1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
Paul was literally pleading with the church of Thessalonica to recognise and esteem those whom God had set over them because of their labour.
Unfortunately, many people in the world and even in the Church today do the opposite and trivialise the role of the man of God in the Church. Paul, however, calls the work of the man of God “labour”. The word he used was the Greek word kopiáō, which means “to labour until worn-out, depleted (exhausted)”, “to toil, work with effort (of bodily and mental labour alike)”. Why does Paul use such a strong term in reference to the job of the man of God?
In today’s sermon, we shall examine the Biblical perspectives on the work of the man of God, what it entails, and what God expects of His people as a result. I will use the term “Pastoral ministry” or “spiritual work” to refer to the work of the man of God, not only the pastor.
Let us first consider some of the common misconceptions
Misconceptions about Pastoral Ministry
- Pastoral Ministry Is Not Actually Work
Many people don’t actually see the work in the Church as actual work.
This is because they compare the work of ministry with the work of delivering products and services. When you go to church, you won’t see the pastor or minister carrying blocks, sweeping the compound, or dusting chairs. Ministry, therefore, doesn’t look like real work to many people. Because it is not like the work of a banker, engineer, teacher or doctor, many people (including the ministers themselves) feel they are not actually needed for the church to function.
- Ministry Work is Inferior
Delivering services in the bank that will help business people solve their financial problems, leading to business growth, is seen as a very important work. A pilot flying passengers from one corner of the earth to the other to do “very important business” like attending conferences, striking business deals, and so on, looks very important. However, when it comes to a pastor spending hours a week in the office and pulpit, it often seems he is not doing anything critically important. He is seen in his office either reading, saying some prayers or just walking on the compound when nobody comes to visit. People, therefore, take more pride in working in corporate organisations and NGOs and the Breton Woods institutions than in spending precious time in a ministry all their lives.
- Ministry Work Can Wait
Some people agree that the work of ministry must be done by someone, but they feel time can be made at weekends or in the evening to pass through the office and get it hurriedly done by 7:30 pm.
The prime of life should be spent working for ‘important’ secular organisations to make a name and fortune.
Some also think that one can devote time to ministry once he goes on retirement.
“To many people, the church looks like a place where a lazy priest offers sleepy prayers to God all week. At the weekend, this priest will conduct one funeral, one wedding, and one christening service. He will then read out his sermon on Sunday and return to his long rest! Why should a lawyer, doctor or banker leave their important careers only to work in such a place as the Church?”
- Ministry Work is Associated with Poverty
The ministry for a long time has been associated with poverty.
To many people, the call into the ministry is a call to suffer the lack of the basic needs of life. Of course, every single Christian has been called to live a life of selflessness, sacrifice, and, where necessary, a life of suffering for the cause of Christ. Much more is therefore expected of the man of God. This, however, does not mean that the normal order of his life should be a life of poverty such that even his basic needs and those of his family are unmet.
Many ministers who reluctantly accept the call to ministry refuse to give “too much”, choosing rather to do it on a part-time basis.
They feel this is wisdom.
There is nothing wrong with doing ministry on a part-time basis, but wouldn’t there be more impact if more people did it full-time?
Prospective candidates for ministry are afraid of poverty and being looked down upon by society.
Should we be comfortable that the banker, soldier, pilot, doctor, professor, engineer and others who work for companies and the government, are more regarded in the world than the priest or pastor?
Even though their work is necessary and profitable to mankind, at the end of the age, the main thing all these professionals will answer for will not be: how much money they made or invested for people; how many wars they fought or won; how many people they flew safely to their destination; how many patients they cured; how many students they taught; or how many breathtaking structures they designed. Rather, the judgment will assess how they lived their lives on earth—did they live in the way God expected of them, in true righteousness, love, walking in the fear of God?
Should our consciences therefore not prick us when we see those in the just-mentioned professions having their children and descendants willing to pursue the same line of work because it is noble and beneficial to society, and yet many families of men of God run away from this noblest call which brings the greatest benefit to mankind both before and after death? If the work of the man of God is so significant, then why should wicked people keep him poor?
- Ministry Work Is Easy and is Neither Demanding Nor Exacting
Many are of the view that people who are highly skilled and educated should rather work in the secular sector instead of “wasting” their skills and talents in a church organisation. They feel churches don’t need intelligent and skillful people to keep them running.
The reason, why people fail to see the importance of the work of ministry, is that we use secular concepts and standards to appraise spiritual work. At this juncture, let us now learn what spiritual work actually entails. I call it elements of spiritual or ministry work.
The Mystery of Ministry Work
1 Timothy 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
Much of what the minister does is very difficult to see, hence the propensity to take his work for granted.
The minister may spend the whole night preparing a sermon to be preached for forty-five minutes on Sunday.
The people only see the forty-five minutes but not the several hours of prayer, research, reading, writing, and meditation.
In the New Testament, the work of the minister or man of God is mainly prayer and the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
Nature of Spiritual Work
The law of work demands that we produce results or make impact.
This calls for the understanding of the work of a minister.
If you don’t know what your work is, you will not be in the position to appraise and reward it.
With that in mind, we must understand that work differs from one industry to the other.
In the area of sports, for instance, jumping, running, and physical activity constitute work; whereas for someone in the academic field, such activity would be considered a hobby.
When a teacher runs, he is exercising himself, but when a footballer does same, he is doing his work.
One of the distinctions between a professional in a domain and someone who performs activity similar to what the professional does is the expertise and qualification to be in the field, as well as the time devoted to functioning in that same field.
That is why the work of the minister is entirely different from the work of a person who performs some activity in the minister’s field.
3 Things about Ministry Work
Acts 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
From the scripture above, we see some of the most important elements of the work of ministry. They are:
- LABOUR IN PRAYER
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
The man of God does 2 kinds of prayer:
a) Prayer of Consecration
b) Prayer of Intercession
Consecration prayer: yielding to God to be used as His instrument of grace.
It is personal prayer.
13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The minister is called to give himself continually to the ministry of prayer. That means he prays as part of his service to God.
The word “service” means work or a job.
In the Bible, prayer is called service or work. Colossians 4:12 “… always labouring fervently for you in prayers, …” (underline mine).
The Bible considers prayer and fasting as work.
It is a voluntary commitment to God through prayer and frequent fasting.
2 Corinthians 11:27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Prayer of Intercession:
The minister also has a duty to intercede for people through prayer. His intercessory prayers are in the following areas:
i. For the salvation of souls
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
ii. For Christians to grow
Galatians 4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
iii. For Healing
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
iv. For protection
31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
v. For the impartation of spiritual gifts
Romans 1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
- LABOUR IN THE WORD
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
The ministry of the word has two aspects, namely:
a) Receiving the word, and
b) Delivering the word.
- The minister cannot deliver the word unless he first receives it from God. Receiving the Word involves:
Reading, Study, Meditation, and Listening.
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine (1 Tim 4:13)
The minister’s work involves massive reading. It is impossible to deliver ministry without being a reader. Reading is the cognitive process of decoding symbols to derive meaning. It is a form of language processing. There are four main types of reading, namely: skimming, scanning, intensive reading, and extensive reading. The purpose of reading is to connect the ideas on the page to what you already know. Reading is the first step into any educative attempt. There cannot be an effective education without reading. The broad knowledge of the things of God is acquired through reading. There is no way a minister can be effective without being a reader. The minister in the main must give himself to much reading. Paul was a great reader. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments (2 Timothy 4:13)
Through reading, ministers receive and gain a broad knowledge of the word of God to equip them to instruct God’s people. When you see a minister reading, he is not just engaged in a hobby but he is actually at work.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
The minister’s core work is to be a student for life. The minister’s work thus entails studying. To study is to devote time and attention to gaining knowledge of (an academic subject), especially by means of books. It is the art of looking closely in order to observe and understand. When we study we gain understanding and insight.
Reading brings information, but studying brings understanding. Studying brings about the right interpretation of what is read. Studying goes beyond the general knowledge of what is written. The goal of study is to understand text to facilitate its correct application. When you read Scripture, you gain information into the word of God without necessarily understanding it. The pastor shouldn’t feel guilty when he spends much time studying. It is his work to study to show himself approved unto God. That is the work God has called him to do. He can only make impact in ministry by studying. A minister who is not studying will make no impact in ministry. If a lawyer is studying to go and defend his clients, he is working. If a professor is studying to go and teach, he is working. Likewise, if the pastor who has to instruct God’s people is studying, he is working because, in the mouth of the minister must be knowledge. For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, And people should seek the law from his mouth; For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:7)
Bible study involves reading other materials apart from the Bible. That is why the pastor needs other resources like concordances, commentaries, Greek and Hebrew Lexicon, Bible dictionaries, research studies etc to help in understanding the word.
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all (1 Timothy 4:15)
The minister’s work is a work of meditation. To make impact in ministry requires regular meditation in the word of God. Christian meditation is the process of focusing on specific thoughts such as a verse of scripture, and reflecting on them in order to allow the Holy Spirit to bring illumination to the mind. It forms an important part of the ministry of the word. When the minister is in meditation, he is at work. There are four forms of Christian meditation: reflective, imaginative, repetitive, and stillness.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2)
The minister’s work is listening. Another way we receive the word is to listen to others speak it to our hearing. In the Kingdom of God, God has given us men and women who are specially given insight and revelation into certain subjects. These people receive the word and give it to others who should listen to them and be more informed and inspired. Sources from which we can listen to the word include Bible Schools, seminars, recorded messages, or uploaded messages on the internet. When the minister is listening to messages in his office or study, he is working. Reading, studying, meditation, and listening to the word are the basic means by which the minister receives the word of God.
Let us now look at the second aspect of the word ministry, that is, delivering the word.
- Delivering the Word
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
Delivering the word or feeding the flock is done through the following:
i. Preaching – declaring and proclaiming the word of God, to get people saved.
ii. Teaching – The convert must grow in the knowledge and practice of the faith. Jesus therefore commanded that we should teach the nations to observe all that He has commanded us. It is through teaching that young converts are established in the faith. Teaching grounds the baby Christian in the faith through the explanation of truth and doctrine.
iii. Exhortation – to exhort is to influence or urge someone to do something. It is not enough for people to be informed about what they must do; they must be influenced to do it.
iv. Reproof – reproof is a strong form of warning. It is the act of using strong but decent words to drive home God’s disapproval to and warn of imminent danger if a person doesn’t repent and reform.
v. Rebuke – Titus 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee
To rebuke is to admonish and reprimand those who persist in sin. When wayward saints refuse to reform, it is the duty of the minister to use the weapon of holy rebuke to bring them back to their senses.
- PASTORAL CARE
1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
Pastoral care involves:
c) Conducting Marriage ceremonies
d) Child naming and dedication
e) Conducting funerals
2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord.
2 Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.
Man of God, you will one day give account of the flock God has given you.
Heb. 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Therefore, make sure you are doing the work to the best of your ability.
Christian, make sure your man of God is not grieved and despised for accepting this great and noble call, which is not only work, but work indeed. Never forget that this work is what will prepare you for a good and fulfilling life now and in the life to come.