Interview by Timothy Raymond–
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Old Princeton,” I had the pleasure of talking with Brian Croft, Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the husband of Cara and adoring father of four children, son, Samuel and daughters, Abby, Isabelle, and Claire. He has served in pastoral ministry for fifteen years and is currently in his eighth year as Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. He was educated at both Belmont University and Indiana University receiving his B.A. in Sociology. He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He is also the author of Visit the sick: Ministering God’s grace in times of illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and Test, train, affirm, and send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Both of these volumes are published by Day One in their pastoral series designed to serve pastors, church leaders, and those training for local church ministry. One of Brian’s newest books is Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton).
In this interview Brian talks about ministering to widows, pastoral blunders, and mentoring the next generation of pastors.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in a church that did not preach the gospel. I heard the gospel at a youth lock in when I was 13 years old and was converted. I was not truly discipled until I was an adult and already serving in pastoral ministry part-time. This is in large part what God used to cause me to long for mentoring and be a sponge to all those who would teach me.
Who have been some of the more formative influences on your view of pastoral ministry and why?
Without a doubt, the three biggest influences on me as a Christian and my view of pastoral ministry have been Mark Dever (Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church), Jackson Boyett (who passed away 6 months ago as the founding pastor of Dayspring Fellowship in Austin, TX), and my father. My father was my greatest influence my first 18 years, Mark Dever the next 10 years, then Jackson Boyett these last 8 years. Mark taught me what a pastor really was and what the local church was supposed to be, while Jackson modeled a love for the grind of pastoral ministry that made me love it that much more.
You seem to have a remarkable ability to speak to practical aspects of pastoral ministry. How did you develop this? Is this more of a gift or something you cultivated? Any suggestions for growing in this area?
I have not and still don’t believe there is some unusual gifting, but that I am simply doing what a pastor is supposed to do. Think through the grey areas, praying for divine wisdom, and figure out what to do. I learned some really hard, painful lessons about ministry as I spent almost my first ten years in large, pragmatic churches. I vowed to learn from those lessons and help others not have to learn them the way I did. As I just pastored my flock these last nine years at Auburndale as the Senior Pastor, I thought I was just doing what every pastor was supposed to do, namely, thinking through the difficult issues, seeking counsel, learning from those who have been there before, and teaching others how to practically apply what we learn. As I saw the amount of pastors and those aspiring to be one not thinking through the issues of ministry adequately, and how to figure out the best ways to care for people, I saw a need and tried to help with it.
Based on your past blog posts, you seem to have great love and concern for older Christians, especially widows. Was there an experience(s) that led you to see this as an area of special need?
Yes, coming to pastor a dead, dying church filled with 30 elderly folks. Many of them were not happy with me for several years. Because I don’t feel I get to determine of whom I will give an account to God (Heb. 13:17), I began to pray that God would give me a love for them and a desire to care for them, even though many did not want my care. That was maybe one of the greatest seasons of growth for me and it has carried over as our church is still a good mix of this older generation, but the majority being under 40 years old. Throughout that growth, I realized the biblical imperatives to especially care for widows that so directly applied to my situation. Those early years had also equipped me in a unique way to push the younger to care for the older and to see the value many of the older bring to our lives.
You’ve written a book on mentoring men sensing a call to pastoral ministry entitled Train, Test, and Affirm. Would you summarize the message of this book and give us a couple reasons why pastors should read it?
A man’s call into the ministry should be affirmed by both an internal and external calling. The internal being that desire the individual has to do the work of the ministry. The external calling is an affirmation that comes from others outside that individual. In the last 100 years, that responsibility for others to affirm a man for ministry has fallen on Seminaries, Bible Colleges, Mission Organizations, family members, and other para-church ministries. But the sole responsibility to Test, Train, Affirm and Send a man into the ministry and grant an external call falls upon the local church. This book biblically argues for just that and explains pastorally as well as practically how a local church can accomplish this task.
In your opinion, how important is expository preaching to pastoral ministry and why?
Expository preaching especially through whole books of the Bible is essential as I feel it is the most faithful way to capture the intent of the biblical authors as well as the most efficient way to make God’s Word central in the life of a local church. It is also important, for the quality of the preaching, that you preach what the text gives you. In other words, you say what the text allows you to say. You preach the verses in the text and these verses provide you with the topic to be preached every week. Expository preaching forces the pastor to preach the hard texts that are easy to avoid in picking and choosing a text every week. Additionally, it is the best way for both a preacher and congregation to grow in knowledge of the whole counsel of God.
What mistakes have you made in pastoral ministry that you’d caution others against?
Wow, not enough room or time to answer this one. A few big ones that come to mind are to make sure you pick your battles well. They need to be chosen carefully, wisely, and they need to be well-timed. My wife saved me on many occasions from what were about to be foolish, badly-timed, and unnecessary battles. Don’t change anything until you have won the credibility to do so, which must be more than a salary, title, and a sixth month tenure. At different times I neglected walking with the Lord while running to do ministry. Additionally, I allowed fear of man to dominate many decisions in the early years. Spend your time knowing God is watching, verses a grumpy deacon who is out to get you. Don’t allow your own sinful pride and ambition to drive your ministry and your decisions as it did for me on different occasions.
Imagine you’re speaking to young seminarians and aspiring pastors. What specific advice would you give them? What might you prepare them for, warn them against, etc.?
Walk with Christ by first knowing that he is enough. Listen and cherish your wife, for if all abandons you, she will still be standing next to you. Your children are to be discipled and instructed in the Lord before any church member. Preach the Word, sacrificially love those people God has entrusted to your care, and know that God and his Word (not you!) are powerful enough to build his church. Finally, make sure you have been deeply affected by the text you have been studying to preach. Our people can tell and it is what makes our preaching genuine and powerful. Remember our call is to shepherd the flock until the Chief Shepherd appears (1 Peter 5:1-4).
You’ve done a good bit of traveling overseas. What have you learned about Christianity, the church, and pastoring by observing it in an international contexts?
The rest of the world is not saturated with churches as we are in America, nor do they have a category for large churches as we do. Additionally, most outside America are not impressed with large churches as we are. The resources we have are in abundance compared to most other places. The training and education available in the states for those desiring pastoral ministry is much greater. Because of these things, I find myself inspired by the faithfulness of pastors laboring in hard, dark places all around the world. In some ways, they are more faithful than we are because there is less to distract them. There is also a more humble, teachable spirit as they are far less tempted to be impressed with themselves as we are here.
What are three or four “must-read” books on pastoral ministry and why?
The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, Lectures to my Students by Spurgeon, and The Work of the Pastor by William Still…to name a few. The reason these authors are at the top of my list is because they are all dead guys who were faithful to the end. Moreover, they all write in such a way that they are not bias towards a modern day, consumerist, American culture. That is a helpful perspective for all pastors today.
This interview came from the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Old Princeton.” Read other interviews like this one today!
Each of us are indebted to those theologians of ages past who have gone before us, heralding the gospel, and even fighting to their last breath to keep the God of that gospel high and lifted up. It is hard to think of a group of men more worthy of this praise than those of the Old Princeton heritage. Men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and many others, stand in this rich heritage, men who defended the faith once for all delivered to the saints against the ever-growing threat of liberalism around them.
Since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Old Princeton (1812-2012), it is fitting that we devote ourselves to remembering and imitating these great theologians of yesterday, not because they are great in and of themselves, but because their example points us to the great and mighty God we worship. And who better to introduce us to these Old Princetonians than James M. Garretson writing on Archibald Alexander, W. Andrew Hoffecker making our acquaintance with Charles Hodge, Fred Zaspel reminding us of B. B. Warfield, and D. G. Hart increasing our love for J. Gresham Machen? Not to mention a very in-depth interview with Paul Helseth on Old Princton and the debate over “right reason.” May these articles and interviews inspire us so that in our own day we might experience a revival of this rich orthodoxy that has stood the test of time.