The work that the pastor does cannot be separated from the life that he lives. A man may be a successful surgeon and, at the same time, a compulsive gambler; or he may teach algebra with great success and get drunk every weekend. But the man in the ministry reproduces after his kind. This is why Paul warned Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine…”(1 Tim. 4:16). Bad character can never live with good doctrine. Unless the truth is written on the pastor’s heart and revealed in his life, he can never write it on the hearts of others.
It is for this reason that maturity is essential in the work of the ministry. As the pastor matures, his people mature; for the work we do flows out of the life we live. Paul was concerned that young Timothy’s “profiting” be seen by all men (I Tim. 4:15), and that word profiting was an apt choice. It means “pioneer advance into new territory.” Paul wanted to see Timothy mature-move into new areas of spiritual understanding and growth-because then his church would also mature to the glory of God.
There is a great difference between age and maturity. Age is a quantity of time; maturity is a quality of experience. Unfortunately not everyone who grows old, grows up! The man who says, “I’ve been pastoring for twenty years!” has no guarantee that he is ministering in a mature manny, because age and experience are no guarantees of maturity. They are only opportunities for maturity.
There are several ways to measure maturity. I want to focus on one: the ability to make distinctions. In his prayer for the Philippians, Paul desired that they “may approve things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10), or that they “may distinguish the things that differ.” a little child thinks all four-footed animals are dogs until he discovers the existence of cats, mice, hamsters, and a multitude of other creatures. The ability to make distinctions that are important is one mark of the mature man. With this in mind I would like to suggest several distinctions that, to me, mark the man who is maturing in the ministry
Activity or Ministry To begin with, the maturing pastor knows the difference between activity and ministry. He knows that not all activity is ministry-in fact, it might be a detour around real ministry! – ath that some ministry requires very little activity but a great deal of intensity. A Sunday bulletin that looks like an airlines timetable does not always indicate that God’s people are serving the Lord. It could mean they are living on substitutes. The mature pastor is not against activity, because he knows that Spirit-filled people will be busy serving other; but he does not make activity the sole test of the spiritual level of the church.
Activity can simply mean doing a job and getting it over with; ministry means sharing a life. In I Thessalonians 2:7-8 Paul compared the faithful pastor to a nursing mother who imparts her very life to the children! It may be pressing the illustration too far, but ministry means nursing the children, while activity means mixing a formula and turning the family over to a babysitter! The man who truly ministers is fulfilling a calling to the glory of God, not serving a calendar for the praise of men.
Multiplying activities is not always the way to God’s blessing. I know a church that prided itself in its busy schedule; there was something every night of the week. Some of the people asked that the church board make Monday a “family night” so that members could stay home and enjoy their families. The board agreed. Unbelievable as it sounds, a few weeks later the members were asking to have the regular Monday-evening program restored. They explained: “We just sit at home and look at each other and don’t know what to do!” What a tragedy that a “busy church” had incapacitated them for the job of building beautiful human relationships at home! After living for years on substitutes, the people did not know the real thing when it came their way.
Every pastor owes it to himself and his church to examine carefully the church program as well as his own schedule. Each committee, organization, activity, and office should be tested. Has some of the temporary scaffolding become part of the permanent structure? Or to change the figure, is a growing body being forced to wear baby clothes? We do not perform surgery on the baby to make him fit the garment; we get new garments! A breath of fresh air would blow through the local church that has the courage to separate activity from ministry.
We must face the fact that some pastors actually enjoy endless activity and full schedules. Perhaps it gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Or perhaps (and this may be closer to the truth) it gives them an excuse not to get so close to the people that they have to pay a price to serve the Lord. When a man is “on the run,” people with broken hearts do not seek him out. Keeping active on the organizational and denominational treadmill can ease a pastor’s conscience as he neglects prayer and meditation and a close confrontation with the needs that his people face. Every man knows the plague of his own heart, so I must not judge; but I cannot help feeling that heaven has a special reward for that pastor who has had the courage to say with Jeremiah, “Take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord’s” (Jer. 5:10)
Methods are many, principles are few;
Methods always change, principles never do.
For example, it is a basic principle of the ministry that no man can be saved apart from the Word of God. How you get Go’d Word to him is quite something else. You may preach to him, hand him a tract, or invite him to your home for a cookout and converse with him in a casual way. Or it is a principle that the local church must pray if God is going to bless. The methods you use to get your people to pray will vary, and what works in rural Iowa may not work in metropolitan Chicago. Some churches thrive on early morning prayer breakfasts; others use prayer cells in the homes. No one method is more inspired than another, and the pastor who marries a method may have to divorce it when he moves to his next pastorate.
The beginning pastor and the immature pastor become intoxicated with methods. Consciously or unconsciously they “imitate the big men” and fall in love with every new idea that is generated. It matters not that Saul’s armor does not fit; the immature man will stumble around in it anyway because ” this is what everybody is doing these days.” Try to convince him that there is really nothing new under the sun, and he will look at you with alarm. Try to convince him that the methods must fit the man, and he will become suspicious of you and your orthodoxy. After all, ther is today an orthodoxy of method as well as of doctrine, and sometimes it appears that the former is more important than the latter.
Right methods, and methods that are effective and biblical, are certainly important. A man said to Dwight L. Moody, “Mr. Moody, I don’t like your methods.”
“Well, I’m always looking for better methods,” the evangelist replied. “What methods do you use?”
“I have no methods,” the man replied sheepishly.
“Then I’ll stick to my own,” said Moody.
But we need to remember that methods deal with the how and what of the ministry; principles deal with the why. It is valuable to know what works; but it is also valuable to know why it works. Psalm 103:7 illustrates this truth: “He mad known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.” Israel knew what God was doing; but Moses knew why God was doing it.
A man builds his principles out of his own personal experience with the Word of God. He is careful to test his methods by his principles. When a man ministers according to principle, there is stability to his work; there are roots that will not be shaken by every wind of doctrine. The man who follows God-given principles is not attracted by all the latest fads, or does he seek the approval of men. ” He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”; he that adopts all the latest methods is forgotten as soon as are the methods.
Excerpted from Listen to the Giants by Warren Wiersbe, pp. 345-348
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).