Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Needs of Gospel Ministry

Uncle Stanley the Red Snapper

Greatly challenged by D.A. Carson's talk on The Needs & Challenges of Gospel Ministry, at a Ministry Matters conference organised by Project Timothy. Reckon this isn't just for people in/contemplating full-time paid ministry but all who serve God's people.

From my notes (which, hopefully, don't misrepresent his words*):

One can address the need of gospel ministry on several angles:
  • the need that springs from the lostness of men and women can constitute a kind of call. That's why Paul asks the rhetorical question "How shall they hear if no one preaches?". If you have any genuine recognition that without the gospel, men and women are eternally lost.
  • Christian men and women in service of any kind, whether vocational or not, are like poor beggars telling other beggars where there is bread. There is no condescension of any kind. This is the least response after receiving such grace.
  • the need that springs from the Great Commission. Jesus does not say "Those of you who feel like it, if you are not too busy with other stuff, go and make disciples of all nations." So you should be asking yourself what frame of reference/in what domain should i be exercising this, but you cannot count yourself as exempt because you are busy with something else.
  • ecclesiological necessity - there are posts to be filled in church and needs amongst the people of God. People who begin to love the church and measure their significance on whether Christ says to them on the last day "Well done good and faithful servant" will buck sociological trends for prestige and success.
But Carson wanted to speak on the need for certain kinds of people in gospel ministry.

1 Timothy 3:1-7
In New Testament, elder = pastor = bishop = overseer. The distinction between the terms came only in the second century after the New Testament was already written. All three words give some insight into what is required. "Pastor" is the Latin root word for shepherd - read Tim Laniak's "Shepherds after my own heart". Shepherds feed the flock, protect the flock. The priests were the shepherds of Israel and when they were corrupt, then God said I will be their shepherd. Christ is the good shepherd and we are the undershepherds. "Elders" comes from synagogue and village life - those more senior in age, experience, wisdom. "Overseer" means there is some direction to the job, some oversight.

The first thing to observe of this list is the unexceptional character of all this. Not to get drunk (not about having a high IQ). The list is remarkable because it is unremarkable. Every entry in the list save 1/1.5 is somewhere mandated of all believers. Which means that the first thing that is required of pastors, elders and gospel ministry leaders is consistency of exemplifying the values required of all believers in the Bible.

"Above reproach" - that means blameless in a certain sense. Not perfect but no obvious inconsistency or flaw of character that everyone points out.

"Husband of one wife" - does not mean have to be married. Paul was single during his ministry and elucidates value of being single (1 Corinthians 7). In my view, it just means not being a polygamist, because although polygamy was not common in Roman world but aristocracy tended to polygamy.

"Temperate" - clear-headed, self-possessed, not extremist.

"Self-controlled" - not loosing it, not flying off the handle.

"Respectable" - sounds very bourgeois. Mark Driscoll isn't respectable in an upper middle class sense. All these words mean the good things without the negative. Dignity, gravitas, integrity, weight, not silly, not always joking.

"Hospitable" - not hermit or recluse or who can't stand people, not someone who always wants to be alone, not "the church i love the people i don't".

"Able to teach" - knowledge of content (the truth) and ability to communicate it. Some have superior scholarly competencies, a good grasp of the bible, but could not communicate their way out of a paper bag. Some have the gift of the gab but no content and so manage to communicate a whole lot of nothing.

"Not given to much wine" - not just free from drunkedness but free from addiction of any kind. God's servant cannot be a servant of any other thing.

"Not violent but gentle" - 2 Timothy 2. Even in midst of conflict in the church, must act with gentleness to persuade people. They must respect for older men etc.

"Not quarrelsome" - not contentious. There are some people who fight for the truth because they like to fight, it just happens that the truth is their domain of fighting. Instead of contending for the faith they are being contentious. Don't want people who are afraid of contending because there will be lies and error. Read 2 Timothy 2:23ff.

"Not a lover of money" - Christ promised enough for all of our needs, not all of our greeds.

"Must manage own family well" - principle of talent - show that you are faithful in one domain and therefore charged with greater domain of service.

"Not recent convert" - depends on context of service. If there are Christians who have been there for 50 years, you don't want a pastor who has been a Christian only 18 months. But in some churches, the most senior saint may be only 18 months. What a novice means is relative to situation on the ground. Paul and Silas' trip was only 2 years and they appointed elders on their return journey. But the principle is important, too rapid promotion may make the novice lifted up by pride.

"Must have good reputation with outsiders" - not one of the boys but has integrity, courteous, is well-respected even though Christianity that he promotes is not well-liked.

Outside of this list,
1 Timothy 5:21 - avoid favoritism, partiality. Do nothing out of favoritism because tensions will arise in congregations. If pastors have favourites then seen not to be acting out of independent understanding of Scripture; they are just cronies like in government or in business. The cost of this is a kind of aloneness because you will not be in anybody's pocket.

2 Timothy 2:3-7, 2:15, 3:10-15, 4:5 - expect serious difficulties and be persistent in face of them and utterly committed. Easy to have a romantic view of ministry - a revival under your ministry. But very few people go through ministry without hard knocks. Question is if you are so committed to the gospel that you will persevere. Gospel realism.

teaching is an astonishing balance between authority to command and godly exemplification: teach with authority and also exemplify in your life. So Timothy is told to command those who are rich to be generous, confute errors of false teachers (1 Timothy 6:17-19, 4:11-13). 1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Peter 5:1-4 - insistence that we ourselves exemplify and entreat.

Intriguing that two other themes are interwoven - doxology (praise of God) and eschatology (living in the light of the end). 1 Timothy 6, 2 Corinthians 4:7ff. Living in light of eternity, in sight of God. As long as you are thinking of gospel ministry for personal advancement, promote ambitions, you will be corrupt and will not endure, or you will succumb to the most massive self-idolatry. What will keep you going is the passion for the glory of Christ. You are not to measure work by signs of respect from your peers, how much you are loved, but loving praise of Christ on the last day. If you have to have praise now, you will not last in gospel ministry.

Not doom and gloom. There will be rewards in ministry - one generation passing on to another generation etc. But at the end of the day, you're not even looking at that kind of approval but the Master's approval.

(Some other relevant bits from the second talk on the challenges of gospel ministry:
In the domain of the Bible:
the person who would be a good bible teacher/preacher must be a good bible student. If you do not enjoy studying the word of God, you are disqualified. There must be a real hunger to study word. Not as if it were an end in itself but a hunger to know God that you may teach it to others.

there is also learning Hebrew and Greek, biblical and other theology, primary sources in the history of the church - Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Smegley?, Jorger la Pateus?, Jim Packer, John Stott. Not all are brains of the same sort. You then get a sense of belonging to the Church of the Living God, not merely doing the bible study before the next cell group. You yourself are anchored in the tide and sweep of the whole church. Merely adjunct to studying the word of God itself.

must hierarchilise biblical content and organise biblical material and yet, must know details. Do you know the names of the twelve tribes of Israel? Not important in some sense but yet, how could you not know the names? You're Christian!

The domain of the personal: not merely an intellectual exercise. How you are growing in grace, prayer life, personal relationships, integrity, love for truth, gentleness, humility of mind, faithfulness, hunger for eternity, care for people.

Motives will never be completely pure. But how impure is too impure? John Newton helpful: "I am not what i want to be. I am not what i ought to be. I am not what one day what i will be. But i am not what i was. By the grace of God I am what I am." So when you check your motives in ministry, you must see some growth. 1 Timothy 4:15 - so that everyone may see your progress. Someone must be saying that you have progressed in life and doctrine.

2 Timothy 3-4. Last days are between first and second coming of Christ. This is now. Horrible list then by contrast, the charge to Timothy - hold on to the right mentors. Can you say to a young Christian, "Do you want to know how to live a Christian life? Then watch me!" Didn't Paul say be imitators of me as I am of Christ? You need to look out for men and women who are mature, who have faced suffering and persevered and ask them to teach you. There is a great deal of maturity that is caught as well as taught.

Biblical realism. Be appalled but do not be shocked by astonishing sin.

Hold on to the Bible.

Hold the Bible out to others.)

The Nature of the Call
Here "if any one wants to do the work of an overseer" - this comes out of the person's own desire. The bible says there are some standards that must be met.

Elsewhere, the call comes from different domain. 2 Timothy 2 - there might be a tap on the shoulder from someone more senior, more experienced. This in itself does not constitute a call but it means you should think about seriously and give up your small ambitions.

Some might claim a Damascus Road experience. But it may be that no one else thinks that they are qualified. There is also some responsibility for the local church to recognise the gifts of those who think they have them. On one hand, obey those who have rule over you because they watch over your soul. There is a sense in which elders, pastors, overseers have authority. On the other hand, 2 Corinthians 10 - 13, Paul tells the church to turn out those who have authority over them because they are preaching a false gospel. The New Testament does not preach either a democratic model, nor a hierarchical model, because either side can go bad. There is a certain tension. Pastors and elders' authority is exercised through the ministry of the word; not by dint of standing on own office. Things can go wrong - moral disaster, slipping towards false teaching, developing bitter nasty spirit etc. So the church has responsibility to discipline leaders who have gone astray.


Uncle Stanley the red snapper baked in salt mound

*a copy of Don Carson's full talk (including the second bit on the challenges of gospel ministry) may be had by writing to media@projecttimothy.com.

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