What is the primary function of the Ministry?
<![if !vml]><![endif]>The leadership and ministry of the congregation are often referred to as shepherds. Ephesians includes ‘Pastors’ in its list of ministerial functions. This is a shepherd. It is worthwhile to examine some things about our shepherds. Of course Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd.
"and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." (I Pet 5:4)
"For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (I Pet 2:25).
"And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jer 3:15)
Besides physical care the special function of the leadership is to provide knowledge and understanding, equipping the congregation of God to walk in His way. A shepherd also seeks out His sheep (Eze 34:12). No one should be able to walk away unnoticed. The shepherd leads his sheep (John 10:4, 27). One does this by setting an example (I Pet 2:21, II Thes 3:7, 9, I Cor 4:15-16). Every sheep is expected to follow the lead. They walk the path on their own feet. The good shepherds demonstrate the way. The bad will talk a good talk, but the example will be clouded, an insufficient demonstration.
We need to keep in mind that Paul, Peter and it is safe to assume Timothy and Titus were humble men. They were not seeking to promote themselves, but their Creator. Peter scoffed at those who sought a physical reward (I Pet 5:2). Paul was of a similar mind.
"Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8).
This should not be a big surprise. These men were of the same spirit and mind as Jesus Christ. It should go without saying that those who have the spirit of God conduct themselves like Jesus Christ did and as he taught the disciples and apostles. If a minister’s conduct doesn’t echo the examples we see in scripture they are of a different spirit.
‘But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know.… Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."’ (John 4:32, 34)
These men were focused on serving their Creator and His people. They were not overly concerned about even providing for themselves, let alone promoting themselves. They were also able to recognize this quality in others. Speaking of Timothy, Paul says: "For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state." (Phil 2:20)
"in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility" (Tit 2:7).
These are aspects of a minister Paul felt were important. "Reverence" (Gr: semnotes) would probably be better rendered ‘respectability’. However, the main thrust of this is the need for "integrity". All three words Paul used include that thought. The pattern of a ministers life should be reflected in what and how they taught. In particular they should be incorruptible not just teach it to others. It seems this would be self-evident for anyone who has "escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (II Pet 1:4c)
The instruction from the ministry should not be subject to the influence of men, either individuals or a group. "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Gal 1:10)
Decisions of what is proper or not, are based entirely on the Law of God and His instruction. These are examined in an effort to better understand the mind of the Creator. Decisions of what is proper are not influenced by how any particular person or group might react.
The Spirit of God is not strong in any minister who is concerned about losing the financial support of men. God will provide for His servants and His true servants will look to Him for that support. They will not look to men. Financial support will not be a significant concern to a spirit filled minister/servant of Jesus Christ.
"For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God." (I Thes 2:9)
"For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ." (II Cor 2:17)
"useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself." (I Tim 6:5)
"Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly" (I Pet 5:2).
"And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you." (II Cor 12:14b)
"Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you." (II Cor 11:7-8)
"But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." (II Cor 11:12-14)
The false apostles and deceitful workers will not be looking to their Creator for support, but to their own cunning or the wealth of the congregation. Therefore they will quickly tire of sacrifice or financial insecurity. They will jockey for financial support and gain, frequently reminding the congregation of their duty to support him.
On the other hand, it is absolutely the responsibility of the believer to support with physical food those who provide spiritual food. A true believer will be anxious to do this and shouldn’t need to be reminded. This topic is more thoroughly covered in the study on tithing. Keep in mind:…
"For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many." (Mat 24:5)
A true minister of God will teach and live the instruction of God as preserved in His word. In order to discern what the word of God really says, each member of the congregation, or at least the head of household, must diligently study the word of God for himself. The adage "One gets what one pays for" undoubtedly applies. If one does not put forth much effort one will likely not get the whole truth.
(Our commentary on the Judgments of Exodus 21-23 examines many fundamental principles by which our Creator expects us to live.)
Paul's instruction in I Timothy 3 also tells us elders are to have but "one wife, temperate, sober–minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence...6 not a novice...7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside"
Additional thoughts included for the deacon are: "reverent, not double–tongued,...holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested...11 Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things."
Paul also wrote similar instruction in Titus 1 that adds "blameless...not self–willed, not quick–tempered, ...8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, ... just, holy, self–controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught,"
Anyone who has a sincere desire to help and support the brethren is going to place his own wants and even needs secondary. Mates must agree together how they will do this. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Mat 10:39). Someone filled with an attitude of self worth will not be able to do this for long. Paul knew that God didn’t call him because of how good he was.
"For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." (Gal 1:13)
"not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit," (Tit 3:5)
A servant of the Creator will not promote himself. No man owns the truth of God. God planned this universe and the conduct required to make it function in harmony. He directed the formation of the galaxies, stars, planets and moons. He brought us into being without our help. Our fathers before us, as well as we, cut ourselves off from Him in order to walk in the imagination of our own evil heart (Gen 8:21). It is only by the mercy of our Creator that any of us can even begin to understand His way and walk in it. There is no room for pride in someone who really understands the truth of this. The godly leaders focus will be the Creator. Their purpose will be to direct the congregation to Him, the example of His Word and the written instruction of His word.
Jesus Christ is our real leader. He leads us if we follow His example and live according to the instruction of His word. If we depend on the ministry to tell us how to conduct ourselves, we are allowing someone else to come between us and our true leader. At the same time, any true minister of God will point the congregation toward the word of God, not himself or any human organization.
"For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." (Rom 15:4)
"and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (II Tit 3:15)
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Tim 3:16)
Our comfort, hope and salvation come from the Hebrew Scriptures and the instruction Jesus Christ left us. If your leader doesn’t point you directly to the word of God and away from serving yourself at the expense of others, beware. A true minister of God will not promote himself, but the Creator he serves. He will encourage everyone else to do the same. (The examination of the New Covenant deals with this subject too.)
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:11-12).
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food." (Heb 5:12)
The function of the ministry is not to feed the sheep so they are permanently dependent on the ministry, but to feed them so they can directly follow the masters Word. They will be able to do so when they clearly recognize the chief shepherd. Certainly there is a time when new arrivals in the congregation will need the basics explained to them. This should not be the permanent state of the congregation. The mature believer should not only be learning for himself, but also ought to be moving into a position where he can share with and support others. Few will master this by simply warming a seat in a standard Protestant type church service.
"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." (Heb 13:20-21)
Becoming complete and doing what is pleasing to Him, will come from Him. The ministry will be walking in Christ’s steps working to bring you to Him, not to themselves.
Unfortunately there are good shepherds and bad. The sheep evidently aren’t very good at telling the difference. They are depending on their shepherds to care for them. If they were not, they would not be sheep. Unfortunately, because of this dependence, with consistently bad shepherds the sheep really don’t know how poorly they are being treated or if they do know, they don’t seem to know what to do about it.
"Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered." (Eze 34:2c-5)
More than likely this condemnation is for both the leaders of the nation of physical Israel and the nation of spiritual Israel. In any case, any leader in either category ought to seriously consider what is said. The function of a shepherd is to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, fix what is broken and restore what is offended or lost. Undoubtedly this job description applies spiritually and physically.
There are other qualities indicative of a deficient minister or lay-member for that matter.
"For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?" (I Cor 3:4)
"These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit." (Jude 1:19)
There is a time to "shake the dust off your feet" (Mat 10:14, Acts 13:51) against unbelievers. However, this instruction was apparently directed against someone who will not accept Jesus at all. That is how it was implemented. We must understand that many proclaim the name of Jesus. The only way we can be sure our leaders are serving their Creator is by our own diligent study.
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Rom 16:17). They were to avoid those whose conduct was seriously unbecoming of a Christian or those who caused divisions. No one was ever 'noted' for preaching circumcision, for instance. Perhaps being 'accursed' was worse (Gal 1:8). But there is no indication Paul or the Apostles instigated a separation or division over the issue. Although branding the teaching a different gospel, Paul also acknowledged is was not so different that it was completely incompatible. (Gal 1:7).
"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us." (III John 1:9) It was the sincere believers that were expelled from the proud and self-seeking, not the other way around. This is also seen in Jude's letter too. "These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots;" (Jude 1:12) It appears the true believers bent over backwards to include many of dubious reputation in their fellowship.
It is assumed the leadership will set the example in doing what they encourage every believer to do.
‘If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"’ (Jam 2:15-16)
"But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (I John 3:17)
Everyone should be happy to share what they have when someone is in need. How much more should the leader who is supposed to be the example do this? And how much more offensive must it be to the Creator when someone claims to be representing Him, teaching others, yet neglects what every believer is supposed to do?
id not mean they received a salary from Jerusalem. Paul was dependent on the support of people along the way. If that support did not come, he worked to support himself and sometimes his assistants. "Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me" (Acts 20:34). Apparently his assistants often worked with him. "nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you" (II Thes 3:8)
Most of those who seem to be ‘full time’ ministers had no other regular occupation in which they are engaged. Paul had skills as a tentmaker. "So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers." (Acts 18:3) Probably the others had skills as well, but we are not told about them. Neither are we told that any were regularly receiving support from their family back home, a particular wealthy person, their annuity investments or a lottery pay out.
They did receive support from the congregations. "And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied" (II Cor 11:9). Some were more attuned to their responsibility than others. Occasionally the ministers found themselves in need. "To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless" (I Cor 4:11). This is a sad witness against those New Testament believers.
This also shows the importance which the real ministers of God put on the wealth of this world. They were not particularly concerned with it. We do live in a different culture than they did. Traveling by foot and foraging along the way is not what we should expect of those who lift our spiritual perspective and teach us the way of God. Shame on us if we let this happen. The spirit of God will provide sufficient for those who carry His message. Blessed are those who value their treasure with God above that which they hold in a bank.