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4 Lessons I Learned About Pastoral Ministry from Francis Schaeffer

Not in person, of course. It would have been an absolute pleasure to meet and do ministry with Schaeffer, but I wasn’t around back then. That’s one of the reasons I’m thankful for good books because they put you in touch with the life and heart and mind of the author even when they’re gone.

Francis Schaeffer Ministry

Recently, I’ve been reading Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian LifeThese were letters that Schaeffer received from correspondents back in the 60’s and 70’s. He received questions on tough topics like pre-marital sex, divorce, homosexuality, and many more issues. I gleaned a lot about how to deal with others from his letters, and here now I’ll point out four lessons from the book. These lessons are particularly relevant for those in pastoral ministry.

1. It’s important to be accessible and responsive.

You can’t reach and respond to everyone. But ministry leaders should be accessible, in some sense, to others — and especially to people in your own church. No, not everyone who tweets or texts emails you deserve a response. But as a general rule, we ministry leaders should be available when the people we are leading have questions. Schaeffer reminded me that I am a shepherd who needs to be available for the sheep.

I was struck by how often Schaeffer responded to people. He was somewhat of a Christian household name at this time in his ministry (although I doubt he would have liked for me to call him that) and still took the time to write thoughtful letters to hard questions often to people he barely even knew. It’s important to be accessible.

2. Be thankful when people reach out to you.

Time and time again, Schaeffer would say something like this when he received a letter: “I received your letter and I read it with great care. What you said touched me deeply.” I’m thinking, what? Why even read the whole thing? Just skim it! Nevertheless, Schaeffer often took the time to let the unexpected correspondent know that they were not being a burden, but a blessing. He seems genuinely thankful to be interrupted. I get the impression that he didn’t mind being inconvenienced.

I don’t like to be interrupted as I love to plans things out and dislike it when my plans are disrupted. But like Schaeffer, I must be content with being interrupted. Ministry interruptions can seem like a hassle, but ministry interruptions are still ministry. Interruptions are ordained by God, and I should be thankful when they appear.

3. Emphasize the fall over and over again.

Schaeffer emphasized the fall when dealing with a difficult issue. He didn’t pretend like he had all the answers. He didn’t act like the world we presently reside in is flawless. He’s not black and white nor naive. Instead, he has a robust view of the fall.

And when people asked him about tough issues (e.g., divorce, homosexuality, spiritual struggles, etc.) he was quick to remind the person that the world we live in is abnormal and distorted by sin. This is partially why we suffer and agonize as we do. Using the fall is no cop-out response. Giving concrete and practical info is still helpful. But sometimes I wonder if we brush off Genesis 3 or don’t emphasize it enough in our pastoral counseling. We all have various sinful struggles because of it, and we’d do well to talk more about how this theologically works out in our present lives.

4. Be unwaveringly biblical.

Schaeffer was a gentle, meek, and generous guy. But this did not lead to compromise. He was not soft on Scripture. Schaeffer told people straight up what the Bible says about difficult things and didn’t back down, but he always did this with a gentle tone. I hope to do the same. To say it another way, be both gentle and courageous at the same time.

This was one of my first interactions with Schaeffer’s work, and hopefully it won’t be my last. I love how he was able to engage with difficult topics in a biblical way. May this generation of ministry leaders learn from Schaeffer and do the same.

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