Lessons from Baxter on discipleship
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) pastored a church in Kidderminster. In 1656, he published The Reformed Pastor. By “reformed pastor,” Baxter meant one who supported the Protestant Reformation and sought to imitate the New Testament church.
I read an abridged and updated edition of The Reformed Pastor edited by Dr. Tim Cooper. It was released by Crossway last year.
The book is centered on Acts 20:28, which says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Known for his careful shepherding, Baxter presents a call for pastors to prioritize the catechization of church members. In the paragraphs that follow, I intend to present Baxter’s method in modern terms and with broader implications for the church.
1. Private instruction is an integral part of discipleship.
Baxter writes, “The necessity is easily shown from Scripture, both from Christ’s own example (who used this conversational preaching both with his disciples and with the Jews) and from the apostles’ examples (who did the same). . . . Both public preaching and all sorts of private re-proofs and exhortations are here required” (pp. 117-118).
Don’t count on preaching alone to produce disciples. There must also be instruction on a smaller scale.
Baxter called it private instruction. He spent a considerable amount of time discipling his flock beyond the Sunday sermon. Baxter’s example is commendable, but pastors aren’t the only ones capable of discipling on a smaller scale. Healthy churches need disciple-makers who engage in private settings.
Sunday School. Small Groups. Life Groups. We have several names. But the idea remains. Private instruction is an integral part of discipleship.
Are you involved in a form of private instruction?
2. Organized instruction is an integral part of discipleship.
Baxter remarks, “Therefore, the most godly people in your congregations will find it worth their labor to learn the words of a catechism. If you would safely edify them and firmly establish them, be diligent in this work” (p. 104).
Baxter’s curriculum was a catechism. He led members of his church through an organized manual of theological principles. It was sequential. It covered what needed to be covered.
It was carefully founded upon Scripture. Baxter said, “Give everyone the Scripture proof and the light of evidence and reason so that they may see that it is not only you but God alongside you who speaks to them” (p. 141).
Healthy churches need disciple-makers who have an organized approach to instruction. That means clearly mapped-out and intentional about teaching the breadth and depth of Scripture. Good curriculum can help with this.
The example of Baxter is also one of regularity. He met consistently and even sacrificially. Organized instruction is an integral part of discipleship.
Are you regularly involved in a form of private instruction that is scriptural and clearly mapped-out to provide a thorough biblical understanding?
3. Equipping families is an integral part of discipleship.
Baxter writes, “Engage the governor of each family to call all his family to account every Lord’s Day before they go to bed, asking them what they can remember of the catechism, and so to keep on doing this until they have all learned it perfectly” (p. 139).
Don’t count on the church alone to disciple your family. Families must practice discipleship. The local church comes alongside families to equip them for this most important task.
Baxter sought to equip fathers to lead their families in learning the catechism. He knew the importance of the home and the need for parents to disciple their kids.
Healthy churches are comprised of healthy families who disciple at home. This happens when churches equip families to disciple by providing an organized example of private instruction and solid resources to aid in that work.
Are you regularly involved in a form of private instruction that is scriptural, clearly mapped-out to provide a thorough biblical understanding, and equips you to make disciples (particularly in your own family)?
I am thankful to be in a church where weekly discipleship is scriptural, organized, and intentional about equipping disciple-makers.