Last week, our Saturday post spoke about five people or groups that the Bible encourages us to look to as models: (1) God (2) Christ (3) the apostle Paul (4) Christian leaders (5) other Christians. This week turns to examine the implications of this thinking about Christian modelling for those in Christian ministry.
Conclusions for gospel ministry
1. As ministers of the gospel, it is right to call others to follow our example
At first, we cringe at this idea—either from a pious humility or a realistic assessment of the poverty of our example. Paul felt no such embarrassment for himself or his co-workers. He appealed to the churches to imitate their way of life.
2. Our example has to be worth following
We are always an example to our followers—either a godly one or an ungodly one. We cannot stop being an example. One of the key tasks of Christian servants is to ensure their lives demonstrate a godly pattern for others. We will never arrive at a state of sinlessness in this life, but those we are serving must see our progress and faithfulness in following the way of the cross.
3. The goal of ministry is to create disciples of Christ, not of ourselves
This is the counter-balance to our first conclusion. We are to call upon others to imitate us inasmuch as we imitate Christ. The result must not be division but unity—not loyalties owed to men, but to Christ (see 1 Cor 3:3-4).
4. Teaching is by Word and life
The Christian teacher calls for the learner to adopt his way of life, which should embody what he teaches. He must, then, watch his life and doctrine closely. The integrity of the teacher is thus at stake; he cannot teach what he does not live.
At this point, Christian leadership is radically countercultural. Our community promotes a separation of the public and private lives of our leaders. We are told that the morality of our leaders is irrelevant to their job performance. This attitude is unthinkable in Christian leadership.
5. The teacher models the way of the cross
The consistent theme in the passages above is a modelling of faith and perseverance in the face of trials. The disciple shares in the sufferings and service of the Master. And, like Christ, he exhibits love, patience and holiness.
Implications for training gospel workers
1. The trainer is more important than the curriculum
Theological information, even if true, does not train ministers of the gospel. The trainer must do two things: impart the true knowledge of God and demonstrate, in his own life, how to apply it. Anything less than this is not Christian training. The loss of integrity in a faithless teacher is fatal to Christian training.
2. Create contexts for integrating Word and life
There is truth in the old chestnut that ‘ministry is caught not taught’. Both Jesus and Paul drew around them a handful of disciples into close association. In this context, they imparted the content of the message and the way to live it.
This is at the heart of the apprenticing model. The fledgling minister learns by instruction, but also by association and example.
To illustrate, a lecture on divorce and remarriage might give a young minister some counselling procedures and accurate biblical teaching, and even reveal something of the subtlety of this pastoral issue. But involving the apprentice in a real pastoral situation, including interviews and prayer, will unveil the heart of the pastor. The apprentice will witness his compassion, his faithfulness to the word of God, the agony involved in saving others and the pain of rejection.
3. Avoid the guru syndrome
No minister of the gospel should be the ‘creation’ of one person. Paul was not the only model for his delegates and churches; there were many apostles and teachers, and the churches were to imitate each other.
A collegiate approach avoids the excesses of dependancy, manipulation, oppression and legalism which develops in some ‘discipling’ ministries. The minister-in-training needs to learn from many ‘mentors’ while drawing close enough to a few who can impart both Word and life.