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Mutual Ministry

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"For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." Romans 1:11-12

 

 

T

he Biblical pattern for the local church involves ministry on a four dimensional level. First, the pastor must minister to the people. Secondly, the people must minister to one another. Thirdly, the church must minister to the needy outside of the fellowship. Finally, the people are called to minister to the pastor. In a Biblically healthy congregation, every member, not just the official minister, is called to do “the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12).

The importance of recovering the truth of every member ministry in the body of Christ, however, in no way negates the structure the Lord established when he called some men to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11). In fact, it is through the function of these official ministry roles that every believer is equipped to perform the ministry to which the Lord has called him or her. This pastor/flock dynamic is crucial to the fulfillment of Christ’s mandate to the church. Though ministers of the word may go for a time without a congregation to shepherd, and though churches may periodically be without a pastor to lead them, the perpetuation of this phenomena, especially on the part of the church, inevitably results in spiritual inertia and malnutrition. God has promised, “I will give you pastors according to my heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). Without a shepherd, sheep tend to scatter. Where there is no oxen laboring in the field, the corn crib will be bare, “but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Pro. 14:4).

The model for ministry within the local church, then, is reciprocal. Both pastor and people are dependent on the function of the other in order to execute the commission Christ has given to the church. God’s pastors need God’s people, and God’s people need God’s pastors. That’s the way the Lord Jesus Christ established his church.

In his prologue to the Romans, Paul expressed this spirit of reciprocity between pastor and people: “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. 1:11-12). The apostle had something to give to the Roman Christians, a gift that was crucial to their spiritual stability. They needed what he had to offer. But lest he convey the impression of superiority and condescension, he also admitted his need of their mutual ministry to him: “…that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”

 

The Pastor’s Ministry to God’s People

The pastor’s ministry to God’s people is primarily “a ministry of the word.” Though administrative functions and other forms of spiritual leadership certainly fall into the category of “overseeing the flock” (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-3), his primary responsibility is to “feed the flock” by preaching and teaching the word of God, both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). Because they recognized the subtle danger of neglecting the ministry of the word in order to keep pace with the many administrative duties of church life, the church at Jerusalem selected seven qualified men to “serve tables” so the apostles could devote their energies to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4). They knew that the people’s primary need was spiritual, not material. Preaching the word, therefore, together with all of the prayer and preparation necessary to do it effectively, was their priority. They “gave themselves” (lit. devoted themselves), consciously and deliberately, to a thoroughly Biblical ministry.

“The church,” said John R. W. Stott, “lives, grows, and flourishes by the word of God, and languishes and dies without it.” The greatest service a pastor can render to the people he serves is the ministry of the word of God. He is not primarily a project manager, conference moderator, public relations director, community volunteer, or church custodian. Though there may very well be a place for a humble servant to perform some of these functions, the pastor is primarily an instrument through whom God feeds the hungry souls of His sheep.

Paul desired to “give” the church at Rome “a spiritual gift.” The passion of his heart was to deliver to them the word that God had given to him. While there are many other important functions involved in the spiritual leadership of pastoral ministry, i.e. leading public worship, observing ordinances, discipling and counseling individual believers, mentoring and training potential ministers, reaching out to the community, visiting the sick and shut-in, comforting the bereaved and broken, and generally overseeing the flock, all of these are mere expressions of the larger umbrella concept of ministering the word.

A pastor’s ministry to the people he serves will always be gauged by God in terms of how faithful he is to study, proclaim, teach, apply, and model the word of God to them (2 Tim. 2:15). This is what the church needs most. Without it, they cannot be equipped for their work of ministry, either within or beyond the local fellowship.

 

The People’s Ministry to God’s Pastors

The primary responsibility in the life of the church, then, rests on the shoulders of pastors. They have been called, gifted, and commissioned by God to shepherd and tend God’s flock, and they must answer to the Lord for their performance (Heb. 13:17). It is God who has entrusted them with the privilege of handling his sacred truth, and it is God to whom they must give an account of their stewardship (I Ths. 2:4). They are the “bond slaves” of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1); therefore, regardless of how they are treated by those to whom they minister, they are committed to spend and be spent for him.

Because they are slaves, they do not expect compensation, appreciation, recognition, or personal job security. They deem it a privilege to serve such a gracious Master, regardless of the personal cost or sacrifice involved. They don’t keep score of their successes or of their heartaches, saying in all things, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lk. 17:10). They know that the Master has the right to use them where he pleases, how he pleases, when he pleases, and as long as he pleases, and are thankful merely for the honor of being allowed to run for a little while with his message. While he yearns to see the flock he tends healthy and secure, he does not expect them to reciprocate his concern (2 Cor. 12:15-19). In other words, his motives are not selfish. He does not exploit them for his own personal gain or benefit, neither does he take their rejection personally. All in all, he does not think that either the Lord or the Lord’s people are obligated to him in any way.

Who is sufficient for these things? Apart from the grace of God and the enabling strength of the Holy Spirit, no man can possibly maintain this servant spirit.

If the pastor’s attitude is right, so far as he is concerned, God’s people owe him nothing. But so far as the Lord is concerned, God’s people have a responsibility toward those who serve them the word of God. This responsibility involves imitation of their godly example (Heb. 13:7), submission and obedience to their godly leadership (Heb. 13:17), financial commitment to their material needs (I Cor. 9:1-14; Gal. 6:6; I Tim. 5:17), and loving respect to them “for their work’s sake” (I Ths. 5:13). God requires his people to highly esteem every true gospel minister, not because they are unusually talented or have a good personality, but because they are the means God uses to feed our hungry souls - “for their work’s sake.” Does a pastor have the right to require this kind of treatment from God’s people? No, but the Lord does. It’s a matter between the people and the Lord.

Perhaps you wonder, “How can I minister to my minister?” Besides the things mentioned above, Scripture specifies at least two other responsibilities: (1) The responsibility to “know” God’s servants; (2) The responsibility to “pray” for God’s servants.

(1) “KNOWING” YOUR PASTOR - “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you” (I Ths. 5:12). It is important for all of God’s people, whether they are preachers or not, to understand the dynamics of the gospel ministry. In any viable relationship, a mutual and deepening understanding of the responsibilities and role of one’s partner is a priority. For example, husbands are exhorted to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge” (I Pet. 3:7). A wise husband will become a student of his wife, seeking ongoing education of her needs, burdens, fears, joys, and general disposition. The more he seeks to know her with increasing understanding and insight, the better equipped he will be to fulfill his God-given role as her husband. The lifelong pursuit of learning about one’s teammate in life is the essence of relational bliss.

Likewise, the believer’s relationship with the Lord is defined in terms of increasing education to deeper and deeper levels of intimacy. “This is life eternal,” said Jesus, “that they might know Thee…” (Jno. 17:3). Likewise, discipleship is essentially a matter of “learning of” Jesus (Mt. 11:29), and spiritual maturity has been attained when we know him through and through (2 Pet. 3:18).

By the same token, pastors and congregations must make the mutual education of one another their long-term pursuit. Ministers are called to diligently “know the state of their flocks” and to “look well to their herds” (Pro. 27:23). They must be attentive to the spiritual condition of every little lamb, growing progressively more aware of the strengths and weaknesses, the trends and tendencies, the dangers and the potential of each one. A preacher may be merely a student of the word, but a pastor must also be a student of the people he has been charged to keep.

Many people would be surprised to realize just how much information the New Testament contains regarding the dynamics of ministry and spiritual leadership. Paul frequently addressed the mechanics of ministry in his epistles, both autobiographically (1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Thessalonians) and by direct counsel (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus). Why did he talk about his ministry so much? Did he intend to draw attention to himself? Was he self-promoting? No, he desired to point men to Jesus Christ and him alone. Paul, however, saw the need for people to understand that God had provided the gospel ministry as a means to that end: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). He preached Christ. When he did talk about himself, however, it was with the intent that the Corinthians might better understand the role of the minister as their God-given servant to facilitate their Christian growth.

It is imperative, then, that every believer, not only ministers, study the passages in the New Testament that deal with spiritual leadership, like the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus, as well as the many other references to the pastor/flock dynamic. Furthermore, it is important for every church member to become increasingly familiar with what it means to be a pastor, so that they can appreciate the provision God has made for their spiritual welfare, and can hold him accountable to his God-given assignment.

When Paul says “know them that labor among you,” he doesn’t merely mean that you should know their name, or the names of their children, or where they live or what kind of car they drive. No, he means that every believer should seek to understand at ever deepening levels what pastoral ministry involves; moreover, he must learn to feel his pastor’s burden, to catch his vision, and to share his convictions, so far as they are consistent with the word of God.

We must, in other words, become students of the pastors God sends by educating ourselves about their responsibilities. We must analyze what it is about us that saddens the pastor’s heart, seeking to ease his burdens as much as possible, that he may minister “with joy and not with grief.” We must seek to understand that his happiness is inseparably tied to the spiritual condition and health of the church (I Ths. 3:8), and attempt to foster a church life that promotes his joy because of our love for him as Christ’s servant (Phi. 2:2; 3 Jno. 4; Heb. 13:17). We must ask ourselves, “What are his specific gifts?” and refuse to complain that he is not like someone else’s pastor.

Is he burdened to teach systematically through the Bible? Then the best way we can honor God is by understanding the burden the Lord has put on his heart, opening our Bibles, and submissively allowing him to minister to us according to the way the Lord directs him. Has the Lord given him a sphere of ministry through radio, print media, or mid-week travels to other churches beyond the sphere of his local responsibilities? Then, so long as he is operating within the parameters of Scripture, we should seek to help him fulfill his God-given assignment, for his outreach ministry is, in a very Biblical sense, an extension of the ministry of the local church (Phi. 4:3, 15-17; 2 Cor. 8:4). Is he young and inexperienced? Then we must recognize the need to be more patient, gentle, and understanding with him while the Lord brings him to maturity. Has he proven himself faithful over many years of consistent service? Then we must be careful to “hold such in reputation” (Phi. 2:29), for the Lord’s sake. Is his focus at the moment primarily theological, practical, or experiential? Then be thankful that “Christ is preached” and trust the Lord to lead him to see the necessity of preaching the whole counsel of God over the long term.

Does this mean that there is never a place for someone to admonish and exhort a minister? Absolutely not. It is appropriate to confront slothfulness, negligence, misbehavior, covetousness, pride, false doctrine, and other sins in a minister, just like any other Christian. In fact, this element of mutual accountability in the Spirit of Christ is intrinsic to the life of the local church. It is even appropriate to encourage a minister to develop fallow areas of ministry that may not be his particular strong suit. We must be careful, however, that we distinguish between a departure from the Biblical pattern and a departure from someone’s personal preference. So long as my pastor is following the Lord Jesus Christ, that is so long as his life and teaching is consistent with Scripture, it is appropriate to follow him, regardless of whether his particular burden, style, or level of giftedness appeals to me (I Cor. 11:1). Paul wanted the Corinthians to think of him not as “Paul” per se, for the moment they began to think like that they would also begin to think of Peter, and Apollos, sliding back into the cliques and fan clubs that threatened to divide the church, but as the servant of God: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1).

Knowing my pastor means that I learn how to listen to his particular style of preaching, receiving his word not as the word of man, but as the messenger of God (1 Ths. 2:13). It means that I seek to understand his particular burden, verify it by Scripture, and then join in partnership with him in order to realize the goal for the glory of God. It means that I become increasingly aware of his needs and seek to ease the load he carries and free his hands in any way that I can. It means that I begin to notice when he needs encouragement and attempt to communicate to him how the Lord has used him in my life.

Granted, God’s people are nowhere commanded to follow a man whose lifestyle or teaching is contrary to the will of God. They should never tolerate sinful attitudes or unethical behavior in the name of “knowing,” “esteeming,” and “following” a minister of God’s word. Neither is this injunction a command to condone slothfulness, complacency, and half-hearted effort from those who are called to shepherd. Further, this command does not require God’s people to endure the manipulative “strong-arm” tactics of those who would be “lords over our faith” (2 Cor. 1:24) and consciences. Neither does this verse prohibit a church body from her right, under the Lordship of Christ, when she discerns it to be God’s will, to determine that he has made another man the overseer of that flock. It does mean, however, that until God makes it clear that he has finished with a particular minister at a given church, and as long as he is following the Lord Jesus Christ, the people are obliged to the Lord to pull in the same direction as their pastor, for their own spiritual good and the Lord’s greater glory.

Again, the pastor has no right to claim this kind of treatment from God’s people as his personal due. His only task is to lovingly and humbly execute the charge Christ has given him to nurture the sheep. But God’s word very specifically states that this is the kind of behavior the Lord requires from his people toward His pastors.

(2) PRAY FOR YOUR PASTOR - “Brethren, pray for us” (I Ths. 5:25). Perhaps the greatest ministry we can offer to God’s servants is the ministry of prayer. The need to pray for pastors cannot be overstated. Because the gospel minister is the most visible figure of the local church, prayer for him must be a priority to all who are concerned about the glory of God and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. Satan knows that if he can make caricatures of ministers, he has dealt a strategic blow to the witness of the church in that community. Because the pew tends to reflect the pulpit (Hos. 4:9), and because the ministry is by definition a microcosm of the Christian life, a sound and stable ministry is crucial to the spiritual health of the church. Spiritual leadership is a matter of example, not authoritarian rule (I Pet. 5:3; I Tim. 4:12; Phi. 3:17; Heb. 13:7). If the devil can cripple pastors so that they fail to walk Christianly, then he can paralyze the whole church.

For what should we pray when we intercede for God’s servants? First, pray that God would give them “a door of utterance” (Col. 4:3; Eph. 6:19-20). This expression involves both a request for opportunities to minister and for preaching liberty (i.e. clarity of thought and freedom of expression in the act of preaching). “Lord, open doors of opportunity to my pastor to preach thy word, and give him the right message for the occasion, and the unction of thy Spirit to speak with boldness and conviction” is the kind of prayer Paul desires for himself. Secondly, pray for the success of the gospel (2 Ths. 3:1-3; Rom. 15:30-32). This is a prayer that the word would come with power upon the hearts of those who hear, a request that God would honor his word and give success to the efforts of his servant. The kind of success Paul desires is not the kind he could manufacture. Only God could give it. Has your pastor’s preaching lacked power of late? Then, instead of criticizing, pray that God would be pleased to attend his word “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12) so that the desert again blossoms as the rose.

Thirdly, pray for his spiritual vision. Psalm 90:16 says, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants….” When pastors lack focus and vision concerning “God’s work,” the people perish. How we need to pray, “Lord, open the eyes of your servants that they may see both what thou hast done and what thou art doing in the earth”! Pray that God would give him insight into the Scriptures, foresight (wisdom) into the unknown future, hindsight (understanding of) into the lessons of the past, and keen oversight over the flock. Fourthly, pray that God would sanctify his trials to his spiritual maturity (Phi. 1:19). When he passes through difficulties and seasons of testing, pray that God would train him for more effective ministry. Without the prayers of God’s people for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, trials tend to make the sufferer bitter.

In the fifth place, pray for his physical safety and material needs (2 Cor. 1:11). By comparing 2 Corinthians 1:11 to Romans 15:25-26, it is apparent that Paul was carrying a large sum of money to the poor saints at Jerusalem. He could easily have been robbed on the journey. In fact, his very life was in jeopardy (2 Cor. 1:8-9). Now, after the fact, he praises God for his deliverance (v. 10) and thanks the Corinthians for their partnership in prayer (v. 11). Sixthly, pray for his moral strength and integrity, lest after he has preached to others, he himself should be a castaway (I Cor. 9:27). Godly character is the most basic and fundamental prerequisite for the pastorate. Because the ministry is a character profession (Titus 1:6-8), sexual sin disqualifies a man from pastoral ministry. The pastor must be a model of holiness, above reproach (I Tim. 3:2), so that he can lead by example as well as by word (Phi. 3:17). Every minister in such a highly visible role must be careful to guard his thoughts and behavior, and congregations must pray fervently for his strength and integrity. Finally, pray for his family (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Satan knows that if he can undermine the home, he can debilitate the man’s effectiveness. Pray for the strength of his marriage and for the godliness of his children. Pray that God would so work in his family that there would be no potential obstacle to his effectiveness to lead the church of God.

 

Summary

When pastors are faithful to minister the word to God’s people, and people are faithful to minister reciprocally to God’s pastors, a church functions like her Lord intended. Both must guard against the tendency to be too self-absorbed to give and too proud to take. When both are focusing on serving the Lord by serving one another, church life is mutually enriching and, most of all, God-honoring.

 

 

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