John Calvin the Pastor

Reason #9: Calvin models for us how to faithfully pastor the sheep of God as under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd.

John Calvin was first and foremost a pastor. He faithfully pastored in Geneva for more than twenty-five years and in Strasbourg for three years. As Jim Garretson writes:

“Calvin’s work as a pastor to his respective flocks has been a matter of growing academic interest in recent years. Biographers and historians alike have come to realize the profound pastoral focus that characterized his labors in Geneva and Strasbourg. The more one reads his letters and listens carefully to his sermons and treatises, the more one recognizes a shepherd who carried the burdens, hopes, and fears of his people upon his heart. His transparency and humility reveal a tender-hearted man who, like his Master, went about doing good while seeking to act in the best spiritual interests of those entrusted to his care.”

Erroll Hulse adds:

“As a pastor, Calvin was exemplary in personal godliness, in family life, and in the ministry of prayer. His pastoral care for people is reflected in his letter writing, there being four thousand letters extant. Calvin stuck to his pastoral calling through trials of every kind and persevered through terribly painful physical afflictions.”

When Sinclair Ferguson was asked at Ligonier Ministries’ pre-conference seminar on Calvin in March 2009, “What have you learned from Calvin’s life or writings?” he answered:

“For me, Calvin has been the model of what a gospel minister in a local congregation should be. He preached every second week, preaching probably eight sermons, and the other week probably five. He counseled, but he understood that the counseling arose either out of emergency crises that he was able to help, or because under the ministry of the Word all the filth and sludge of human hearts came to the surface. I feel the church desperately needs to get back to the centrality of the ministry of the Word that characterized Calvin’s preaching and pastoring. You just need to read his sermons to think, You know, if I could take my lunchtime and listen to him for forty minutes, asthmatic as he was, struggling for breath, this would be mind-changing and life-changing. Here is this totally unspectacular man, who never had a laugh in his church, patiently unfolding the Scriptures. It transformed lives pastorally and it gave multitudes of young men the courage to be martyrs for the gospel.”

We are crying out for ministries like that—just ministers in local congregations feeding the people of God with the Word of God. And at the end of the day, this is all Calvin thought he was doing. He was a local pastor.

(Taken with permission from Joel Beeke’s, Calvin for Today)