On Being a “Good” Minister

images-7All pastors want to be effective. Helpful. In a word, beneficial. In fact, if making an impact on those around us weren’t at least one of our purposes, most of us would not even consider ministry. Sure, we aim to please Christ first, but all of us would willingly admit we want to help others as well. When this happens we are, in a biblical word, “good.”

I draw this conclusion from 1 Timothy 4:6 where Paul tells Timothy that “in pointing out these things to the brothers you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”

The word “good” in verse six means beneficial or outwardly profitable; it implies we are of practical use to others. This is important to recognize, especially since there are two words for “good” in the Greek language. While one refers to intrinsic qualities of morality and character, the other refers to the outward qualities of profitability. The latter one is used here in I Timothy 4:6, indicating the minister is becoming beneficial to others. Essentially, when we are practically beneficial to other people, we are a “good” minister.

Understand, however, this has nothing to do with our value; we’re all of great worth. The verse is dealing with our ability—are we of great work? You see, the issue is not one of our importance, but one of our impact.

The natural question which follows is this: “How does one become a good minister?” The context around the verse highlights two factors which help us become a good minister:

1. Becoming a good minister revolves around the manner in which I teach. The verse points toward the idea of someone giving another person a gentle reminder or a consistent nudge. There is no indication we’re to become slave drivers or finger pointers. Instead, the word picture is of a doctor who consistently directs his patients towards attitudes and actions leading to better health.

Or it speaks to the analogy of a mother carefully guiding her little one through the infant and toddler years. You can see it in your mind’s eye, can’t you—little by little, day by day, she gives her young child the training necessary to see the youngster mature properly.We carry much the same obligation in our ministry to others—methodically, consistently and gently directing people towards biblical actions that lead to spiritual maturity. When we serve in such a manner, we become profitable ministers.

It’s closely akin to what Paul told Timothy in his second letter (2:24) when he said “the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.” The overriding responsibility? To patiently, lovingly, clearly, and yet directly, lead people in the formation of their spiritual character.

2. Becoming a good minister revolves around the message I teach. Our text reveals that we become a good minister when we point out “these things.” “These things” refers to the sound doctrine just mentioned by Paul—the Word of God. In fact, verse six is sandwiched between Paul’s instructions to Timothy to discern the error of his day, not being deceived by it. How does that happen? By consuming and absorbing God’s truth! Living with this as a primary focus enables us to confront and avoid error.

Like it or not, we do not become good ministers when our own ideas and suggestions constitute the bulk of our teaching. Fortunately, we can speak in humanly therapeutic ways which may address felt needs, but it must be done with the Bible as the focal point, not simply the backdrop. Undoubtedly, becoming a good minister is directly related to my ability to communicate God’s truth to others. It is not related to my ability to attract crowds, keep statistics, organize churches, or conduct events. While all of these may be good to some degree, they do not address my standing as a profitable minister. Fundamentally, becoming a good minister occurs when I benefit others by consistently feeding them a steady diet of Scripture, not random snacks of my own ideas.

Caution! There is the temptation to spend more time on factors not related to our “goodness” rather than on the one most closely tied to it—accurately teaching God’s truth. Is it any wonder the original apostles desired to spend their time in the ministry of the Word and in prayer, not in waiting on tables? They desired to be good ministers, and they weren’t going to be sidetracked by the tyranny of the urgent.

For most of us, though, “good” just doesn’t cut it. “After all,” we reason under our breath, “how could a lone, one-word, quite nominal description adequately portray the magnificent job I’m doing in this ministry?” Unfortunately, we feel we need to hear our approval expressed in terms such as great, awesome, super, powerful, or fantastic. However, in a day when a simple adjective rarely means much anymore, consider it a compliment when God simply calls you good. It may very well be the one divine stamp of approval that carries the greatest weight.

As you evaluate the manner in which you teach and the message you teach, ask yourself questions like . . .

  • Are my talks characterized by love and kindness?
  • Do I exhibit hope and patience towards people when they express a desire to respond to God’s Word?
  • Is Scripture consistently highlighted?
  • Am I correctly interpreting the Word of God? If I’m not, does it bother me, or am I only worried about it if someone questions me?
  • Am I subconsciously straying away from certain issues because I’m afraid to dig deep into them myself?
  • Do I spend quality time in preparation so my listeners are stretched, not bored?
  • Do I consider study tools an important part of my book arsenal?
  • Do my teaching and preaching plans center on simply “getting by” till the next week, or is there an intentional approach to teaching Scriptural truth and doctrine?

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