Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Ministry Is Dearer To Me Than Life

Dr. Victor Shepherd is a great Scholar with a Pastor's heart. According to me, this is a very rare combination to find in a person.

For those of you who do not know him, Dr. Shepherd is the professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto. He is also Adjunct Professor at Trinity College and Wycliffe College, University of Toronto where he supervises doctoral students.

In 2005, he was made Professor Ordinarius of The University of Oxford, U.K. He has been invited twice to the International Calvin Studies Colloquium, those deemed to be the world's best one hundred Calvin scholars.

Apart from being a scholar, he is also an active minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Five years of studying at Tyndale Seminary, especially under this great "man of God" were unforgettable and impact filled years for me. Dr. Shepherd's class lectures weren't just informative, intellectually stimulating and thought provoking but also convicting, heart warming and pastorally empowering. I remember devouring everything taught in the class like a hungry lion. His lectures on "Holiness" have challenged my own lifestyle and have given me a fresh reverence for God.

I must confess that after five years of taking several courses with him, a year of being his research assistant, countless conversations with him about theology and the historical giants like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and having casual discussions on heart wrenching issues in pastoral ministry,not to mention my quiet observations of his passion for God and ministry-- have deeply impacted my very own life and ministry.

Dr. Shepherd has mentored me in so many ways intentionally and unintentionally. I think it is appropriate to say that my passion for Christ, the Word of God and ministry has been fanned into flame by his teaching, life, ministry and writings.

To all the pastors, lay leaders, students of the Word and to all of you reading this...I just wanted to share an excerpt from his sermon titled "My ministry is dearer to me than life."

As you read the following, may you continue to be stirred up for the Cause of Christ.

" I am 64-years old. I am in the twilight of my ministry. Nonetheless, every time I exercise this ministry I get a thrill. Whether it’s when I step into a pulpit on Sunday morning and see the expectant faces of the congregation, or whether it’s when I’m helping someone to die in peace, or whether it’s when I sit by myself and intercede for those whom God has laid on my heart – whenever I exercise the ministry to which I’ve been called I get a thrill. And as often as I’m thrilled I’m also startled, sobered and awed, for I recall Jean Vianney: “If we really knew what it is to be a pastor, we couldn’t endure it.” 
I relish teaching in a seminary, and relish it for several reasons. One reason is that it keeps me probing the work of the giants in theology. Another reason is that it keeps me acquainted with men and women (younger than I) who are preparing for ordination. Entirely too often, however, a student remarks that after his first degree in theology he plans to do a second and third degree – i.e., a doctorate – because a doctorate will be the ticket out of the pastorate and into a professorship. The first degree in theology lets one into the pastorate; the final degree lets one out. The truth is, I heard as much when I was a seminary student myself forty-one years ago. 
Whenever I hear this I tell students most emphatically that the real Doctores Ecclesiae, teachers of the church, were pastors first. Luther worked as a pastor every day in addition to teaching, writing, travelling, and wrestling with most vexatious problems in church life; e.g., the predicament of nuns who left the convent in response to the message of the Reformation and then had no means of support. 
Calvin preached on average every second day. Yet his writings are so massive that his 2000-page Institutes represents only 6.8% of his written output. In addition he sat with the dying, married the living, visited the sick, sorted out conflicts in the wider church (rural pastors, for instance, complained vociferously that they should be paid the same as urban pastors in Geneva .) He ordered provisions for the city hospital. And he had to endure the humiliation of his sister-in-law’s repeated adulteries. 
Why did the real giants of theology persist in shouldering such a hugely variegated pastoral work, doing vastly more than merely the scholarship for which they will never be forgotten? 
Calvin spoke for them all when he wrote 450 years ago,
“My ministry is dearer to me than life.” "

1 comment:

Emma said...

A beautiful tribute Sam. I never had Dr. Shepherd for a prof....but he certainly made an impact on me, and I count it a privilege to know him. His name suits him well. I know we as students 'connect' with different professors in different ways, but this is a man who SEEKS OUT students (the only prof while we were on student council who dropped in on us in meetings and made it his business to do so!) and one of the few who stopped to MAKE time to chat with students in the hallway. I know every prof makes different impacts in different ways but he impacted me enough that he is one of the only profs I continue to check in on from time to time to this day (7 years after graduating).

blessings Sam. Thank you for your insight and kind words for Dr. Shepherd.