So many people, across every Christian denomination, are becoming fed-up with church. Last week, we talked about how part of the reason people say they leave the church is how badly they were treated by fellow believers. Another reason people give for leaving, or at least rejecting “organized religion,” is how they’ve been treated by the ministry.
I’ve been blessed in that I’ve had both good and bad experiences with people in ministry roles. I know others who have only seen exploitative, authoritarian, or otherwise bad examples of the ministry. To keep hold of our faith, sometimes we have to be able to look past men like this and cling fast to God. We can’t fall into the trap of blaming Him for what people do. In fact, He’s probably upset even more upset than we are. How would you feel if someone started mis-treating your children while saying that they served you?
Seeing so many examples of what the ministry shouldn’t be leads some to think perhaps there shouldn’t be a ministry or human leadership roles in the church at all. There are too many scriptures that talk about the proper role of ministers, though, for me to agree. Rather, it make me ask, “Ideally, what does God want the ministry to do?” and “How can we recognize a true minister?” If we can answer those questions, perhaps we can encourage the people who do have leadership and teaching abilities towards being the kind of ministers God wants so see. Perhaps some of us can even fill those roles.
Puts Christ First
Jesus Christ is the Head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22) and the Head of each individual (1 Cor. 11:3). A true minister will acknowledge Christ as his Head, and also respect Christ’s role as your Head.
Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand. (2 Cor. 1:24)
Good ministers also recognize that any authority they do have comes from Jesus. He is the One who appoints ministry roles in order that His people might grow towards perfection and be edified in unity (Eph. 4:11-16).
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12)
I dare say no one has had an experience quite like Paul’s conversion and calling, but everyone in a ministry role owes their appointment to Jesus Christ. If their allegiance lies anywhere else, then they are not a true minister. As believers we cannot build on any foundation other than Jesus Christ, and as teachers we cannot lay any other foundation and expect to prosper (1 Cor. 3:11-13).
Not A “Hireling”
I’m of two minds regarding the paid ministry. One the one hand, it is clear in scripture that the people who serve God’s people are supposed to be supported by the brethren. On the other hand, it seems that (in the church as well as in the world) the more money involved the more likely people are to become corrupt.
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:11-14)
Paul did not choose to live off the churches’ money and generosity, but he would have had every right to do so. Similarly, when Jesus sent the 70 out to preach He told them to dwell as guests in one house “eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). Paul uses the same phrase in 1 Timothy when explaining why elders deserve respect (1 Tim. 5:17-18).
The problems are more likely to arise, I think, when ministers are hired and paid by a corporation rather than supported by their local churches. To be fair, I have seen good and bad ministers in both independent and corporate churches, but I do think the corporate ministry is more likely to attract more of the sort of people who are in it for the prestige, politics, and paycheck.
But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. (John 10:12-13)
Again, I want to stress that not all paid ministers have this attitude. I do think, however, that a system in which ministers are dependent on a corporate group for money and assignments rather than being connected to a local congregation is more likely to produce “hirelings” who are not invested in truly caring for Christ’s sheep.
Helpers of Your Joy
We already quoted 1 Corinthians 1:24, which describes the ministry’s role as “fellow workers for your joy.” The King James Version renders this “helpers of your joy.” There are times for correcting those who teach other doctrines and rejecting heretics “after the first and second admonition,” as Paul told Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 1:3-8; Tit. 3:10-11). Discipline and rule is not a minister’s main role, though. A minister’s influence in a congregation should bring joy and peace. If someone needs corrected, it should be done with the respect due a family member (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
When Paul gives instructions to Timothy and Titus, he tells them to remind the brethren of our foundation in Christ, to teach and encourage, to exercise godliness, to shun profanity and nonsense, and to live peaceably (1 Tim. 4:6-7; 2 Tim. 2:14-16; Tit. 2:1-15). Basically, they were to do what Paul himself did — teach the brethren and equip them with the tools needed so they could draw closer to God and not “be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)
Notice that Paul wanted this church group to be able to work toward salvation without his help or presence, recognizing that it was God who worked in them. This didn’t eliminate the need for Paul’s role, but it meant they weren’t supposed to be dependent on any human minister. Other believers, including the ministry, can help us on the road to salvation, but they are not the One “who works in you” (1 Cor. 3:4-11).
That is the key to what make a true minister — they seek God first, and do everything they can to make sure the people they serve also seek God first and develop a relationship with Him. Really, it just means they are doing the same thing that every believer should be doing. They are showing love and helping their brethren in the best way they can using their specific gifts. There is much more to a minister’s role than this, but this is where everything has to start.