“Too many books are written by hirelings rather than by real shepherds.” In other words, there are too many both pastoring in the church today and far more even writing books about church work that are not really shepherds of the sheep. They don’t love the church like Christ does.
I’ve just finished the book “Church Reformed” by Pastor Tim Bayly. Bayly is a pastor in Bloomington, Indiana who also happens to have been a Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, a church in our own Presbytery (this was many years ago). This book is a call to the reform of the church, but more than that it is a book centered on the need to love the Church.
One of the things that I appreciate most about reading Pastor Bayly is summed up by the forward in this book. The author of the foreword says, “Too many books are written by hirelings rather than by real shepherds.” In other words, there are too many both pastoring in the church today and far more even writing books about church work that are not really shepherds of the sheep. They don’t love the church like Christ does. What can you learn from someone like that? A daycare worker does not love the children in their care as a mother does. The high school student doing chores around the neighbor’s farm doesn’t love and know the animals like the farmer himself does. Many who write about the Church today simply do not love her. Tim Bayly loves the church, and not just in the abstract but in its messy local expression, and that comes through on almost every page of this book.
In many ways the book is simple. Most books calling for reform in the church are full of new ideas of how to better do the work. New systems, techniques, technology or tricks. New cultural movements the Church can join to better appeal to those outside. Often, they are full of screeds against what the author sees as the worst parts of the church that need to change according to their personal preference. Bayly really has a back to the basics approach. He explains who the church is, the need to better understand the sacraments, the preaching of the Word, fellowship and prayer.
There are two other things that come to mind as I reflect on this book that I believe make it a very helpful resource for today. First is that it is full of stories, real stories, of the ups and downs of life and church ministry. They aren’t just run of the mill, rehashed circuit preacher stories either. They are clearly real, with real names of real people. It is not an attack of others, most of the stories of sin and failure come from Bayly’s own life, and most of the godly examples from the lives of others. This is not a book detached from the real life of the church where ideals are flying around in the ether without a place to land on the ground. This is real life and what the church really needs today.
Second, Bayly doesn’t do the typical Reformed move of talking about all the problems with “those Evangelical” churches. He does that, and it’s not wrong to point out problems in the broader Christian world, but his sharpest rebukes are for people like himself. People like us in the Reformed world. He speaks to our sins, the things we like to divide over and break fellowship over. Many want to find a way to coddle us in our sin, this book points it out, makes it clear, shows how ugly it is, but at the same time reminds the reader of the grace of Christ which is for sinners.
Despite calling out the many sins and needs of Reform in the church today, as I said above, love for the Church is the central cry of the book. Bayly even mentions at one point that he has waited a decade to write this book because he was concerned that it would be used by some men as a justification for their schismatic attitudes. The Church, with all of her faults and sins, should be an object of our love as it is an object of God’s love. You cannot love God but hate his bride. I’ll close with the beginning of the final chapter “Church Reformed” which makes this point:
“We’re nearing the end, but there’s something that needs to be hammered straight before we’re done. The Church is a gift – a precious gift from our heavenly Father – and we must fix that in our minds and hearts. Dear brother and sister, never take the Church for granted. Many millions of souls across history have lived without the fellowship, love, and corporate worship of the Church and it was a terrible thing they suffered.”
This post is part of a series I’m creatively calling ‘Reading Reflections’ where I reflect on the things I have been reading. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in talking more. If you are a member of the church and are interested in reading the book(s) mentioned, you would be more than welcome to borrow it if someone else hasn’t beat you to it.
These multiple posts will be aggregated under “Recommended Reading”