The Calling of a Gospel Minister
What should a church be looking for when it seeks a pastor? This is a question that should deeply exercise not only elders but every church member. What qualities should a search committee have uppermost in their minds as they look to God to provide them with a man after his own heart? Perhaps before you read any further you might want to pause and write down the list of qualities you think should mark a gospel minister.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul uses two words that, he says, define him as a preaching apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul had a unique redemptive-historical calling as one of Christ’s apostles. But what he writes here about himself and Apollos, can legitimately be applied to men called and set apart by God to be ministers of his Word.
First, Paul describes himself as a servant of Christ. Paul’s usual word for servant is diakonos, from which we get our word ‘deacon’. It meant originally a ‘table waiter’, someone who served tables. But here Paul uses a word he uses nowhere else (hyperetes). This word described a rower on a slave galley. Indeed, it described someone who rowed in the lowest deck of the galley, the lowest of the low. ‘This is how one should regard us’, he says to the church in Corinth, as ‘under-rowers of Christ’. Paul did not have an inflated sense of his own importance. He did not want anyone to put him on a pedestal (as some in Corinth were doing). Yes, he was Christ’s under-rower, answerable ultimately alone to him. But nonetheless he was an under-rower in the service of his Saviour. What a minister thinks of himself is vital. Paul does not begin with what he is called to do, but with what he is called to be. When a church is looking for a pastor, look carefully. Look at how a man ‘comports’ himself. Ask yourself, ‘Does he have airs and graces, does he think he is ‘someone’? Or, does he have the attitude of an under-rower of Christ?
Second, Paul describes himself as a ‘steward of the mysteries of God’. The steward (oikonomos) of an estate was responsible for the oversight and care of the estate. He was answerable to the estate’s master for his stewardship. Like every gospel minister Paul had been given a stewardship; he was to care for and oversee ‘the mysteries of God’. The steward had an entrusted charge. He was responsible for carrying our the wishes of his master. So with the gospel minister. Paul was never at liberty to share his own thoughts and notions. He had an entrusted commission to make known carefully and faithfully ‘the mysteries of God’. The ‘mysteries of God’ are not enigmas that only the especially spiritual can understand. They are truths that we could never fathom but which God has revealed. A gospel minister is charged with faithfully and carefully proclaiming the truths that God has revealed, the truths that supremely illuminate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why in verse 2 Paul writes, ‘it is required of stewards that they be found faithful’ – not imaginative, entertaining, funny, relevant, but ‘faithful’.
If a church has any wisdom at all, it will ensure at the very least that the man it calls to ‘preach the word’ is a man who will do just that. He will not parade his own learning, thoughts, insights or whatever. He will declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27). It may be good to have a man with his finger on the pulsebeat of the times. It may be good to have a man who understands the technology of the age. It may be good to have a man with a Ph.D. in Hebrew, Greek, or some locus of theology. It may be good to have a man who has imagination. But it is imperative to have a man who knows he is an under-rower in the service of the Saviour and who is a faithful steward of gospel truth.
It is undeniable that a church rises or falls depending on the character and preaching of its minister. This is deeply sobering, for minister and congregation. May it be the unshakable resolve of every congregation of our Lord Jesus to call a man who will mirror the humility and faithfulness of the Saviour.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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