J.I. Packer on Ministerial Vocation

by Frank Jones


When he started out as a preacher, the whole institution of preaching stood much higher in public opinion than it does today. In 2009, Packer spoke at Oak Hill Theological College in London and agreed to be interviewed by the principal of the college on the education and calling of a minister. Packer observed that "in the world in which I was brought up, there was still a Christian culture [and] sympathy for the church," as well as an "understanding of the position of the clergyman, ... who had a role in society, [and there was a] willingness to listen to him." However, "that willingness has been replaced by incomprehensibility" that anyone would do the things a minister does. The minister, said Packer, is today viewed "as a visitor from outer space." "You can't change that," he added; "you have to live with it."

What can a minister do about the situation? Packer's advice: "If you're going to live with cultural skepticism of this kind, you've got to be very sure of who you are, very sure of what you stand for, and you've got to be very clear in your mind and with your mouth as to how you say it." All in all, "Yes, it's a very difficult time in which to minister."

As the interview unfolded, Packer began to sketch how he thinks a minister should proceed with his task. He believes that ministers should do what they always have done and not change the job description to match current trends. When a Christian minister moves into a congregation, he "has first of all to make sure that there is a willingness on the part of the congregation to learn the Bible." Given the prevailing negligence in our culture and the contemporary church in this matter, a minister "may have to work at generating that willingness. But he cannot achieve much until the church becomes a Bible-learning community." The second major task is "to mobilize the congregation to go and make disciples in their own area."

Ryken, Leland. J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. Crossway, 2015, 360-361