T.M. Moore is the editor of the Worldview Church and serves both as a writer and a theological conultant for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 1 Thessalonians 1:5
Called to be faithful
As servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, ministers are called to be faithful (1 Cor. 4:1, 2). Like Paul, they must pay careful attention to their labors, lest they should fail to realize the fruit God intends from those He has sent to shepherd, nurture, and equip His flock.
But it is altogether possible for ministers to be faithful and diligent in their work, and yet not see the kind of fruit the New Testament describes. If we are faithful in the wrong things, it won’t matter how hard we work, how many loyal followers we assemble, or how much diversity of programming we sponsor in the name of our church. Faithfulness in the wrong things cannot yield the kind of fruit Paul sought through His own ministry.
As a general principle of ministry, it is never right to do the wrong thing. That should go without saying; however, it’s good to remind ourselves of it, since we have seen in our day many pastors who, having done the wrong thing of one sort or another have lost their ministries and caused many to stumble in their walk with the Lord.
At the same time, it is never right to do the right thing in the wrong way. Building up a local church is a very good and noble thing, but if we go about our task in the wrong way, we may not expect the blessing and favor of God upon our work. This is the lesson of Uzzah and David’s first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 13-16).
It is only right to do the right thing in the right way. And when it comes to building the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and doing the work of ministry as He intends, ministers must understand what is required of them as faithful stewards. They must do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way if they would expect to know the Lord’s blessing and have their labors be fruitful rather than in vain.
The Lord has appointed the tools ministers must employ in their work of building His house. If their labors are not to be in vain, they must make good use of all the tools He provides.
What are the tools a minister brings to the task of building the local church?
If we ask that question another way, we might be misled in our answer. If we ask, for example, “What is necessary in order to have a healthy, growing church?” we might conclude, first of all, that a healthy, growing church must have its own building. After all, local churches are identified first of all by their facilities. Church planters are taught to work toward having their own building within a certain period of time. A large portion of a local church’s resources and time are invested in maintaining and using their building. “Where do you go to church?” we ask a friend, indicating by our question that, in our minds, “church” is first of all defined by a particular place and the facilities erected there.
It would seem, therefore, that for a minister to make sure that he is being faithful, so that his labors in the Lord will not be in vain, he must have adequate permanent facilities for the task, and make the best possible use of these.
Obviously, such a notion would have been completely foreign to the experience of New Testament Christians. Indeed, for the first two centuries of the Christian movement permanent facilities for worship and other kinds of meetings were the exception, not the norm. The New Testament mentions the use of public and rented facilities, as well as private homes, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints of God. When Pliny wrote to the Emperor, early in the second century, describing the practice of the Christians in Asia Minor, he reported that they gathered in private homes, not in facilities of their own. Archaeological evidence likewise indicates that the first wave of Christian expansion – arguably the most difficult and most successful in the history of the Christian movement – was accomplished without much in the way of permanent facilities.
So if we are looking to our pastors to lead us in building and maintaining facilities as a primary indicator that they are being faithful, so that their labors will not in vain, we’re looking in the wrong place. Facilities are not of the esse of the church, but of its bene esse – and not always that. Consequently, buildings may or may not be necessary at all. In our own day, some of the most vibrant and rapidly-growing manifestations of the Christian movement are from within and through house churches in places like China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Cuba.
Permanent facilities, therefore – church buildings – are strictly secondary resources in the minister’s tool kit. We must not allow ourselves to become confused about what is required of us in being faithful by devoting much in the way of energy or attention to buildings and property.
Similarly, we might think that a minister is faithful in employing the resources of his tool kit when his church offers a wide variety of programs and activities for all interests and age groups. After all, such efforts take a large amount of the space, time, resources, and personnel of every church. A minister is being faithful, we might consider, when his church has adequate programs and the people and space to house those programs, in order to “meet the needs” of the believing community.
But, once again, we look in vain through the New Testament and the early years of the Christian movement to find anything that resembles the kind of sophisticated programming that even the most humble of today’s churches provides.
Programs, like buildings, may indeed contribute something to the work of building the church. But they are not essential, but only secondary, tools in a pastor’s tool kit. Any pastor who regards them as primary rather than secondary to his work runs the risk of laboring in vain, rather than as a faithful servant and steward of Christ.
The pastor’s tool kit consists of three tools, each of which complements the other, and all of which are required at all times and in every situation for a pastor’s labors to be fruitful rather than in vain.
These tools are the prayer, the Word of God, and the example of the pastor’s own life (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). Only as a pastor understands and masters the use of each of these tools can he regard himself as being faithful in his calling. And only as pastors apply these tools faithfully – and as their primary tools – can they expect the Lord to bless their labors in building His house.
As we have already seen, from 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul regarded his work among the Thessalonians to be “not in vain” because he faithfully applied himself, using all the tools assigned him, to the work of building the church there. That church “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1:7) as a result of Paul’s faithful labors. If we would be faithful and build exemplary churches, we must learn from Paul, the other Apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ how best to apply ourselves in the faithful use of the tools of ministry God has appointed.
Faithfulness in ministry is first of all a matter of faithfulness in doing God’s work God’s way – using His appointed tools with maximum skill, consistency, and effectiveness. He will provide the fruit He seeks in His way and time. The pastor’s responsibility is not for fruit, but for faithfulness (1 Cor. 3:5-9).
Only when we are faithful in doing God’s work God’s way can we expect that our labors in His name will not be in vain.
Next steps: Take some time to review all the things you do in ministry each week. In what specific ways do the three tools of the minister’s tool kit come into play in each of these activities? Share the results of your review with a trusted church leader, and ask for his prayers, that you might become even more faithful in your ministry.
For a good overview of the work of pastoral ministry, order a copy of “The Christian Ministry,” by Charles Bridges, a classic in the field of pastoral studies. You can order it from our online by clicking here. You might also read the article, “Watch Yourself: The Discipline of the Self-watch,” by T. M. Moore.
For a good overview of the work of pastoral ministry, order a copy of "The Christian Ministry", by Charles Bridges, a classic in the field of pastoral studies. You can order it from our online by clicking here. You might also read the article, “Watch Yourself: The Discipline of the Self-watch,” by T. M. Moore.