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January 21, 2018

5 Assessments of Pastors According to Calvin’s Geneva

In the Draft Order of Visitation of the Country Churches January 11, 1546 [1], there are some points made about what to watch for in assessing the ministries of pastors.

1. Doctrinal unity.

The first order of business was to make sure that the pastor maintained, “proper uniformity of doctrine in the whole body of the Church of Geneva.” This was done by having two Genevan pastors visit the country churches in order to, “enquire whether the Ministry of the place have accepted any doctrine in any sense new and repugnant to the purity of the gospel.” So the churches weren’t little labs where pastors could exercise their speculative experiments. They were expected to be fairly conservative, that is, unchanging in their doctrine.

2. Wise Application

Not only was the doctrine to be in line with the other Genevan churches, there was an expectation that the minister would preach with wise applications. He wasn’t to preach, “anything at all scandalous, or unfitting to the instruction of the people because it is obscure, or treats of superfluous questions, or exercises too great rigour.” In applying his expositions, the pastor wasn’t grinding axes or riding hobby-horses. How many ‘Calvinist’ pastors today are guilty of ‘exercising too much rigour’.

3. Congregational Support

The pastor wasn’t the only one who was held accountable. The congregation was urged to be diligent not only in attending church services, but “to have a liking for it, and to find profit in it for Christian living.”  Many congregations need to be reminded of their responsibility to support the pastor’s ministry, and to like it.

4. Pastoral Care

Pastors were supposed to be engaged in ministry outside of the pulpit, through visitation of the sick and counselling. Specifically pastors were to confront those who needed it, as well as applying counsel to prevent patterns of sin.

5. Pastoral Integrity

The last element that was examined was whether the pastor had a testimony marked by integrity.  Basically, did the pastor live as an example to others, leading “an honest life”? Also, the pastor’s reputation was checked to see if people viewed areas of his life as lacking self control (“dissoluteness”) or being flaky (“frivolity”). Finally,the pastor needed to have a harmonious relationship to the congregation. And above all of these he needed to have his family life in order.

These priorities are quite basic. But how often do pastors fail to maintain these basic emphases? May God grant us mercy to fulfill our duties.

[1] JKS Reid, Calvin: Theological Treatises, (SCM Press, 1954), 74

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About Clint Humfrey

Pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I'm married with three sons. Views expressed on this blog are my own.