Phil Ryken on James Boice: What Young Pastors Can Learn from Godly Mentors

In the latest issue of 9Marks, which I blogged a while back, Phil Ryken, one of my pastoral heroes, has written a brief but engrossing article called “What Would Jim Do?” about his early experience at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church under James Boice, the venerable minister.  Here are a few selections from the article, which I highly commend:


Over the course of 180 years, Tenth Presbyterian has been blessed with long pastorates. Five of our twelve ministers served for 25 years or more, including Dr. Boice, who preached at Tenth for 32 years. Such consistency in the pulpit is crucial for the long-term health of an urban congregation, where turnover is constant. Early in his ministry Dr. Boice made a personal commitment not to leave the church except for some extraordinary providence. No one can ever know the future, of course, but I too have prayed for a long ministry in the same church.


Anyone familiar with Dr. Boice’s ministry will know that he was exceptionally productive. He wrote or edited nearly 60 books, including many Bible commentaries. He started a Christian school, sustained a radio ministry on over 400 stations around the country, served as one of the primary architects for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, co-founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and did a good many other things besides. Needless to say, he was an extremely hard worker, as every pastor must be. He did not waste time, which is a temptation that every wise pastor learns to avoid. He was well read, not just in theology, but also in history, literature, and contemporary culture. One of Dr. Boice’s practices has been especially helpful for me to emulate: each week he revised the previous week’s sermon for publication—a regular discipline that makes a huge difference over a span of years.”


One of the things that most warms my heart is pastoral mentorship and training.  There is an increased interest in this sort of thing, but there is still a great deal of room for growth in this area in many of our churches.  I love that Dr. Boice, an eminent man, seemed not to take himself too seriously, but invested deeply in the work of God as mediated through the people he worked with.  It is especially encouraging to read of a leading pastor transferring leadership of his church to his younger charge without hostility or awkwardness.  That shows a remarkable degree of maturity.

Here’s hoping that in years to come, the pastors of many of our congregations will take time to train up a successor (and many other young pastors besides) and will then transition well out of ministry.  There is a generation growing older by the day, and we need leaders to take their place.

Beyond this, any person, and any Christian, can catch a vision for discipleship and mentoring.  One by no means needs to be a pastor to do this, and one can only help by throwing oneself into this kind of work.  In doing so, one follows a certain figure who walked this earth some 2000 years ago, and who made it a primary concern of His to train up the generation that followed.  May we do the same.

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