3 Lessons on the Word and Ministry
As I enter my fifth year of pastoral ministry, I will be the first to say I have much to learn. Even so, by God's grace, I have learned some important lessons---three of which related to the Word and ministry I share here.
The Word Does the Work
In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul takes time to remind his young protégé of the power, authority, and utter sufficiency of Scripture for "teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." The following charge is based on the power and sufficiency of the Word: Timothy must commit himself to the preaching of that Word.
Paul's admonition reminds us in pastoral ministry that when we forget that the Word does the work, we are lost. It is God's Word that holds power and sufficiency---power to touch and change people's hearts by the Spirit, and sufficiency to accomplish God's sanctifying work. As pastors, we need to trust that God's Word does the work.
As a youth pastor, I've certainly felt the pull to let something else---really, anything else---dictate what I'm teaching to my students. Yet I have humbly learned that God's Word does the work; I need to get myself under that Word and speak it faithfully. Our best teaching series in our youth ministry thus far was actually not even really a "teaching" series but a "live" Bible study in the book of Philippians. We spent 40 minutes each Wednesday night asking simple questions of the text together and allowing God's Word to speak to us. And God's Word did its work in the lives of the students. I need to let God's work dictate what I'm doing in teaching and leading. I need to unleash the real power and let it do the work.
The Word Does Its Work Best in the Context of Relationship
God's Word does the work---but what if the people do not show up to hear it? Deep relationships help God's Word to take root in people's lives. In our ministry, the students who have grown in Christian maturity, holiness, and knowledge have been aided by genuine friendships. The relationships became the fertile ground for Word ministry to accomplish its purpose. The ministry of the Word and the growth of the gospel in people's lives is the end game, but people almost always get there through relationships.
Preach the Word up front, yes, but engage in gospel ministry with people in smaller groups and one-on-one. For a beautiful example of how this can look in the ministry of an ordinary pastor, read this wonderful little story by Barry Cooper. David Helm, in his book One-to-One Bible Reading, also offers some valuable insights and tools.
The Word Does Its Work as We Work Hard
You may have heard it said that the pastorate is a place where lazy men hide. The saying is a bit harsh, but it is unfortunately true in some cases. Being a lazy pastor is quite easy, actually. You just create an illusion of extreme busyness, importance, and stress, all the while actually doing very little work. This must never be! Men called to ministry should work harder than everyone else. We are called to excellence, and while the results belong to God, shame on us if we do not spend ourselves for the sake of the growth of the gospel in our churches.
At our church, the supervising pastors ask us, "How are you working hard and maximizing your time for the sake of the gospel and the church?" It is not unspiritual for pastors to talk about topics such as efficiency and productivity. We need to get up and go to work. We need to work hard to get things done for the sake of the gospel and the growth of Christ's kingdom. The results are his; the labor is ours.
These lessons are not profound, but I do hope that they ring true for those of you who are seeking to faithfully labor as Word ministers. By God's grace, for as many years as he gives me in pastoral ministry, I hope to put myself under his Word and allow it to accomplish his purposes in the lives of my people. I hope to do all I can to build and encourage deep relationships in my ministry---fertile ground where Word ministry can grow, thrive, and bear fruit. And I want to---for God's eyes alone---work hard at all of this, spending myself for the wonderful Word work to which he has called us as gospel ministers.