(As found on Christianity Today)
About the only thing I remember from one of my courses at seminary is a bit of doggerel that the weary professor dropped into a boring lecture:
Methods are many,
Principles are few.
Methods always change,
Principles never do.
As soon as I returned to my dormitory room I looked up “principle” in my dictionary and found it meant “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.” I read further and discovered that the word comes from the Latin principium which means “beginning.” I learned something from that definition that has helped to deepen and direct my ministry for many years: if I go back to beginnings and build on principles, I will always be up-to-date and in step with what God is doing.
That conviction led me into a lifelong search for principles, the foundational truths that never change and yet always have a fresh meaning and application for each new situation. I learned to adopt a method until I understood the principle behind it. I learned to evaluate men and ministries on the basis of the principles that motivated them, as well as on the basis of the fruit they produced.
Living by this philosophy simplified my life. My mind was not cluttered with the excess baggage of every fad that the winds of doctrine blew into the evangelical world. My bookshelves were not cluttered with the popular how-to-do-it manuals that were bestsellers one month and has-beens the next. (My wife thought we were saving money because I was not buying all these books. Actually I was spending the money on other books that, though they were not as popular, have lasted longer and taught me more.)
So when our oldest son accpeted his first pastorate, I felt obligated as a dutiful father to share with him some of the principles that have guided my ministry. I felt somewhat like Phillips Brooks, who opened his Yale lectures on preaching by admitting that the lectures had forced him “to ponder much upon the principles by which I have only have conciously been living and working for many years.”
Over successive weeks, I thought about the principles, changed them, refined them, and tried to make them truly comprehensive and fundamental. Whether you agree with these principles or not may not be important; they may at least assist you in drawing your own.
God makes a worker, then he uses that worker to make work. Phillips Brooks was right when he defined preparation for the ministry as “nothing less than the making of a man” (or the making of a woman–Brooks would agree with that). No matter what kind of ministry God gives to us–preaching, teaching, counseling, supervising, encouraging–we can never give to others what we do not have ourselves. To ignore character is to abandon the foundation of ministry.”
This explains why God spends so much time with his servants. He took thirteen years to prepare Joseph to become second-in-command in Egypt. He invested eighty years in his preparation of Moses. Even the learned Saul of Tarsus had to spend three years in post-graduate work in Arabia before God thrust him out as Paul the Apostle. The biographies and autobiographies of great Christian men and women reveal that God first builds Christian character in his servants, and then through them builds a ministry.
Apart from character, ministry is only religious activity or, even worse, religious business. The Pharisees called what they did ministry, but Jesus called it hypocrisy. He knew that the Pharisees were more concerned about reputation than character, that the praises of men interested them more than the approval of God.
“Let me be taught,” wrote Henry Martyn, “that the first great business on earth is the sanctification of my own soul.” Amen and amen. Someone asked financier J. P. Morgan what was the best collateral a customer could give him. Morgan replied, “Character.” That reminds me of another Morgan. G. Campbell Morgan was riding with D. L. Moody at Northfield when suddenly Moody asked, “What is character anyway?” Morgan knew that the evangelist wanted to answer his own question, so he waited. “Character,” said Moody, “is what a man is in the dark.” When Spurgeon was told that someone wanted to write a book about his life, he replied, “You may write my life in the skies–I have nothing to hide!”
Perhaps the key word is integrity. Jesus warned us that we cannot serve two masters, and James agreed when he wrote, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (1:8). The opposite of integrity is duplicity. “The hands are the the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob.” No one can minister and masquerade successfully at the same time–at least not for very long. No amount of reputation can substitute for character. A. T. Robertson was right when he wrote in The Glory of the Ministry, “Many men with great names are novices in grace.”
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).