Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130)

A few things stood out to me as I read this. First, I want to be careful that the importance of pastors is not overstated. Many pastors have burned out trying to save preaching, save the church, and be the perfect leaders they think the church needs. At the same time, I do not want to understate the importance of pastors. I think Forsyth is right. We are set apart from the people to be special leaders in the spirituality of the church.

Second, I think that Forsyth has captured the core of the true power of a pastor. We should be “the elite of prayer.” We can only do our work of salvation in the world if we ourselves are first saved. That is where our strength and power lies, as we are plugged into the Triune God.

Finally, Forsyth warns that if we are not people of prayer then we don’t know our business and we are in danger of becoming a “quack.” We have all seen pastors who have quacked or cracked under the weight of ministry because they were their own strength.


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