I have had some thoughts in mind as of late which I’ve wanted to express but have been reluctant to pen down because doing so would likely open the door for being misunderstood. I don’t want you to think that I believe myself to be some sort of a lord over God’s heritage or a judge over another man’s servant. The Primitive Baptists have surely suffered, albeit unintentionally, as a result of “big preachers” and regional “popes” who believed their authority was more than it actually was. There is to be no hierarchy among today’s gospel ministry. In God’s structure of things, there are no regional bishops (the term bishop is synonymous with elder), no archbishops, cardinals, and certainly no pontiff. Sure, within a local body, the pastor is in a definite leadership role, but above this there is only Christ. I offer this up front for clarity’s sake.
At the same time, my father in the ministry warned me when I was first starting to preach to wait until I was older than 40 to offer any corrective advice in regards to the ministry, lest I be labeled a “whippersnapper.” I certainly wouldn’t want to be called such. 😉
Now that this is out of the way, I want to express something that’s been burning in my heart and mind for some time: the church stands in need of laborers.
No offense intended, but I fear we don’t take church as seriously as we should. Or maybe it’s just me. This isn’t to say that we’re to be rigid stoics in the worship service – quite the contrary. Taking church seriously includes fervent worship! But I fear we’ve become so comfortable in the United States that our wealth and ease has blinded us to gravity of the situation. There really is a God in Heaven. His Son is Jesus, who died to save us from Hell. He has a Kingdom in the world – His Church – and the government of this institution is upon His shoulders. This is no light matter. The Church, as an institution, is charged with the protection and dissemination of the eternal truths of Almighty God. Perhaps “serious” isn’t even as strong of a term needed.
In Jesus’ personal ministry, He gave explicit instructions for the disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers, for the harvest was plenty but the laborers were few (Matthew 9). Simply put, there are more children of God on this globe than the gospel ministry can ever reach. The fields are white unto harvest, but there aren’t adequate laborers to step up and enter into this work.
Setting in Order
In Paul’s epistle to one of his apprentices, Titus, Paul revealed that he had left Titus on the Island of Crete to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.” This means there was a void of gospel ministry in the fledgling churches sprinkled throughout Crete. What was the solution? Titus was to labor among the congregations, train up and ordain men from among these local assemblies, and leave them to serve as he moved to continue this work elsewhere.
There are two ways for a church to obtain a pastor. She can either 1) Call for a man from another area to relocate and serve them, or 2) Be served by men whom the Lord raises up from this immediate area. While the first option seems to be more prevalent in many of our churches today, the latter seems to be the consistent Biblical pattern.
If option 2 is the more Biblical approach, why is it not the preferred method today? Brace yourself – you may find this a bit offensive. Sometimes churches desire spiritual caviar. Frankly, some congregations are too hard to please. The mentality is, “we’re a ‘prominent’ church and need a prominent pastor.” OK, it’s doubtful anyone would ever say those words. But I am afraid some congregations have adopted a pastoral selection process akin to how a college athletic program hires their next head coach.
Think about it. When a church is searching for a pastor, certain keywords always creep into the dialogue. “We’d like a pastor who is young, experienced, full of charisma, has a great family, etc. You know, one who can reach the young people. He shouldn’t be too loud but he can’t be a dry lecturer either. After all, we’re XYZ Church and this is what we deserve.” Ironically, nowhere in Paul’s qualifications for Elder are these traits mentioned.
So, very similar to how an Athletic Director and his organization filter down a short list, decide on one man, and make him an offer. Sometimes churches produce a list of reputable elders, filter it down to who they like, and then call him as pastor.
But the Biblical pattern seems to be very different than this. The majority case should be to raise up men from an area to serve churches of that particular area. While there are disadvantages to this, such as the brethren of an area not willing to follow a man they “watched grow up,” there are great advantages. For example, calling a brother from the immediate area to serve as pastor means your minister is already rooted in the community. He already has family and friends he can begin to evangelize. He has open doors before him because he isn’t a stranger. I can say from experience, it took a few years for me to be sufficiently rooted in Huntsville for people to be curious about my ministry and the church I serve. While we do depend on God for church growth, there is a human element to this as well. I’ve hardly had any success inviting people I have met in North Alabama to attend church at Flint River, whereas it was very common for school friends to visit my old home church, Ebenezer, at a simple invitation. Why? There’s a personal aspect to it. Calling a local man can be advantageous.
Another mentality we should work to mortify is the notion that we want our pastor to be the “next big thing.” Have you ever heard someone say, “this brother is going to be the next Elder So-and-So…” (Insert big name here). We really need to move past this. Our mantra should be live, serve, die and be forgotten. To live is Christ. Let’s quit worrying about popularity or influence. God uses humble men, not hot-doggers.
Back to the point of this article: We stand in need of laborers. God doesn’t need us to populate Heaven, but the churches DO need sound men with a heart to serve.
The nature of the work
It’s been my privilege to sit in two ordination services over the last few months. In both ordinations, the elders who preached the “Charge” in each service to the newly ordained men spoke amid tears of the pain and sacrifice a man endures throughout his ministry. One who isn’t in the ministry may feel this is mere whining or poor mouthing but it isn’t. The ministry is a terribly difficult work.
We all have difficulties in our jobs, right? There is always that one supervisor who is harsh. Then there’s the employee who is lazy and drags the entire team down. But even at a hard job, you can clock out and go home. Don’t like your job? You can quit and get a new one. Employees not doing the work they’re paid to do? Scold or fire them! But the ministry doesn’t operate this way.
We can’t clock out. We can’t go home. We can’t quit, for this is a calling – a fire in our bones. We don’t even feel permitted to up and leave a church, despite present difficulty, unless it is God’s expressly discernible will. We just endure it.
Every family has drama, sickness, and death. But within a church, the drama, sickness, and death within every single family is the Pastor’s to experience as well. There isn’t a waking moment that the difficulties within the lives of the flock aren’t on his mind.
And then there’s the constant criticism from chronically unhappy people; folks you’re not permitted to just cut off and avoid like everyone else does. You’ll be slandered, criticized, doubted, misunderstood, betrayed, and rejected. Big deal! So was Jesus, and the servant is not greater than his Master. We share in Christ’s suffering and should glory in our infirmities. It’s an honor to suffer for Christ, and His strength is made perfect in weakness. Adding to this, the minister is also charged with the defense of the gospel. Sometimes, as watchmen on the walls, we must battle false teachers who creep in unaware.
I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. The joy outweighs the pain. There is no greater privilege to preach by the power of the Holy Spirit. Watching people learn, week after week, and grow closer to the Lord is the most awesome experience.
Aside from the pain, there is a lot of sacrifice in the ministry as well. If you’ve called a man from a great distance away as your pastor, think of all he left to do you a service. Did he leave his career? Did he leave his extended family? Did he leave his home town and friends? What about his hobbies and interests? Many of us leave those things behind for the joy of serving Christ and the churches should realize this. I confess to finding it offensive to hear of churches who desire so much from a man, but refuse to follow his leadership in the Lord as he arrives.
Then there’s the work itself. One would think any experienced disciple has a good working knowledge of the responsibilities of the gospel preacher. He is to devote his time to study and prayer. He is to teach the congregation the full counsel of God. He will also devote some of his time to travel, as he preaches at other churches.
Concerning that last point, it needs to be expressed that a man should not neglect his wife or children. Some men have gone as far as to teach younger preachers to devote so much time to travel that their wives and children are left to themselves a great deal of the time. Remember, for a man to hold this office to begin with, his home life should be right. Never neglect your duties at home operating under some notion that God expects you to be gone, attending every possible Association or Annual Meeting in the country. It’s true that Paul traveled extensively, but Paul was single. If you have a wife and children, seriously consider limiting the time you spend away preaching.
A willingness to serve
Here is the subject that is weighing so heavily on my mind. I want to encourage younger (in terms of time spent in the ministry) preachers to be willing to serve. Allow me to share a couple of verses with you.
“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:62
“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:4
We learn a sobering principle in the texts cited above.
We must not plow looking back. Jesus spoke these words in the book of Luke after three separate men who indicated they were interested in following him gave excuses for their delayed action. In other words, there was something more important and pressing in their lives than actually following after Christ. Ouch! Jesus’ words may be considered harsh, but if you’re called to the ministry there is no job nor hobby that is to come between you and the work you are called unto.
How does this translate into a principle for today’s ministry? It’s simple. Nothing is more important than following Christ in this calling.
Let me give you a hypothetical:
Church X calls Elder Y to be her pastor. Elder Y would really love to do this, but Church X is too far away from his home to make driving there each Sunday feasible. As Elder Y ponders this, he reasons within himself that his job is too good to give up and he really likes the home he lives in, so he declines serving them due to these issues.
Do you think that situation would be pleasing to the Lord? Doesn’t that sound like a man trying to plow while looking back? Does Elder Y seem entangled to you? It sure seems so to me.
One of the labels given to the minister of the gospel in scripture is SERVANT. To be frank, we need men willing to serve. It is said of the Apostles that they were men who “hazarded themselves” for the cause of Christ. Are we so bold? Or are our hands “too soft” for such work?
The Kingdom needs servants. We stand in need of men who are willing to stand and preach God’s word to hungry sheep. I find it sad when some churches struggle to fill the pulpit for lack of a pastor, and men within driving distance are not willing to go and preach for them, despite not having a pastorate of their own. I understand that a plurality of elders was indeed displayed in Scripture, but I also know how important it is to our Master that His sheep are fed. Please – go preach. Never turn a deaf ear to a local flock in need of a preacher if you have opportunity to feed them.
I’m not necessarily saying to go pastor a church just because it’s close by and in need. But at least be willing to help! Otherwise why accept the office to begin with? It is not an honorary position. It is a work. Sadly, sometimes the more “needy” a church, the less likely men are to help. It’s easy to overlook a tiny little congregation of elderly people as being “less important” while opting to spend more time among larger, more exciting congregations. But do we think the “least of these” among Christ’s brethren are less deserving of a spiritual meal? I have great respect for men who are willing to labor in difficult areas.
Personally, I’ve been blessed to speak to congregations from coast to coast. Some churches have been easy to preach to. Some have been very difficult to preach to. Preaching liberty is a strange thing! But whether easy or hard, great liberty or small, in season or out of season, we’re called to preach. As Paul said, “woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” Again, we’re called to this work and it is not about us. It isn’t about how much I enjoy it or how much liberty I have at a specific church. It’s about the work of feeding God’s sheep. If you love Christ, feed His sheep!
As far as pastoring is concerned, one must feel a burden for a flock to serve them. A man should never try to serve a church for which he feels no burden. It would likely end badly for him, and the church won’t grow under a half-hearted ministry. They deserve more. Never feel in bondage to serve a congregation you aren’t burdened over.
Yet, it is impossible to know if you have a burden for a flock if you don’t first visit among them, laboring in the gospel. Had I never visited Flint River to fill their pulpit during the time they spent without a pastor, I never would have considered serving them and they would not have considered calling me. We often say “go where your burden is,” but to know where my burden is I must first go labor! We must be willing to preach.
On the subject of entanglement, Paul makes it very clear that the affairs of this world are not to take preference above the work of the ministry. This means if our job interferes with our duty, we should look for a different job. It also speaks to the position the ministry is to occupy in the heart of the servant. It’s true that Paul made tents, but he never opened a chain of tent factories. He had a far more important work to be doing – such as preaching the gospel.
Interestingly enough, Paul continues his remarks in 2 Timothy 2 by speaking to the financial support of the ministry. Some will find this controversial, but I make no apologies for the plain teaching of scripture. For he wrote “…if a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strike lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” What exactly does that mean? The concept of being “partaker of the fruits” is a clever metaphor Paul often used in reference to the forbearing of working by a gospel preacher. In 1 Corinthians 9, he remarked that those who ministered in the Temple lived of the temple, those who plant a vineyard eat of the fruit of the vineyard, and those who feed a flock eat of the milk of the flock. Likewise, God has ordained that they who preach the gospel live of the gospel.
Paul’s point in 2 Timothy 2 is that we will not reach our full potential as a minister unless we devote our time exclusively to the ministry. More on that in the next section.
I realize that it is difficult or impossible for a small church, largely comprised of members living on a fixed income to support their pastor to such an extent that he doesn’t have to work a secular job. At the same time, there are a great many churches in a position to support their pastor as scripture commands, but don’t realize this is an option. It’s a mutual blessing for both pastor and congregation, by the way.
For this to be possible, two things are needed:
1) The congregation has to be willing to give to the church. The concept of giving money in the cause of God or in honor of God is nothing new. Abel offered of his flock to God. Abraham gave spoil to Melchizedek, God’s priest. The Levites were given tithes as they had no land inheritance in Israel, their inheritance was the service of the Lord (tithing was an Old Testament taxation system and we find no such command in the New Testament). Why would we think the New Testament is somehow different? Disciples give in two main areas, assistance for the poor and the work of the ministry.
Now, if the words “we just can’t afford it” are uttered by folks who drive very expensive cars and take lavish vacations, I’d suggest some priorities are off. A bit blunt? Perhaps. But likely true.
2) The pastor has to be willing to sacrifice and live off what the church provides. If the church provides enough for a man to survive, and I use that term rigidly, then he owes it to them and to the Lord to devote his time to the ministry and leave off secular work. If he can pay for a modest, appropriately sized home, food, necessities, and manage to save a little for his old age, then he should honor the church’s sacrifice and forbear working. If it’s right at the cusp, I would recommend part time work, even if it’s an hourly position and the wage isn’t as high as he feels he could earn with his profession. This part time work isn’t a career, it’s a means to an end. It’s to provide “just enough” to facilitate spending more time in the ministry.
A final note on this – I’m not a fan of sending my wife to work so I can be “full time” in the ministry. Should it come down to that, I would choose to resume my career field. While it isn’t always possible, I feel very strongly that the ideal situation is for a wife to be a keeper at home, and guide the house.
But the bottom line is that we must be willing to serve and we must not be entangled with the affairs of this life.
Stagnancy Hinders Growth
Another consideration briefly touched on above, is that we don’t reach our full potential unless we devote a substantial amount of time each week to the ministry. While this is obviously true in regards to the time spent a week studying and in prayer, it is also true relative to our efforts in the pulpit.
Sadly, it may sound as if I am speaking in a foreign language to you. Full potential? What sort of nonsense is this? What Primitive Baptist uses such terms? Doesn’t God just pipe the sermons into our heads? I wish. But remember Paul’s words, “if a man strive for masteries.” When I say “full potential,” this is what I mean. Here is an example:
Let’s say a church has four ordained brethren as members and all four share the time throughout each month. At one hour a Sunday and four Sundays a month, the total time available for preaching at this particular church is four hours a month. If each man an equal amount of time in the pulpit, each man would spend one hour a month exercising his preaching gift. Now compare that to one who spends four hours a month exercising his preaching gift. Which man would you expect to grow more, provided he was studying for each sermon as he should? I think we’d all agree, the man who exercised more would grow more.
I want to encourage newer or younger gifts to get out there and exercise their abilities. The reason Sonny Pyles can preach as he does is because he has applied himself in study and preaching. The reason Ronald Lawrence can preach as he does is likewise. The same can be said for every man God has used in such a way. A bodybuilder grows because he exercises. A preacher’s gift grows because he exercises in the ministry.
Paul instructed Timothy to give himself wholly to reading AND to exhortation (exhorting the flock), that his profiting would appear to all. We can’t escape this. There is a direct correlation between the time spent in study and preaching and the growth of a man’s abilities in the pulpit. We just have to be willing to devote the time.
Sometimes a preacher will say “I just wish I could preach like Elder So-and-So.” Again, applying oneself goes a long way. But here’s a challenge for you. Don’t try to be the next Elder So-and-So. Be the best Elder YOU that you can be. Study, exercise, pray, critique yourself, and seek to grow into the best that you can personally be. God called you to be you. God didn’t call you to be anyone other than you. So be the best YOU possible.
Finally, I want to encourage you to be a “Kingdom-Minded” individual. Are we to do what’s best for us personally, or what’s best for the Kingdom of God here in the world?
The greatest blessing you or I will ever experience is to speak to Christ’s people in His name, from His book. We stand in need of laborers today, who are willing to abandon their plans for the future, their goals, their ambitions and desires and give themselves to this work.
Being a Kingdom-Minded person means one would do what benefits the church, regardless of whether or not it’s their preference. They’ll drive two hours on a Sunday to feed a hungry church. They’ll fill the stand in a location that isn’t “prominent” or exciting. They’ll occasionally go to a place, even though they find little liberty there, because no one else will. After all, this isn’t about us. We’ve been drafted as soldiers in the Lord’s military. We’re not called to have fun. We’re not even called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.
To summarize everything I’ve shared, we really stand in need of servants. We need men who are willing to serve. This need is great. This need is urgent. The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He send for laborers into His harvest.
Originally published January 2016