Now to each one of us grace has been given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you…each member belongs to one another. (Romans 12:3-5)
According to these passages above, I am only a pastor-teacher by the grace of God. There is nothing that I have ever done, accomplished, or achieved that would or could qualify me for this position. It is given by the grace of God for the benefit of the church.
Now, I have studied and have been mentored and have served in fruitful ministries. I have, in fact, taught at seminaries and mentored other ministers. But all of this was after the fact of the calling, which came not by anything that I deserved or earned, but by His grace
We stand in grace
If we forget this fact we are apt to steal the glory from God, to brag about what we have done or to emphasize our education, etc. And if we do so, the power that is “from on high” with which we are to be clothed will be stripped from us (Luke 24:49). Study and wisdom and experience, along with faith and spiritual knowledge gained along the path of our discipleship, the lessons of knowing Christ – all of this can only be of benefit if we stand and rest in God’s grace, in His undeserved favor.
Christ emphatically said that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). And though we are prone to evaluate a pastor on the basis of his work, his education, and his accomplishments – this tendency belies the spiritual reality that is dependent on Christ. We may feel that an older minister is “safer” than a younger one, and the scripture does warn us against ordaining too young a man or too new a Christian (1 Tim. 5:22 and 3:6), but the point of these warnings is that a younger man may be tempted with pride. The pastor is not called “elder” for no reason.
But, as the saying goes, “There is no fool like an old fool,” and an older minister may also forget this essential spiritual lesson and become proud. Experience counts for something, but the essential and indispensable experience of the Christian life is the experience of daily dependence on God. No other type of “experience” suffices for this experience. If we stand at all, we must stand in grace and in the power and wisdom that we do not deserve, but rather is given freely by Christ to His people.
We belong to one another
Another sub-principle of this larger principle of serving in grace is that because it is by grace, we belong to one another. The pastor is called by God’s grace to serve as Christ’s representative to the body. He does not live to himself or for himself. We need one another. His gifts must be exercised for the benefit of the body, as all gifts must be.
Like all men, he has need for physical rest, for sleep, for healthy food, and for friendship. God will provide miraculous physical and emotional power when He deems them necessary, but the pastor-teacher should not put “God to the test” by demanding such things. As Paul advised his companions to take some food for their own strengthening (Acts 27:33-34), and as he said that exercise profits a man (1 Tim. 4:8), so the pastor should take care of himself physically and emotionally. And let us not forget his own obligation to his family, as the scripture says, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
Yet the pastor-teacher must realize that he is sent by Christ to be the shepherd of God’s people. He must be available to people to teach and to feed them the word of God. He must be patient and diligent and gracious, just as Christ was gracious.
When to say no
Is there ever a time when a minister of the gospel might refuse to deal with someone? Clearly there is. When disrespect is expressed: “Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15). When unbelief is obvious: “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:58). When responsive people are available to be found elsewhere: “Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
Now I must admit that here is an area that I struggle in – as do most ministers – because of the contrasting commands of God, and perhaps “balancing” is a better word than “contrasting.” Christ commanded His disciples to look for the “son of peace” (Luke 10:6), or the responsive soul, when doing ministry. If he was not found, they were to move on until they found him. We are to focus our ministry on those who respond, and not to waste our time trying to help those who refuse to believe and come to the truth.
But the other extreme is when we begin to give up on people too quickly, when we neglect the numerous commands of being steadfast and patient with others. Surely, this attitude reveals pride and leads us into a judgmental spirit. So we must depend on the Spirit to show us when we should not waste our time on the hard-hearted and how we should invest our time in lives that are responsive to God’s Word.
Paul gave an example of dealing with these tensions in ministry, as he began preaching in the synagogue in Ephesus but after resistance took his ministry to a public lecture hall (Acts 19:8-10).
The principles are clear enough, but the application can be difficult. When is the decision to stop dealing with one class of people and start dealing with a more responsive class right to make? We have no clear answer except by the leadership of the Holy Spirit. But as we follow Him He will lead us where He knows our ministry should be.