R. C. Sproul on Ministry

by Michael Reneau

R. C. SproulEditor's Note: Michael Reneau of Pulpit Helps recently had the opportunity to submit questions to Ligonier Ministries for an "interview by proxy" with R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier and pastor of preaching and teaching at St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The interview was conducted by John Duncan, executive producer of the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast. What follows is the transcript of that interview, and what Sproul has to say should be both challenging and encouraging to his fellow pastors.

John Duncan on behalf of Pulpit Helps (JD): What initially motivated you to a life of ministry?

R.C. Sproul (R.C.): The irony is that I sensed a call to ministry before I was converted to Christ, believe it or not. Upon my conversion, which took place somewhat later, that call was immediately confirmed. So from the day of my conversion, I never questioned whether I would be going into the ministry. I had many questions as to what type of ministry, whether it be as a missionary, as a teacher, as a pastor. Those things were completely unclear, but that I would be in full-time Christian service was not a matter of debate for me.

JD: How did you know that Christian service was what you were called to do?

R.C.: I hate it when people ask me that because I'm not one given to extraordinary points of mysticism. I have heard many people who have questioned whether they were called into
ministry who were looking for a cross in the sky or some kind of Damascus Road experience that they could not resist, and I always answer that by saying that it's not required to have that kind of a mystical experience. But I had one.

Mine was quite unusual, very strange. I was a young man, maybe ninth, tenth grade. I went to my room to go to bed one night and as I got into my bed, suddenly I was overcome with terror. I mean, I felt like the hair on the back of my neck was standing up and that there was something in the room that I couldn't see, but it absolutely terrified me. In the midst of my terror, I didn't see anything, I didn't hear any voices, but I had words firmly imprinted on my mind. And these words were, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every living creature and take Vesta with you."

As I said, I wasn't a Christian, and I didn't even know that verse was in the Bible. I had never read the Bible, and that it included a call to my girlfriend, several years before we were married, was extraordinary. But I told my friends afterward, "I'm going to go into the ministry," and they all laughed because they knew me and they knew my paganism. Even when I first enrolled in college, I signed up for pre-ministry, when I was not a Christian. I got converted shortly thereafter. The whole thing is kind of strange.

JD: What is your priority when it comes to teaching Christians? What are you most passionate about conveying?

R.C.: Well, this hasn't changed in more than 40 years of ministry. My passion is to help Christians understand who God is-not that He is, but who He is-to focus our attention particularly on the nature of God, the Father, which I think has been all but eclipsed in our modern culture.

JD: How does having a clear understanding of who God is impact a Christian's life?

R.C.: Understanding who God is in the first instance reveals to us who we are, and it teaches us that we have to live the Christian life every day coram Deo, before the face of God, under the authority of God, and for the glory of God.

JD: What kinds of challenges have you faced as a minister and how do you overcome them?

R.C.: Initially, the first dimension of my call was chiefly to the vocation of teaching. I started out as a college professor, and then a seminary professor, and then was involved in the founding of a study center in western Pennsylvania devoted to lay education. I still kept one foot in seminary education, but my main labor was in adult education for the laity. It's only within the last decade or so that I was called to the pastoral ministry in the local church. That was a dimension that had been missing for the first 30 years of my ministry, and consequently has become my favorite endeavor in my career.

JD: Were the challenges to your teaching more from your students or from faculty that didn't believe what you were teaching?

R.C.: I didn't really feel great challenges in the teaching ministry except for the issues that would arise in the church across America and across the world-the great theological issues that focused attention on serious debate, like the authority of the Bible or the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I lived to see both the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone-the two linchpins of historic evangelicalism-challenged and negotiated at certain points in the evangelical world. That was something I never expected, was not prepared for, and that I still don't understand.

JD: When things are difficult, what keeps you going?

R.C.: I would say the simple answer is that I do have a sense of vocation. I've been called to this work, and I've been called whether I like it or not, whether it's going well or not going well, and until God releases me from that call, I believe that it is my duty to pursue it as long as I am able.

JD: When discouragements come related to your church, your ministry or just everyday life, how do you handle them?

R.C.: I want to know anytime an issue comes up, what the options are, and what are the potential ways to deal with the problem. I'm somewhat of a problem solver by intuition and by makeup, but just recently I was driving past a little Baptist Church in our town that has sayings posted every week, and the one posted this week was, "Don't worry, pray." That might seem like a simplistic answer, but when I find that I am being consumed by anxiety or worry, that's when I really go into high gear in praying that God will show me an answer to the problem, to keep me calm in the midst of it, and to not allow the difficulties that discourage me to overwhelm me. There've been many, many times, of course, that I've been discouraged, who isn't? But I'm grateful to God that those discouragements have never been overwhelming.

JD: Many of our readers are pastors from small churches. What would you say to encourage and challenge them in fulfilling their ministry, as Paul commissioned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4?

R.C.: I remember reading a biography of Stonewall Jackson. Before his troops went into battle, he would say to them after prayer, "The battle is ours, the outcome is God's." I'm not responsible for winning the battle. I'm responsible for giving myself body and soul to it. I'm not responsible to have a big church. I am responsible to be faithful in the preaching of the Word and in the nurturing of the flock that God gives to me. I think that one of the biggest problems that pastors face today is that we have forgotten where God has placed the power. We think that power will be found in programs, in strategies, rather than where He has placed it-in the preaching of the Word.

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