Worthy Pastoral Counsel: Lessons for modern pastors from the life and ministry of Andrew Fuller

By: Brian Croft

One of my goals for my sabbatical last year was to study the life and ministry of the 18th century English particular Baptist Pastor, Andrew Fuller.  Now that my time away has ended and feels so long ago, I thought I would still share about my findings.  After a few books read, portions of the 3 volume works read, and a very meaningful breakfast with Michael Haykin and Jeremy Walker (friends and Fuller experts) discussing Fuller, the blessing of studying this faithful man of God exceeded my expectations.

I was so blessed and learned so much that it would be unwise to try and share all the ways I was impacted.  However, as a steward and discipline to my time of study, I have summarized ten lessons that I learned from Andrew Fuller’s life that will impact my pastoral ministry from this moment on.  Because of this, I thought I would share them with you with the hopes you will be challenged in the same way I was and as a result, might be moved to dig deeper into this man’s life.

In no particular order, modern pastors should consider Fuller’s example and…

1) Affirm a needed process to affirm pastors for pastoral ministry.

Even at a young age and exceptional gifts identified in Fuller, his congregation still took him through a rigorous process to be affirmed for ministry.  The modern pastor would do well to learn from Fuller’s experience and make sure he and his local church is taking an active role to Test, Train, Affirm, and Send pastors into the ministry.

2) Maintain the essential call for clear, faithful, and unwavering precision on the atonement. 

One of Fuller’s magnificent theological contributions that was so needed in his day, is his work on the atonement.  In summary: Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for sin was sufficient and is to be extended to all.  Fuller demonstrated a Calvinistic understanding of the gospel, yet maintained all should be called to repent and believe, something uncommon in the hyper-Calvinistic churches of that day.  The modern pastor would do well to heed this example as the need for precision on the atonement is just as great since the challenges to the atonement have swung to the other side in the last 200 years.

3) See the value of close, transparent, and life-long pastoral friendships. 

I was deeply moved by the life-long friendships that Fuller had with other pastors.  There was a lot of ministry that was done through these friendships, but what gripped me most is the way they were there for each other through their greatest trials.  Whether it was the death of a wife or child, the attacks of others, and the despairing discouragement that comes and goes through the seasons of a pastor’s life, pastors need other pastors.  Fuller had men who were there for him, and he for them.  So much good comes to the ministry and soul of a pastor when he surrounds himself with other pastors and locks arms with those who only know what is it like to be a pastor and did so throughout his whole life.  Fuller saw the value of this and modeled it.  So too should the modern pastor see the same value.

4) Embrace the opportunity for pastoral networks and associations.

One of the most creative aspects about Fuller’s ministry is that he rarely did it alone.  Fuller saw the value of loyal, trusted, fellow pastors in his life and these deep meaningful friendships God used to accomplish great things as they did them together.  The modern pastor is tempted to remain alone, closed off in his study, and tempted to use Twitter and Facebook as his best attempt at pastoral networking.  Fuller set a standard on what God could accomplish with many at work together and has remained a model for us today.  Pastors today need to take a close look at the reasons they isolate themselves in their own churches and miss the opportunity to partner with other like-minded churches for the sake of missions and other ministry.

5) Keep the value of formal theological education in its proper perspective. 

As one whose training for ministry was hard knocks, good mentors, and rigorous self-motivated reading and studying, I found a special connection with Andrew Fuller.  Not formally theologically trained, Fuller showed a brilliant theological mind, wise practical skills to preach and shepherd God’s people, and a gift to administrate that was invaluable as he led the Baptist Missionary Society.  Fuller, nor myself, are to be used as a way to say formal theological education is unnecessary.  I most always encourage young men to attend seminary.  Fuller should, however, remind the modern pastor that formal training does not make a pastor or produce the gifts necessary to this noble work of a pastor.  God by his Spirit does that.

6) Be steadfast in the primary focus between seekers/saints in the public gathering.

The public gatherings of the local church are to be focused on the saints.  Yet, the abuse of hyper-Calvinism in Fuller’s day caused the public gatherings to be so saint focused, that the gospel was deliberately not preached.  Fuller brought a balance to this discussion by still making the public gatherings of the church focused on the saints, but still preached the gospel knowing, even hoping unbelievers were present.  The modern pastor is dealing with the exact opposite.  That is, the pressure to make the public gatherings of the church all about the unbeliever at the expense of the Christians present.  The modern pastor would do well to follow Fuller’s lead and example to make the gospel known to all, but realize it is the redeem that make up the church when they gather.

7) Trust God’s unique purposes in the suffering of pastors.

Fuller suffered in all kinds of ways.  This suffering left Fuller weak and depressed at different moments unable to function.  However, it was in the midst of that suffering and brokenness that God often does his greatest work.  Fuller’s life was marked by suffering that led to massive works by God to take the gospel to the unreached and further his kingdom.  The modern pastor would be helped to see suffering and pastoral weakness as a means to that significant work, not something that will hinder it.  God often works powerfully in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  Pastors are no exception.

8) See the value of pastoral leadership outside a pastor’s individual local church.

Fuller was pivotal in starting the Baptist Missionary Society which arguably launched the modern missions movement we still see today.  Fuller as well as other pastors involved, brought unique gifts and leadership to the establishing and sustaining of this most important work.  The trend today is to hire different kinds of people to run missions organizations, but there is a noticeable difference in the vision and purpose of many of these modern organizations that beg for the unique leadership that pastors bring to the table.  Fuller was one of those men willing to invest and use his leadership gifts to further this work.  The modern pastor would be wise to see how his unique gifts can serve the different mission organizations and para-church ministries today as an extension of his local church ministry.

9) Be cautious to carefully balance family and ministry.

Fuller clearly loved his family.  He spoke highly of his wife and shared his burden as a father for the salvation of his children.  And yet, Fuller appeared to fall into that common trap of becoming so consumed and overwhelmed with his ministry work that he was absent often from his family.  The modern pastor needs to take note of how even a faithful, godly man mightily used by the Lord like Fuller can be neglectful in the area of his family if he is not aware and cautious to protect that time.

10) Be wise to delegate responsibility.

Another trap this great man fell into was the feeling that only he could do the work he was doing.  Fuller often worked himself to exhaustion juggling local  church life, pastoral mentoring, as well as traveling the countryside preaching and raising money for the Missionary Society.  This eventually led to a declining health that even his wife shared and showed regular concern about. As gifted as Fuller was, he appeared to fail at delegation.  The modern pastor will be wise to see the pitfalls of trying to do it all yourself, know your limits, and learn to be a wise delegator of responsibility.

Pastors, this was not a perfect man.  He was weak, sinful, and broken just like us.  But God used him in mighty ways and he remained faithful to the end.  May Fuller be yet another example of a broken man who suffered, yet remained steadfast.

Helpful resources on Fuller I used during my Sabbatical:

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One comment on “Worthy Pastoral Counsel: Lessons for modern pastors from the life and ministry of Andrew Fuller
  1. Doug Nichols says:

    Thank you Brian,
    for this excellent and encouraging article. May God be praised for the life of Andrew Fuller!
    Doug Nichols, CTEN Missionary

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