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Pastoral Insight from Andrew Fuller: "A shepherd must smell like sheep"

by Jordan Senécal on January 24, 2020

Pastoral Insight from Andrew Fuller: "A shepherd must smell like sheep"

Andrew Fuller (17541815) was a remarkable English Particular Baptist. His theology (known as “Fullerism” even in his day) was extremely influential among his fellow Baptists, and it has deeply impacted the broader Christian world down to the present day. Over the course of Fuller’s ministry, he pastored two churches – the first in Soham (from 1775 to 1782) and the second in Kettering (from 1782 until his death in 1815). He was also involved in the founding of the “Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen,” later called the “Baptist Missionary Society” (BMS). He served as its first secretary from 1792 to 1815.

Fuller is best known for his treatise, The Gospel of Christ Worthy of All Acceptation,[1] which proved to be the theological spark that ignited the fire of the modern missionary movement.[2] This work “expressed systemically the doubts that a number of ministers had about the prevailing hyper-Calvinism.”[3] While he may be best remembered for his handling of this theological controversy, Fuller was above all else a pastor. Though he was far from perfect (especially as he struggled to balance his pastoral ministry with the growing demands of the BMS), he nonetheless provides us with helpful lessons for pastoral ministry today.

From Fuller’s ordination sermons, it is evident that he believed that pastors should live among their people because effective pastoring and preaching require an intimate knowledge of those under their watch. He articulates this conviction in an ordination sermon, preached on October 31, 1787, at Robert Fawkner’s installation at the Church at Thorn. In this sermon, Fuller observes that Paul taught the Ephesians, not only publicly, but “from house to house” (Acts 20:20). On this basis, he admonishes Fawkner: “Though religious visits may be abused; yet you know, brother, the necessity there is for them, if you would ascertain the spiritual condition of those to whom you preach.”[4]

It is essential for a pastor, who preaches to his congregation on a regular basis, to spend time among his people, especially in private visitation, so that he might know them better, observe their lives, and (as necessary) offer comfort and correction. Without this familiarity, the pastor remains oblivious to the needs of his people, and thereby misses an essential element in his preaching – especially if he is trying to bring the Word of God to bear in a pointed (or, perhaps as has become more popular to say, relevant) manner.

Fuller highlights another reason for private visitation: “It is in our private visits also that we can be free with our people, and they with us. Questions may be asked and answered, difficulties solved, and the concerns of the soul discussed.”[5] Unless a pastor spends time with his people in a very open and personal way, he might never learn about their concerns, struggles, and difficulties. Consequently, he might never have the opportunity to fulfill his calling to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, [and] help the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14).

Fuller’s admonition is timely. In a day of mega-churches, satellite campuses, and celebrity pastors, the temptation is to lose sight of what’s truly important – “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). In order to care for God’s people, a pastor must know God’s people; or, as Jeramie Rinne so aptly puts it, “a shepherd must smell like sheep.”[6]


* Jordan A. Senécal is a M.Div. student at Heritage College & Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario.


[1] Andrew Fuller, The Gospel of Christ Worthy of All Acceptation: Or the Obligations of Men Fully to Credit, and Cordially to Approve, Whatever God Makes Known. Where is Considered the Nature of Faith in Christ, and the Duty of Those Where the Gospel Comes in that Matter (Northampton, UK: T. Dicey, 1785).

[2] John Piper opens his small work on Fuller with these words: “Andrew Fuller’s impact on history, by the time Jesus returns, may very well be far greater and different than it is now. My assessment at this point is that his primary impact on history has been the impetus that his life and thought gave to modern missions, specifically through the Baptist Missionary Society’s sending of William Carey to India in 1793 with the support of Fuller, the society’s first secretary. That historical moment—the sending of William Carey and his team—marked the opening of the modern missionary movement.” John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 13. See also Michael A. G. Haykin and Brian Croft, Being a Pastor: A Conversation with Andrew Fuller (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2019), 21–22.

[3] John Briggs, “The First Baptists,” in Introduction to the History of Christianity, 3rd ed., ed. Tim Dowley, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018), 360.

[4] Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Joseph Belcher, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1845), 1:140.

[5] Fuller, Complete Works, 1:141.

[6] Jeramie Rinne, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, 9marks: Building Healthy Churches, ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 35, Kindle.

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