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.
...shepherd the flock that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:2, 3
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time…” Acts 20:18
…set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
The starting point of faithfulness
The Apostles agree that faithfulness in the work of ministry begins with one’s own life, with the example he sets before the congregation entrusted to his care. The minister who would be found faithful in his calling, and have his labor be fruitful rather than in vain, must first of all pay attention to the example of his own life with the Lord.
This might seem obvious, but it ill behooves us to overlook the obvious with respect to the requirements of a Christ-like example in caring for the flock of the Lord. Many have been turned away from the life of faith because of some failure or perceived betrayal on the part of someone in pastoral leadership. Pastors and church leaders must remember the words of our Lord Jesus, Who cautioned that church members will not rise above the level of maturity and fruitful living they see in their leaders (cf. Jn. 13:15-17).
We might consider this aspect of faithfulness in ministry from three perspectives. A minister must provide a faithful example of Kingdom presence, shepherding love, and ministry diligence. We will consider each of these in turn, beginning, in this installment, with the minister’s responsibility for embodying the reality of the Kingdom of God.
The Good News
The Good News Jesus proclaimed, and that He taught His disciples to proclaim, is that of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 4:17; 10:7). The Kingdom of God is the gracious rule of Jesus Christ, exercised by His Word and Spirit, in and through His people, unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17, 18).
The Kingdom of God, however, is not something which is accessible, in the first instance, by our physical senses. We have received an unshakeable and eternal Kingdom, which it is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ to seek as our highest priority in life (Heb. 12:18-25; Matt. 6:33). The message we proclaim, as Jesus showed us, is of the reality, beauty, desirability, power, and priority of the Kingdom of God. But it will do ministers no good to proclaim this reality if they do not embody it in their own experience.
Jesus understood this, of course, and He balanced His own ministry between Kingdom words and Kingdom deeds. He demonstrated by His work of healing, casting out demons, and standing against all unrighteousness that a new reality was breaking into human experience which would have the power to right ancient wrongs and to bring love for God and neighbors into our everyday experience with greater consistency and effects. As ministers we are not being faithful in our calling if we are not proclaiming this Kingdom. And we can scarcely expect our proclamation to be credible if we do not evidence in our lives the reality we so boldly, confidently, and consistently proclaim.
Righteousness: the character of the Kingdom
What are the personal attributes a minister should adapt in order to show the reality of the Kingdom of God to the people in his care? While we might all desire to be endowed with gifts of healing and exorcism, as our Lord Jesus was, the teaching of Scripture is that these are not the primary means whereby the reality of the Kingdom is to be embodied. There will be those who can heal and those who can cast out demons. But, unlike in Jesus’ day, when such was necessary dramatically to illustrate the arrival of the Kingdom, and to inaugurate the overthrow of the works of the devil, in our day embodying the Kingdom takes a form which we expect to be the common possession of all the people of God, beginning with those who serve them.
The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of righteousness, as Paul explained (Rom. 14:17). “Righteousness” in general describes the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness, and He alone can clothe us with the righteousness which pleases God and reflects the reality of the Kingdom (Rom. 3:21-26). The Spirit of God works with the Word of God to form us into the image of Jesus Christ, so that we may expect to increase in Him as our old self pales against the growing light of His indwelling presence and power (2 Cor. 3:12-18; Jn. 3:30).
But growth in righteousness does not simply happen. Paul insists that God will be at work within us to will and do according to His good pleasure as we devote ourselves to working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12, 13). In order for Christ to clothe us with Himself we must work hard at laying aside every vestige of the old person we were before grace laid hold on us, and seek the Lord through all the disciplines of grace, that we might increase in Him (Eph. 4:17-24).
The minister who would grow in Christlikeness, therefore, must devote himself to a life of spiritual discipline, seeking the Lord in prayer, the Word, fasting and solitude, worship and contemplation, as a primary aspect of his calling to follow Jesus. He must take up the reading and study of God’s Law, as the ground for an ethic of righteousness, and follow Jesus in the path of obedience to God’s commands (1 Jn. 2:1-6).
The presence of the Kingdom of God may be discerned where righteousness is in evidence. Let ministers strive to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1), so that they may complement by their lives that declaration of the Kingdom they faithfully proclaim, and so that they may indicate by their own conduct the way of the Kingdom for all those entrusted to their care.
Peace: the condition of the Kingdom
Where righteousness obtains, the presence of the Lord is known, and in the presence of the Lord is peace (Jn. 14:27). A minister who lives in constant anxiety, who struggles with depression and doubt, or who is quick to become irritated or angry cannot spread the peace of Christ’s Kingdom among the flock entrusted to his care. Jesus leaves His peace to His people through His Word and Spirit, but also through the ministry of those who must exemplify the condition of peace which accompanies the presence of the Lord and His righteousness.
Ministers must earnestly seek to know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to show and bring that peace to the people in their care. Peace comes through prayer, as Paul reminds us (Phil. 4:6, 7). Peace is also a choice: we may be angry at times, but we must not sin by allowing our anger to linger, lest we give an opportunity for the devil to frustrate our labors (Eph. 4:26, 27).Ministers must strive to practice peace with all people, even those who are most disagreeable or hostile toward them (Rom. 12:14-21). They must speak peaceably, seasoning their words with grace and seeking always to edify others with their speech (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29). And ministers must take the lead at being peacemakers among contending parties within the congregation (cf. Phil. 4:2, 3; 1 Cor. 1:10-17).
The minister who lives in the peace of Christ will manifest and spread that peace to the people around him. As we grow in righteousness, knowing the presence of the Lord and His glory increasingly, the peace of Christ will be the condition of our lives, and the condition which infuses all our efforts in ministry.
Joy: the consequence of the Kingdom
Where a man knows the presence of the Lord and lives in his peace, he will know the joy of the Lord’s salvation, which nothing can take from him (Ps. 16:11; Hab. 3:17-19). Joy is the consequence of the presence of the Kingdom, the inward response of people who know the presence of the Lord and live in the favor of His peace. Such joy is deep-seated and may not always be expressed with exuberance. At the same time, we might expect those who know true joy to give evidence of that in various ways.
Where the joy of the Lord is known people are given to thanks and praise, often in the form of singing. The psalms abound with such examples of people who, resting in the Lord’s presence and secure in His peace, cannot help but break forth in singing and rejoicing
We should expect this joy to be reflected in our ministries – our preaching and teaching, visits, counseling, and how we lead God’s people in worship. Joy is the second of the fruit of the Spirit; it seems important, therefore, that God’s people know His joy, so that they may bear witness to Him in a world where this commodity is sorely lacking. And they will know the joy of the Kingdom – as well as its righteousness and peace – more readily where their pastor embodies this manner of living in all his ways.
Seeking the Kingdom
The pastor’s personal example is an important item in his tool kit for faithfulness and effectiveness in ministry. And that example begins by his representing the reality of the Kingdom he proclaims and which he calls the people of God to seek.
The pastor must be himself, therefore, in the forefront of those who seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Let seeking the Kingdom define the way we use our time, the goals we set for ourselves and our churches, the object of all our ministry endeavors, and the increasing reality in which we live. The minister who seeks and embodies the Kingdom is much more likely to infect his congregation with that happy virus. And in such a condition of seeking the Kingdom, a church may expect to make real progress in its unique mission and calling.
Next steps: Talk with your spouse and with a trusted friend about the Kingdom and the ways in which you bear evidence of it in your life. How might you become more consistent in seeking the Kingdom in all your ways and work?
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.