The following is a guest post by Coleman Ford. He is co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies and serves in the Professional Doctoral Studies department at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
Though rightly lauding him for his significant theological contributions, many theologians rarely consider Augustine of Hippo for his pastoral life. Peter Sanlon’s recent work has helpfully shed light upon Augustine’s theology of preaching. Edward Smither’s work on Augustine as mentor has given readers much needed insight into the pastoral mind of Augustine. But what specific characteristics defined Augustine as pastor? When reviewing the pastoral life of Augustine, three main aspects rise to the surface. More broadly, these three aspects illustrate the nature of pastoral ministry in the early church.
Upon his ordination, Augustine of Hippo requested leave that he might adequately study and meditate upon the Scripture. Augustine understood this calling as one which necessitated intimate knowledge of God’s Word for the purposes of affecting change in the life of God’s people. Christopher Beeley adds helpful insight here:
The most immediate and practical means for maintaining a theologically centered leadership is holy scripture….For the great leaders of the Christian past holy scripture and the theological perspective it represents stand at the summit of human knowing.
Scripture is the life blood of pastoral ministry, and those who handle it carelessly are doomed to harm the liveliness of the church. The calling of the preacher is to rightly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Tim 2:15). “To anyone who is familiar with Augustine’s work it seems with some justification that for Augustine his Bible is primarily the Bible of a preacher.” Pastoral ministry, for Augustine, was an ongoing development in the knowledge of the Scriptures.
Another aspect of pastoral ministry in need of recovery is the concept of “the curing of souls.” Early church pastoral ministry, just as it should today, called for the progressive curing of one’s soul. Pastors are to be devoted to the spiritual transformation of God’s people. Pastoral ministry, according to Gregory Nazianzus, is likened to the practice of medicine. Gregory states:
For the guiding of man, the most variable and manifold of creatures, seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts and science of sciences. Any one may recognize this, by comparing the work of the physician of souls with the treatment of the body; and noticing that, laborious as the latter is, ours is more laborious, and of more consequence, from the nature of its subject matter, the power of its science, and the object of its exercise.
Augustine falls in line with this tradition of curing souls and noting the great difficulty it entails. In his On Catechizing the Uninstructed, Augustine encourages his readers to try and understand the state of mind of one who is wishing to embrace the Christian faith. The nature of this cure is fostered by pastoral care but is mediated ultimately through Christ and his word. The person and work of Christ is the supreme healer of our souls. Augustine says, “And just as physicians when they bind up wounds do not do so haphazardly but neatly so that a certain beauty accompanies the utility of the bandages, so the medicine of Wisdom by taking on humanity is accommodated to our wounds, healing some by contraries and some by similar things.” Christ is the ultimate cure for souls, though pastors must know how to treat spiritual ailments with the proper kind of medicine or bandage appropriate to the wound.
The high calling of pastoral ministry also came with the responsibility of piety. Pastors must exhibit the virtues they wish to see within the lives of their people. Commenting on Ezekiel 34:3-5, Augustine declared, “The pastor who lives a bad life openly in the sight of the people is killing as many people as he is observed by.” Imitation of Christ-like virtue was a vital facet of pastoral ministry. It remains so today. Pastors are not to trust in themselves for virtuous living, but in Christ who is the ultimate model of virtue. Augustine understood that preachers were fallen and not always worthy of imitation, yet God may still use such men. He exhorts his people, “Be imitators of them, as they are of Christ. A good man preaches to you; pick the grapes from the vine. A bad man preaches to you; pick the grapes hanging in the hedge….That’s what I’m saying: learn from him what’s good, taking care not to fall into his bad habits.”
Despite multiple monumental theological achievements, its as a preacher where we most readily perceive the theological acumen, scriptural reflection, and Christocentric foundation of Augustine. While we understand much of this towering figure from his Confessions, we should also look toward his sermons and pastoral writings for a broader glimpse into the life and mind of this faithful Christian bishop. These aspects of pastoral ministry, foundational for early church pastors, are precious jewels in need of rediscovery for faithful pastoral ministry in the 21st century.
Coleman Ford serves in the Professional Doctoral Studies department at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His doctoral work focuses on early church history and ethics, specifically sexual ethics in early Christian perspective. He is married to Alexandria and serves at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. He is the co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies and regularly blogs at www.ancientchristianstudies.com. He has contributed numerous articles, dictionary entries, and book reviews in the field of ancient Christianity. You can follow him on Twitter @colemanford.
 Peter T. Sanlon, Augustine’s Theology of Preaching (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014).
 Edward L. Smither, Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008).
 Saint Augustine, Essential Sermons, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2007), 11.
 Christopher A. Beeley, Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012), 81.
 Anne-Marie La Bonnardière, “Augustine, Minister of the Word of God” in Augustine and the Bible, ed. and trans. Pamela Bright, The Bible Through the Ages, Vol 2 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 245.
 Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 2.16 (NPNF2 7:433).
 Augustine, On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed, 5.19.
 Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.14.13 (Robertson, 14-15).
 Augustine, Sermon 46.9.
 Augustine, Sermon 104.10.
The views expressed by guest writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Academic, LifeWay Christian Resources, or any employee thereof.