The role of nursing mothers in training pastors

Yesterday, I proposed that pastoral training begins in the womb. Today, I’d like to suggest that one of the best seminary classes a pastor or trainee pastor could attend is to spend time with a nursing mother.

“Oh, no! Here’s another extreme and unbiblical idea from Murray.”

No, actually, I got it from the Apostle Paul.

Paul says to the Thessalonians that he was “gentle among [them], just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7).


So, visit the nursery, men; bring a notepad, open your eyes, and listen to how a nursing mother taught Paul how to pastor:

“First of all, Paul, this is how to gently nurse your congregation (v. 7). Watch me as I wake my children, how I clean them, clothe them, feed them, protect them, hug them, welcome them, etc. All very loving and gentle, isn’t it!”

“And, Paul, make sure your congregation knows that you long to be with them and enjoy being with them (v. 8). Cherish them like I cherish my baby. I’m sure you know that ‘to cherish’ means ‘to warm and be warmed.’ You can’t do that without being with them, and being close to them.”

“And remember that although I take care of my children’s physical needs, I put their spiritual needs first and look for every opportunity to share the Gospel with them (v. 8).”

“Paul, I love my children so much that I’m actually willing to sacrifice more than my time, talents, and health for them. I’m willing to sacrifice my life for them (v. 8). Do your congregations get a sense of that from you? I’m sure they do.”

“And as for working hours, I labor night and day (v. 9). Remember your own mother’s example, Paul, and let that memory mentor you through the long and often thankless hours of pastoral labor.”

“You’ll learn a lot about about mothering from pastoring. But you’ll also learn more about pastoring from watching mothering than from any Seminary Class.”

“In fact if you ever start a Seminary, Paul, maybe you should build a nursery at its center.”

Womb Seminary

Looking back on my life I’ve been increasingly struck by how God was preparing me for Gospel ministry long before I was even converted. And in such reflection I’ve found plenty material for worship – worship of God’s sovereignty, God’s wisdom, and God’s love. Like the Apostle Paul I can increasingly see that, in God’s good pleasure, He “separated me from my mother’s womb” (Gal. 1:15). Yes, seminary begins in the womb.

womb seminary

And such pre-conversion preparation can also be seen in the lives of many Gospel ministers as we read their biographies and autobiographies. Consider the following preparatory influences in their lives…and yours.

Parental Preparation
In his biography of John Stott, Timothy Dudley-Smith wrote: “Every man is to a great extent the product of his inheritance. The most formative influence on each of us has been our parentage and our home. Hence good biographies never begin with their subject but with his parents and probably his grandparents as well.”

John G Paton, pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides, narrates how his father’s prayers at family worship prepared him for ministry: “As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face, and wish I were like him in spirit, hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed Gospel to some portion of the Heathen World.”

In some ways, God prepares Gospel ministers even in the characters and experiences of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

Personality preparation
Long before we are converted, God shapes our personalities through genes, environment, and events; and these will not only prepare us for ministry but also impact our ministries – for good or ill. For example, David Brainerd says, “I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme.” These natural characteristics were carried into Brainerd’s ministry; sometimes for good; oftentimes, when carried to extreme, for ill.

School preparation
J I Packer’s school friend Brain Bone tried to convert him to Unitarianism. Alister McGrath comments: “Packer found Bone’s arguments unconvincing, not least on account of the Unitarian understanding of Jesus purely as a religious or ethical teacher; nevertheless, their debates raised in his mind the whole question of truth in Christianity.” Not only did this schoolboy friendship initiate spiritual thoughts, but one of Packer’s English teachers also introduced him to C S Lewis, through the book Screwtape letters.  Dr Lloyd-Jones attributes his love of history and of oratory to two of his early teachers, neither of whom were converted.

Societal preparation
Listen to John G Paton describe how unknown and unheralded people in his own community were used of God to prepare him for ministry: “The Villagers of my early days – the agricultural servants, or occasional labourers, the tradesmen, the small farmers – were, generally speaking, a very industrious and thoroughly independent race of people. Hard workers they had to be, else they would starve; yet they were keen debaters on all affairs both in Church and State, and sometimes in the smiddy or the kiln, sometimes in a happy knot on the village green or on the road to the kirk or the market, the questions that were tearing the mighty world beyond were fought over again by secluded peasants with amazing passion and bright intelligence.”

Vocational Preparation
God uses our early careers and callings to shape us for Gospel ministry. Though only 11 years of age, John G Paton worked from six in the morning till ten at night in his father’s trade. Short breaks for breakfast, dinner, and supper were used to study Latin and Greek. Yet, he says, “I gladly testify that what I learned of the stocking frame was not thrown away; the facility of using tools, and of watching and keeping the machinery in order, came to be of great value to me in the Foreign Mission field.”

Delivering preparation
I’m sure many of us can look back and see how God preserved us for ministry by delivering us from near-fatal accidents. As a boy, Lloyd-Jones and his brother were sleeping when they smelled smoke, “but sensing no danger, they merely pulled the blankets higher over their heads.” Eventually the family’s maid managed to awaken the heavy sleeping boys by banging on their father’s door, who reached their bedroom, and threw Martyn out of the window into the arms of three men who were standing in their nightshirts in the road. “Then they got hold of a ladder so that my father and brother could climb down. They were scarcely out when the floor collapsed behind them and everything went up in flames.” What a deliverance from the Evil One! And what an impact it had on Lloyd-Jones’s view of human frailty and vulnerability, as his family were also plunged into poverty as a result.

Affliction preparation
A bully chased J I Packer out of his school and on to the road where a van knocked him down. He suffered a major head injury that required immediate surgery. Mercifully a highly-trained specialist surgeon was able to save Packer’s life. But, says his biographer, “looking back, this near-fatal accident can be seen to have had a major impact on the life of Packer…It is directly linked to his love of reading and his remarkable ability to write.”

“From then until he went to university, Packer had to wear a protective aluminum plate over his injury, making it impossible for him to join in normal schoolboy games. This reinforced his natural tendency to be a loner…He would find solace in solitary things, particularly reading.”

When he was eleven, Packer asked his parents for a bike on his birthday. Aware of the great danger this would pose to his fragile skull, they instead gave him an old heavy typewriter! Though initially disappointed, “it proved to be what he needed. Surprise gave way to delight, as he realized what he could do with this unexpected gift. It was not more than a minute before he had put paper into the machine, and started to type. It proved to be his best present and the most treasured possession of his boyhood.”

Academic preparation
When Packer found out that George Whitefield attended the same school and had been converted in the same city and university, he determined to find out more about him. “The narrative of Whitefield’s conversion and ministry excited and challenged him. It was like an ‘unction from God’, a ‘milestone’ in his spiritual journey.”

Later, when Packer could not figure out how he was a Christian yet stilling sinning, “he came across a pile of old books that a now-blind pastor had dumped in an Oxford Christian Union basement room: As Packer sorted through the dusty piles of old books in the basement of the North Gate Hall, he came across an uncut set of the edition of the writings of the Puritan divine John Owen… Intrigued, Packer began to cut the pages of Owen’s writings, and to read what he found. Immediately, he found himself challenged by the realism of Owen’s analysis both of the problems arising from ‘indwelling sin’ and of the means of dealing with it.” In this soul-relieving study, began Packer’s love-affair with the Puritans.

Pastoral model preparation
Many Gospel ministers have been prepared by growing up under poor models of pastoral ministry. Neither Richard Baxter nor Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s heard the Gospel from the legalistic and moralistic preachers of their childhood. But motivated by that terrible experience, they were passionate about getting the ministry right.

Of course, good pastoral models can also be a powerful motivation. When Lloyd-Jones went to London, he was heavily influenced by the highly-individualistic Peter Griffiths, then by the power of God that was present in John Hutton’s preaching. Lloyd-Jones remembers: ‘He impressed me with the power of God to change men’s lives; He believed in rebirth and regeneration.”

Conversion preparation
How often the Lord uses the particular way we are converted to prepare us for ministry to particular kinds of people with special spiritual needs. For example, maybe the Lord will take you through the painful experience of lacking assurance so that you will be able to minister to similar people.

Wife preparation
For many of us, our wives are the best professors and our homes the best seminaries. What a blessing to be prepared for the ministry by being married to a godly wife.

Hobby preparation
Really? Yes, really. John Stott’s father was an enthusiastic naturalist and when he took his son into the country he would say: “Shut your mouth and open your eyes and ears” as “he taught him where and how to look, the names of plants and butterflies and birds and the interdependence of the natural order.” How many of John Stott’s insights into Scripture came from transferring the same “Shut your mouth and open your eyes and ears” approach to Bible Study!

In The Effective Pastor, Peter White sums up this amazing, sovereign, providential preparation with these worship-inducing words: “Imagine! God from all eternity picturing you and me, with our particular upbringing and background, all our varied experience of life and work, our unique strengths; and, punctual to the second, he has us where he wants to use us.”

Wanted: Men of exceptional character

When reviewing Paul’s description of the Christian pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, I was struck again by how much emphasis he places on exceptional character rather than exceptional gifts, and by his focus on what a pastor is to be rather than what a pastor is to do.


And yet, when seminaries are training pastors, when churches are seeking pastors, and when pastors are pursuing training, we often turn the Bible’s priorities upside down.

In The Effective Pastor, Robert Anderson comments:

During the course of each school year dozens of inquiries come across my desk regarding men who are being considered by churches and mission boards. I am supposed to rate those individuals according to qualifications that are specified in the reference form. Without exception, each inquires as to the abilities of the person being considered, his personality traits and the talents of his wife. Rarely does a questionnaire deal with character traits (3).

Seminaries, churches, potential pastors, and even experienced pastors, need to re-prioritize (re-biblicize) and get re-focused on character rather than function or gifts.

How can seminaries play a role in this character-building?

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (47)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.

Here’s a brief explanation of the plan.

The Old Testament on one page

Here’s my attempt to sum up the contents of the Old Testament books on one page.

The Pentateuch: Covenant People

  • Genesis: Creation of a Covenant People
  • Exodus: Redemption of a Covenant People
  • Leviticus: Worship of a Covenant People
  • Numbers: Chastisement of a Covenant People
  • Deuteronomy: Renewal of a Covenant People

The Historical Books: Redemptive History

  • Joshua: Rewarding History
  • Judges: Rebellious History
  • Ruth: Redeemer’s History
  • 1&2 Samuel: Royal History 1 – The Beginning
  • 1&2 Kings: Royal History 2 – The End
  • 1&2 Chronicles: Review of History
  • Ezra & Nehemiah: Restoration History
  • Esther: Ruler over History

The Poetic Books: Wisdom for Time and Eternity

  • Job: Wisdom for Suffering
  • Psalms: Wisdom for Worshipping
  • Proverbs: Wisdom for Living
  • Ecclesiastes: Wisdom for Thinking
  • Song of Solomon: Wisdom for Loving

The Prophetic Books: Threat and Promise*

  • Obadiah: Vengeance & Victory
  • Joel: God Requires and Responds to Repentance
  • Amos: The Lord Roars and Restores
  • Hosea: A Faithful God and a Faithless People
  • Jonah: Great Sea, Great City, Great God
  • Isaiah: Trust God not Man
  • Micah: Punishment and Pardon
  • Nahum: The Judge, Verdict & Sentence
  • Zephaniah: Look within, Look around, Look ahead
  • Habakkuk: Human Complaints and Divine Responses
  • Jeremiah: From Old to New Covenant
  • Lamentations: Repentance in hope of restoration
  • Ezekiel: The Glory Departs and Returns
  • Daniel: Godless Kingdoms and God’s Kingdom
  • Haggai: The People’s Work and God’s Work
  • Zechariah: Israel’s Return and God’s Return
  • Malachi: Priests and People Sin Against Love

* I’ve taken the prophets in chronological rather than canonical order.

Now see if you can sum up all that in one “Twitter -length” sentence! I’ll give you my summary once I see your ideas.

Update #1: Sharp eyes have noticed that I’ve missed out Jeremiah and Joshua. That’s because my students are completing assignments on these books and I want them to do some thinking!

Update#2: OK, I give in, I’ve put the titles for Joshua and Jeremiah in as well. And see below for my summary of the OT.

Lectures on Pentateuch and Genesis

Here are SermonAudio links to the first two lectures in my Old Testament Introduction course.

Lecture 1. Pentateuch Overview: Covenant People

Lecture 2. Genesis Overview: Creation of a Covenant People

And if you’re really keen, here are the skeleton notes that I give to the students and ask them to fill out as we go along.

Lecture 1. Pentateuch Overview: Covenant People (pdf)

Lecture 2. Genesis Overview: Creation of a Covenant People (pdf)

And if you want to keep track of where we’re going with the lectures in the coming weeks, here’s the Course Schedule (pdf).