(As found on Christianity Today)
Some patsors pray for each of their members by name during the course of a week or a month, or where the congregation is large, several months. Certainly a pastor can make time to pray for the officers and leaders of the church during one week. It is a privilege to share God’s Word with people; but it is even a greater privilege to nurture that Word with our prayers.
The minister who is too busy to study the Word of God and pray is simply too busy. He may be successful in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his peers; but he is a failure in God’s eyes–and one day everybody will know it. God has not promised to bless methods, but he has promised to bless his Word and to answer prayer. I am not an athlete or even an enthusiastic spectator, but I have come to a conclusion about sports: the best thing about winning the game is being the kind of person who can win. The applause will fade, the trophy will decay, but the blessing of a strong body, good coordination, and the determination to win will enrich a person for years to come.
Perhaps this is the reason why the Apostle Paul used so many athletic illustrations in his letters. The athlete grows by doing his best. “Be diligent in these matters,” Paul admonished young Timothy; “give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (I Tim. 4:15). People often ask, “Is the church growing?” Perhaps they ought to ask, “Is the minister growing?”
But be warned–the reward for faithful ministry is–more ministry! “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25:21). This illustrates my point: faithfulness in ministry increases one’s capacity. The privilege of ministry is growth.
This also explains why faithful ministry is the way to greatness. Mere religious activity tears a person down; but true ministry builds him up, enlarges his abilities, and enriches his character. Salome wanted to get thrones for her two sons the easy way, but Jesus refused to grant her request. Thrones in God’s kingdom are prepared for those who prepare themselves. The faithful servant will one day hear his Lord say, “Friend, move up to a better place” (Luke 14:10).
We have been reminded many times by many preachers that, if God took the Holy Spirit out of this world, much of what the church is doing would go right on, and nobody would know the difference. God is not going to remove His Spirit from His people, but there is a danger: we may become so accustomed to working without his power that, when he does start to work, we will resist him. There are so many counterfeit spirits in our world that even the elect are sometimes deceived.
It was not enough for our Lord Jesus to possess a holy nature; he also needed the Holy Spirit. He knew the Holy Scriptures; he still needed the Holy Spirit. In his first sermon he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…” (Luke 4:18). Would that every minister of Jesus Christ could make that affirmation!
We tend to depend too much on training, talents, and experience. These are good, and wretched is the servant who lacks the, but apart from the Spirit’s power, they are of little use for the accomplishing of God’s work. The congregational theologian R. W. Dale once said to D. L. Moody after hearing him preach, “This work has to be of God, for I can see absolutely no connection between you and what is happening here.” I am sure Moody said a hearty “Amen!” Moody was filled with the Spirit, and God was at work through his life.
The Holy Spirit is not a luxury; he is a necessity. In his parable, Jesus connected the Spirit with fish and eggs, not lobster and caviar (Luke 11:11-12). The minister who knows he needs the Spirit and admits this has taken the first step toward spiritual power and holy character. The next step is to realize that the experience of the Spirit’s fullness must not be stereotyped, for “The wind blows wherever it pleases…” (John 3:8). I may not have the same experience as did Finney or Moody, but I can have the same power. “The Spirit-filled life is not a special, deluxe edition of Christianity,” wrote A.W. Tozer in How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit. “It is part and parcel of the total plan of God for his people.”
Educators keep telling us that role models are important; some lessons are just better “caught” than “taught.” This is why Jesus recruited disciples. These men lived with Jesus, watched him, listened to him, and learned from him.
Anyone who has invested a few years in Christian ministry knows the subtle temptation to model himself after some “great Christian.” It is often possible to identify a preacher’s alma mater by seeing how he is dressed, listening to him preach, and (above all else) watching him give an invitation at the close of a service. Students have a tendency to imitate, and some of them never grow out of this weakness.
Not that it is wrong to imitate. But we must imitate the essentials and not the accidentals, not the man but what Christ is doing in the man. We must so yield to the Spirit that he is able to work in us in a way suited to our personalities and gifts.
The best textbooks on ministry are the four Gospels. In them, we find Jesus’ example of what it means to minister. He came as a servant; he was obedient to the Father’s will; his obedience even took him to the cross. He did not function as a corporation president; he did not flatter the great or disdain the lowly. He accepted a gift from a forgiven harlot, and he enjoyed the hospitality of a converted publican. He ate with people that the Pharisees rejected and heard himself called a glutton and a drunk.
If the foundation of ministry is character, then Jesus Christ stands head and shoulders above all. He was “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners” (Heb. 7:26) and yet the friend of sinners.
If the nature of ministry is service, there is no better model than Jesus. He was born a servant; he lived and died a servant. He ministered to famous leaders like Nicodemus as well as to anonymous sufferers like the ten lepers he healed. He arose early to pray and to preacy, and he remained at Peter’s front door until late at night, healing those who were afflicted. Even while he was dying on the cross, his concern was to minister to others.
Is the motive of ministry love? Then see it in Jesus Christ. The more sinners hated him, the more he loved them. His love reached its climax at Calvary where he died for the sins of the world. If the measure of ministry is sacrifice, then the cross must forever be the divine standard for measuring our ministry.
In every way, Jesus Christ is the model for our ministry. His authority came from submission. His only purpose was to please the Father and glorify him. He ministered in the power of the Spirit, using the Word of God and prayer. And, strange as it may seem, our Lord benefited from his ministry, for “he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8) and was equipped to perform his heavenly ministry as our Advocate and High Priest.
When we model ourselves after other servants, we stifle our growth and limit our potential. But when we imitate Jesus Christ, we encourage our growth and unlock our potential. Carbon-copy ministries are usually superficial, no matter how popular they may be. But original ministries are the result of men and women patterning themselves after the Son of God. The more we follow Jesus Christ and model ourselves after him, the more we become our true selves for his glory.
And the more Christlike we are, the more Christlike our people will be. We reproduce after our kind. It is not easy to follow Christ as our example; we are surrounded by many distractions. Like Peter walking on the water, we can look at the circumstances (Matt. 14:30). Or, like Peter walking on the land, we can look at other believers (John 21:20-21). “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” is easy to read in Hebrews 12:2, but difficult to practice in the midst of the storm.
These principles are not exhaustive or definitive, but they have helped me during a quarter of a century of ministry. Perhaps they will help you and perhaps your experience will help to improve and expand what I have written here.
Ministry must never be static. God has made us, and God continues to make us. The grace of God that saved us continues to work in us and through us to enable us to be “ministers of a new covenant” (II Cor. 3:6). I agree with Phillips Brooks: “Let us rejoice witih one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of his truth.” But do not limit the excitement and joy to the preaching of the Word only, for every true ministry is born of God and can enjoy God’s blessing.
“He is the greatest Master I have ever known,” wrote David Livingstone near the close of his life. “If there is anyone greater, I do not know him. Jesus Christ is the only Master supremely worth serving. He is the only ideal that never loses its inspiration. He is the only friend whose friendship meets every demand. He is the only Saviour who can save us to the uttermost. We go forth in his name, in his power, and in his spirit, to serve him.”
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).