is different from reading a book, but this book is designed to encourage pastors with Puritan wisdom.

You may compare yourself harshly to the best of the Puritans in this book and be discouraged. Reading about their lives and spiritual disciplines can feel like watching the Olympics and remembering your lack of athleticism. You don’t perform anything like an Olympian, nor are you likely to perform like the best of the Puritans in this book. Yet, the encouragement in reading about these Puritans is to learn how they endured when they suffered, were discouraged, or saw little results from their work. They learned to focus on several important truths and disciplines in order to endure with hope.

This book includes instruction on Puritan piety, God’s sovereignty, Puritan preaching, Puritan prayer, ministerial fellowship, pastoral calling, heaven, and pride. In fact, those are roughly the topics covered in the book in that order. The authors present quotes from the Puritans on these topics and each chapter ends with practical applications. For example, chapter 4, “God Gives the Increase,” ends with this application: “Take responsibility only for yourself. Remind yourself daily that you are not the Savior but only His servant” (64).

The goal of the book is to use the Puritan writings and lives as instruction and encouragement for pastors. It is not an overview of the Puritans. For that you should read Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken.[1] Ryken’s book also has a healthy dose of what the Puritans did wrong in chapter 11, “Learning from Negative Example: Some Puritan Faults” (187–204). Ryken reminds us that one of their faults was they “were strict in lifestyle, and they also liked matters to be well-defined. These virtues, when carried to an extreme, produce a legalistic lifestyle that becomes stifling with too many rules” (191). Thankfully, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors acknowledges that some Puritans had serious weaknesses.

It should be acknowledged that a few Puritans fell into extremes, giving credence to the unattractive caricature that has attached itself to the movement as a whole…. The goal is adaptation, not imitation. It is not necessary to imitate the Puritans in order to profit from their faith, their example, and their writings. (13)

So, you don’t have to imitate Puritan piety, Puritan preaching, Puritan prayer, but modify it.

The book reminds us that faithful competent pastoral work may not yield results that we can see now. That is a healthy corrective if we or others judge our work harshly. Remember Paul does not care about how he is judged by others and does not even judge himself, but waits for the Lord to come to bring things now hidden to light (1 Cor. 4:1–5). This book disabuses us from judging ministerial work with any worldly, visible standard. That is a worthwhile encouragement if you serve a small congregation or a troubled one. One related truth is that competent, ordinary pastoral work can be a powerful means of grace to congregations. There is dignity in pastoral work. “So lift up your heads, brothers. It is false humility to act as though the ministerial office has no dignity. The work of our office is a high calling” (170). Beeke and Slachter’s exposition of that truth is necessary and encouraging.

I have been encouraged significantly by participating in a fellowship of pastors who meet and pray for each other regularly. The Puritans did this, too. This is not the same as a session meeting, or a presbytery meeting. Chapter 10 explains the “mutual edification among ministers” (133).

Twenty-first century pastors should avail themselves of the blessings of interacting with fellow pastors who have fought some of the same battles, experienced many of the same heartaches, faced similar challenges, and are familiar with the conditions that lead to burnout. It only makes sense to join with others for prayer and spiritual conference as often as possible, for this spiritual discipline will enrich your ministry and enable you to find strength in the Lord. (140)

The book’s epilogue contains wise counsel for pastors who are tempted to be workaholics and perfectionistic in the work. You may have an invisible master leading you to despair.

This tyrannical enemy is Pride, which can be a terrible slave master for pastors…. The key of humility unlocks the door and frees us from the giant Pride, and the key of promise frees us from the giant Despair through encouragement. Christ is our ultimate encouragement. Dear pastor, your comfort and courage must be Christ, for in Him we find a glory that makes us press on to know Him better (Phil. 3:7–14). (210, italics theirs)

For additional encouragement and as a complement to this book read Spurgeon’s “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” (167–79).[2] For example, Spurgeon encourages pastors to get out of the study and enjoy God’s creation, or “he will make his study a prison, … while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy” (172). So, pastor, read this book and, finishing it, go for a walk to enjoy God’s beautiful and joyful creation.


[1] Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).

Stephen A. Migotsky is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister and serves as the pastor of Jaffrey Presbyterian Church in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, November 2016.

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Ordained Servant: November 2016

All Things to All Men

Also in this issue

Exercising Wisdom about “All Things”

Geerhardus Vos: Education in America and Europe, 1881–1888

God’s Glory Alone by David VanDrunen

Impossible People by Os Guinness

The Holy Spirit by Christopher R. J. Holmes

The Leaves below My Town

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