The Nature of Christian Ministry

The Nature of Christian Ministry

Harvey Pennick was a world-famous golf instructor. Golf pros revered Harvey’s advice. Throughout his long career of teaching golf lessons, he made a habit, after a lesson, he would jot down some notes in a little red journal, writing out various insights that became clear to him as he was helping others learn how to golf. Late in life Harvey Pennick showed his journals to one of his sons. He asked him, “Do you think anyone would be interested in reading this little red book of mine?” His son read it and got real excited about it and thought, “Many, many people would love to read that book,” and so he contacted Simon and Schuster, the publishers. He sent them a little sample of Harvey’s insights and Simon and Schuster quickly tried to contact Harvey Pennick. They left a message with his wife, saying, “We very much like this book and we are willing to offer a $90,000 advance.” Harvey didn’t return their call and so they continued to persist in trying to get a hold of Harvey and they were finding it rather difficult to track him down. Finally, one of the representatives did reach Harvey and it was on this occasion that Harvey Pennick admitted, “I have been reluctant to talk with you guys. You see, I have to be honest with you. Between some medical bills that me and my wife have, and some other financial problems that have come up, there is just no way that we can come up with $90,000.”

Remarkably, this revered man thought Simon and Schuster was asking him to give them $90,000 in order to publish his book.

We are studying the topic of Christian ministry, and it occurred to me that many Christian’s perceive of God’s call to service, God’s call upon our lives to active ministry, in the same way Harvey Pennick perceived Simon and Schuster’s call to publish his book. They are considering that God is asking them to give something they cannot pay; that God is calling them to give time, to give energy, to give money that they cannot afford to loose.

But the Bible’s call to ministry is actually a call from God to receive blessing; to receive a treasure, to receive an abundance. God knows that we a paupers. He knows that we have nothing in our storehouse to give to Him and He comes to us, not to receive from us something He needs, but He comes to us to enrich our lives, to fill us with wholeness, to bless us with treasure that moth and rust cannot destroy, that thieves cannot break in and steal. He comes to us to make our joy complete.

I wonder how many brothers and sisters in Christ are ducking from God; hiding from His call to ministry like a bankrupt man would hide from a bill collector. What a tragedy: to live life successfully evading the God who delights to bless His people, to give a treasure that is more valuable than rubies or diamonds. What a tragedy to live a life of evading such a God; evading His call.

In the study of Acts 14, we discover God’s design for Christian ministry through the example of Paul and Barnabas. We learn the qualities of effective, spiritual ministry that makes ministry to God such a joy to us, and to our lives, so valuable. Many Christians miss out on this treasure. Many Christians miss out on this joy that God intends for us in serving Jesus because of our failure to apply Biblical principles for ministry; of our failure to understand God’s call to ministry.

When we serve Jesus, in the way that the He directs, we will find rich treasure, we will be the one’s who are abundantly blessed. There really is no sacrifice in Christian service. There is only investment; investment that brings such a rich, joyful return.

We are going to discover six qualities essential for spiritual ministry through the example that Paul and Barnabas set. Remember that Paul and Barnabas are on their first missionary journey. Notice that they started out from Antioch just north of Israel and sailed across to Cyprus. There they came to the cities of Salamis and Paphos where Sergius Paulus became a believer. Then they sailed up north to Perga. Paul had become ill there and so he travels north to Pisidian Antioch in the region of Southern Galatia, and there, most of Chapter 13 takes place.

In Chapter 14, we see that because of persecution, Paul will leave Antioch and go to Iconium and the Lystra and Derbe, and then he is going to retrace his path and go all the way back to Antioch of Syria and he is going to report to the church all the great things God had done on this missionary journey.

The first quality that we are going to observe from Paul and Barnabas’ ministry is that effective ministry is, first, to the Lord. By this I mean, ministry, spiritual ministry, is not first to people. It is not first to the church. It is not first to the unsaved, but effective ministry is first to the Lord; that is to say that ministry concerns itself primarily with being happy in God by being faithful to God.

We remember how this first missionary journey began in Chapter 13, Verse 2,

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me…”

The Holy Spirit is saying, “This is for me.”

“… Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Again, then, in Verses 46 and 47, of Chapter 13, we read,

…Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first.

He goes on to say in Verse 47,

For this is what the Lord has commanded…

They understood that ministry was first to God and, “We had to speak the Word of God because this is what God told us to do and our ministry is first to Him.”

And they go on to say,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Paul and Barnabas’ ministry is not first for or to the people of Southern Galatia. Of course it blessed them; of course it affected their lives, but it was first to God.

In Verse 3, of Chapter 14,

…Paul and Barnabas spend considerable time there…

that is to say Iconium,

…speaking boldly…

and notice these little words,

…for the Lord.

This is still the region of Southern Galatia. Turn to The Epistle of Galatians. Paul writes to these churches and again this idea, this principle of ministry, stands out. I believe as you study all of the Epistles, and you study the Book of Acts, you will see this, over and over again, being emphasized because it is such an important principle of ministry for us to grab onto.

Right away in Galatians 1:1, Paul says,

Paul, an apostle…

And then he says,

…not sent from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…

He recognizes that God is the One who initiated this and it is to Him that he is ministering.

Then Verse 10,

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?

“Who is my ministry to? Who is going to evaluate it? Is it other people, or is it God? Am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Ministry is first to God. This is our focus all the while we are active in ministry; that our service is to the Lord Jesus. This fundamental principle for ministry has huge and numerous practical implications. Let me give you just one of them to chew on. Because our ministry is first to the Lord, we are liberated from the pressure to succeed. By that, I mean we are liberated from the pressure of meeting other people’s expectations about what should happen in the ministry in which we are involved.

This world’s values often crash in on ministry and make us think that if we don’t make a big splash, if we don’t do something to somehow be noticed and receive the applause of men, that somehow our ministry is diminished; that it is unimportant. If we don’t grow in numbers in our Bible study, for instance, or in our Sunday school class, or in our home group, that somehow we have failed. Our flesh is drawn to this view of ministry; that our ministry is to other people, because our flesh so much desires the applause of other people around us. Our flesh desires for recognition of making that big splash and gaining the notice of others, and so, with that view, many give ministry a try and, perhaps, sometimes receive some applause, but never enough, and so we try harder and we work more and then we discover, yet, that we are dissatisfied with the number of people who are really taking notice of what we are doing and one of two things happen. We become either frustrated or judgmental, or we become arrogant and compromising.

Friend, ministry is first to God and God always notices and that is the beauty: God always notices. Our labor in the Lord is never in vain.

Many of you have children and, perhaps, you have gone to one or two baseball games this summer as parents. As your little one takes the plate or is out in the field, you have noticed that your little one looks over occasionally. Why are they looking over and who are they looking over to? Are they looking over to see the reaction of other parents? No, all they care about is what is my mom, or what does my dad, think about what I am doing out here? That is whom they want to please, so it doesn’t matter if they hit the same number of home runs as the next player on the team has hit, or if they made the great catch, all they care about is, “Does my mom, does my dad, think that I am doing something worthwhile while out here?”

This is our attitude as we serve God. You see, it doesn’t matter what the other players in the field are doing so much, or the applause that they are receiving, or who else in the crowd enjoys what they are doing. We stand before an audience of one and that One is our Lord and He loves us and He delights in us, and He always notices. Nothing is left unseen by the God who calls us to serve Him.

Elizabeth Elliott once stayed in a farmhouse of a Welch shepherd, and this farm house was high in the mountains of north Wales. She stood watching one summer as one of the ranch hands, a shepherd, was on horse back, herding sheep and he had the aid of a champion Scottish Collie. As she noticed that Scottish Collie work the sheep and come along side to assist that rancher, she recognized that this Collie was in her glory; that this Collie was just joyful and happy. Why was she joyful and happy? First, because she was given some natural abilities to begin to shepherd sheep, and she was very effective at it, but, also because her ear was bent and she was in cooperation with her master and what her master said, what her master directed, that is what she did. Her eyes were constantly looking over at the master for direction so that when the master gave it, there was this joy that could be seen resonating through this animal’s life. Elizabeth Elliott summarizes, “To experience the glory of God’s will for us means absolute trust. It means to do His will and it means joy.”

Success in ministry is not within the range of a selected few, but it is in the range of all of us because success in ministry is defined by the God who calls us and by looking to Him. So, ministry is, first, to the Lord.

The second quality of effective ministry that we are going to discover through this passage is that effective ministry requires a holy boldness.

Verses 1 through 3, speak of Paul and Barnabas being in Iconium and

…they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed…

and then, there is that word “but.” But, Jews, Jewish leaders,

…who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. (And) so Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord…

That little word “so” is interesting. You would think that Verse 3, would come right after Verse 1. In other words, “A great number of people were believing and so, Paul and Barnabas were speaking boldly for the Lord.” But, that word “so” comes after not Verse 1, but after Verse 2, where it tells us “that there were certain people who were poisoning minds and stirring up opposition.” And, then it says, “So….,” not in view of the effectiveness, but in view of the persecution, Paul and Barnabas became more emboldened. This hardship that they were experiencing, emboldened them, invigorated their ministry. You see, ministry thrives on boldness.

Someone would protest, “I am not really a bold person. I’m shy. I’m reticent.” The truth is very few people are naturally bold. Now, I know there are some; I have one in my family. But, very, very few people are bold naturally.

The Good News is that holy boldness, spiritual boldness, is not a product of personality, or natural bent, but this kind of boldness is from a submission to God’s Holy Spirit. We have already learned that in Acts, remember?

In Acts 4:31, says,

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

You say, “Well, how do you get such boldness?” Again remember in Acts 4, that is a description of what happened after Verse 29, says, that they prayed,

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak…with…boldness.

We cannot expect to have effective ministry apart from boldness. And we cannot expect to have boldness unless we pray. Paul prayed for boldness. How much more do we need? And boldness is necessary, not just for preachers and teachers, but boldness is necessary for everyone who serves the Lord effectively, joyfully, gladly.

My father-in-law was the recipient of effective ministry of boldness. Sitting in his home one evening, he had gone to a meeting on a Saturday night, Monday night two guys knocked on his door. These two guys, Al and Marv, that is all we know about them now, we don’t know their last name, but my father-in-law remembers, Al and Marv, came knocking on the door, and at the time, my father-in-law was watching Monday Night Football, it was not a night to disturb this man. But, Al and Marv, they didn’t know Alex Valkinov. They had never seen him before, but they walked up that long walk up the driveway. Have you ever had a long walk like that?

These guys were not the kind of guys who appeared to have natural boldness, but God had called them and they obeyed, and God gave them the boldness they needed to walk that long walk up that driveway, knock on the door of this guy they had never met before and talk to him about Jesus. And that night God redeemed my father-in-law.

Beloved, effective ministry requires Holy Boldness.

Effective ministry is, first, to the Lord. Effective ministry requires boldness. The third quality: effective ministry perseveres through hardship; that is to say, it doesn’t give up, it doesn’t quit.

Verse 5 through 7, of Chapter 14,

There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and (in fact) to stone them.

This was no small matter. This was not throwing a couple of acorns or a couple of pebbles. This was throwing huge rocks with the intent to kill these men. The plot was already laid out, and it says,

But they found out about it and they fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe…

This shows us that we do use human wisdom; that you know while we are people who are born again, we aren’t born yesterday. That is to say, you know when you hear about a plot of someone wanting to through rocks on your head and kill you maybe it is time to get out town. That is what they did. But, what did they do? Did they get out of town and say, “Whoa, we didn’t realize this was the kind of opposition that we were going to face. Let’s be quiet.” No, they didn’t do that. As soon as they got to the next town, what happened?

Verse 7,

…they continued to preach the good news.

Later in this Chapter, Verse 19, a plot is actually carried out against Paul. They stone Paul. They drag him outside of the city,

…thinking he was dead.

Thankfully, they were wrong in their thinking, but they thought he was dead.

After the disciples had gathered around him…

Here is a guy who is in such a condition that the people who tried to kill him thought, “Yeah, he is dead!” And, as soon as they leave him, the disciples come and gather around him and what happens? He gets up, goes back into the city and the next day he goes to Derbe.

The distance between Lystra and Derbe is a matter of sixty-three miles. After being stoned and thought dead, I might have an idea, “Let’s take a little break! You know, let’s go to the beach or something. It’s time to just re-evaluate!” But not Paul; in the midst of hardship, in the midst of suffering, in the midst of persecution, Paul gets right back on his feet, travels sixty-three miles, and what does he do as soon as he gets there, he begins preaching the exact same message. He doesn’t say, “You know, maybe we need to retool this message a little bit because people don’t seem to like it all that much.” No, this is the exact, same message; he doesn’t edit it.

Effective ministry perseveres through hardship.

We should expect that our ministry to the Lord will have a mixed reception. Jesus tells this wonderful parable: the Parable of the Four Soils – of how some of the seed that the farmer sowed fell on rocky soil and birds came along and ate it up before it could even get planted. Now the seed in this Parable, of course, is the Word of God, and as they plant, some falls on the rocky soil and the birds represent, Jesus will say, Satan. Isn’t this so often true? Perhaps it is true for some of you sitting here this morning. I am proclaiming to you, the Grace of God through the Word of God. This is God’s Truth. This isn’t my truth that I thought up this past week or that I received from another man. This is God’s Truth to you, and the Bible says that there is a real enemy that wages war on your soul, and the enemy shivers to think that the Word of God will become implanted in your soul to give you life. As soon as the Word of God hits your ears, there is another being, that is invisible, that is active in your heart to just snatch it away so that you don’t even think about it.

Often times, people who have been raised in churches have the greatest activity of Satan’s influence in their life because they have gotten so used to that “hard soil” and allowing Satan to just immediately take it away. Beloved, as effective ministers, we need to realize this and that is why we need to pray as we use the Word of God to proclaim the Good News message.

Other seed, it says, fell on rocky soil. It immediately had a good response but because there was no depth, there was no root, it withered up as soon as the hot sun came out.

And then there are others whose seeds fall and springs up and weed come along and choke it out and those weeds are the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, Jesus says.

The rocky soil represents hardships. We immediately receive it and, “You know, this isn’t what I thought. This isn’t what I bargained for.”

Then there is this last soil that Jesus speaks about and it is a good soil and the seed is planted and it takes root and it bears fruit; sixty, one hundred fold. God intends for His Word to have power when it touches our life. But, as we minister, we ought to realize that there are various kinds of soil that the seed will be planted in and sometime that will come back to us in the form of hardship. If we are going to know the joy of fruitful ministry, we will have to persevere.
I love Verse 22, of Acts 14, it says, as they are

…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.

This is what they say, it is a direct quote, he says,

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

This issue of hardship in the ministry is one that we are not told about, and so, many Christians get surprised by it and that is why they get so discouraged; they are not expecting hardship. Beloved, the Bible is very clear: expect hardship. Expect ministry to be difficult. Expect ministry to bring back to you trouble and sometimes pain. But, here is God’s word – don’t give up! Persevere! Don’t quit!

Too often we leave ministry when it gets tough on us in order to avoid hardship, but Paul tells young Timothy (2 Timothy 2:3),

“Suffer hardship, even as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

We are soldiers. We shouldn’t expect war to be easy and isn’t it often true that we fail to have effective ministry because we seek to avoid hardship.

We can avoid fatigue by refusing to get involved in helping that aging neighbor. We can avoid the hardship of frustration by refusing to encourage the Christian who is weighed down by sin because, “It is so difficult to deal with because that sin has just wrapped its arms, its tentacles, around that person’s heart. I don’t want to deal with that. I want to avoid that kind of hardship,” – the hardship of frustration.
We can avoid the hardship of hassles by refusing to open our home to international students, people who are foreigners on our own soil. We can avoid hardship, the hardship of a busy schedule, by refusing to disciple new Christians; by refusing to reach out to those visitors at church.

We avoid hardship in a number of ways, but here is what the Bible is clear; that God calls us to hardship. He calls us to embrace these hardships as we follow Jesus Christ. You know, the Cross of Jesus Christ was not easy, was it? And, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we should expect the path that Jesus trod ahead of us is a hard path. But here is the Good News: this hard path is the only path that leads to joy. Do you understand that? This path is the only path that leads to joy, and we as Christians believe that and so, rather than avoiding hardship, we embrace the hardship that God calls us to. Rather than trying to avoid the pain of Jesus Christ, we run to it because we know that there is a rich treasure there. That is why Jesus, it says, “Jesus endured the cross.” And, how did He endure the Cross? In Hebrews (12:2), it says,

For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the Cross.

Ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ is hard. We ought not to consider convenience when discerning God’s call to ministry. Often times we look at various ministries that we think, we are examining whether God is calling us, “That is just going to be convenient. That is not going to fit into my schedule.” We will never have effective ministry if we don’t persevere.

A.W. Tozier writes these words, “Christ calls men to carry a cross. We call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world. We assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer. We call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modern civilization affords. He calls them to self-abnegation and death. We call them to spread themselves like green bay trees or, perchance, to even become stars in a pitiful, fifth-rate zodiac. He calls them to holiness. We call them to cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the stoics’ philosophers. We can afford to suffer now. We will have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves and our enjoyment will be valid and pure, for it will come in the right way and at the right time.”

The fourth principle of ministry is that effective ministry proclaims God’s Word.

This is true whether your ministry is preaching in a sanctuary or teaching a Sunday school class to seven year olds or changing diapers in a nursery, washing dishes in a kitchen, handing out bulletins in a hallway, or visiting the sick in a nursing home. Effective ministry proclaims God’s Word. God desires for you to be a dispenser of His Truth, of His Word, in whatever ministry you are involved in. God wants you to encourage others through His Word, and we see this, really, all through this chapter, don’t we?

Verse 3, it tells us that they were

…speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace…

Verse 7, tells us,

…they continued to preach the good news.

Verses 8 and 9, it goes on to tell us about this crippled man in Lystra, who was listening as Paul and Barnabas were speaking, so before the miracle occurred the Word of God was being presented.

Verse 21,

They preached the good news in that city…

Verse 25, it tells us that after going through Pisidia they came to Pamphylia, and when they reached there, they

…preached the word in Perga…

Some, undoubtedly, by this time, are thinking to themselves, “Pastor, you are beginning to sound like a broken record on this one. Almost every time it seems as though you are emphasizing how they are proclaiming the Word of God.” Yes, that is true. I am guilty. But, there are two reasons why I believe it is necessary to repeat this Truth over and over again. First, is because the Bible does. As Luke is writing, Luke is the first broken record. He is the one who continues to emphasize this over and over and over again. So, if Luke does, I feel I am in very good company, as, not only was he a very wise man and a Godly man, but in this particular instance, he was writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, we are in good company.

But, the second reason why I emphasize it is because the church, remarkably, is moving away from the Bible as an essential quality for effective ministry, and this shocks me, quite frankly. This is not the liberal church. It is not the Roman Catholic Church; the Greek Orthodox Church. This is the evangelical church, the church that says, “We believe the Bible,” that is moving away from the Bible as an essential quality in practical ministry.

I wish that I had more time to speak on that today, but we will talk about that more because the Bible does here.

The fifth quality: effective ministry exalts God, not man.

We read this wonderful story of this crippled man being healed, and then what happens? Immediately, the people in the city say, “Wow, Paul and Barnabas must be gods. They must be Zeus and Hermes in human form.” Now they did this for a very purposed reason. There was a myth that they believed that Zeus and Hermes had come down in human form to visit one of the villages nearby and they sought refuge in one of the homes. They went from home to home and no one took them in. All the wealthy homes, they refused them, they said, “No, we don’t have room for you.” Finally, there were these two peasants, a peasant man and a peasant woman, by the name of Philemon and Bacchus, who finally took them in and they spent the night. The next day Philemon and Bacchus were spirited up to a high mountain, the gods caused a great flood to come down upon the city, wiping out all of the other homes, particularly the homes that refused them, and Philemon and Bacchus’ little hut there, became, miraculously, this huge temple and they became the priests of this temple and when they died, they didn’t just die and pass away, they became two great trees. And so, they had this that they believed as a part of their mythology, and so now, they didn’t want that to happen again, all right? They didn’t want to accidentally miss seeing Zeus and Hermes when they came incognito, in human form, “Hey, here he is,” and so, they start making sacrifices.

Well, what was Paul and Barnabas’ response? Verse 14 and 15,

…when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes (they) rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We…are only men…”

Paul and Barnabas had a zeal for God’s Glory that made the response of the city horrifying to them. They were filled with a Godly zeal, for God’s Glory, recognizing that God will not share His Glory with another, and they wanted no part of being the ones who contributed to the idolatry.

Our flesh, in ministry, loves it when others begin to idolize us, and they show great appreciation, adoration, and recognition. But this principle of ministry reminds us that if we are going to be effective we have to humble ourselves before God everyday. We have to exalt His name and not our own. We have to turn all glory away from ourselves and only boast in Jesus Christ. It is in this way that God is glorified, and it is in this way that we receive ultimate joy.

Sometimes we will risk loosing the people who love us so as we do this. That is what happened to Paul and Barnabas, they lost those people. In fact, the very same people who wanted to sacrifice to them; they turned around and stoned Paul. When we reflect back, rightly, all the glory to God and we talk to others about idolatry and talk to others about true submission to God, often times the people who once adored us will turn away from us. But, that is the risk that effective ministry is always willing to take.

Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand and He will lift you up.

The last quality of effective ministry gets organized for the purpose of strengthening the faith of others. Verses 22 and 23says, they were

…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.

and then Verse 23,

Paul and Barnabas…

What did they do? They went to these cities where churches were established and they

…appointed elders for them in each church…with prayer and fasting, commit(ing) them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Right away, Paul and Barnabas recognized the need for these local churches to have some organization; to have Godly leadership.

Organized religion takes hits from many today and rightly so, because organized religion often is so concerned with organization that they become cold, impersonal, uncaring, and bureaucratic. But, effective ministry is always organized ministry, and it is important for us not to think that we can have an effective ministry to the Lord outside of God’s organization. Many people, today, say, “My ministry…” and it is their own little, individual, little piece of the Kingdom of God, “and this is where I am serving.” But God intends for us to be a part of a body. That is why He organized the church and calls us to submit to the leadership of the church. He calls us to become committed as members of the church. There are many believers who feel no compulsion to become members, even of a local body, because they have a misguided view of what effective ministry is. God calls us to commit ourselves to each other in submission to God and the organization that God has provided for us in the church where they appointed elders.

Understand that the elders that were appointed here were local, that is to say, they weren’t in Rome or they weren’t in some other hierarchal office. These were leaders that came out from the group, from the local church, and they were plural; there wasn’t one guy that was a dictator, but there were a number of Godly leaders.

Beloved, let us consider how God would have us to serve for His Glory and for our joy.

Remember Harvey Pennick, he thought these guys from Simon and Schuster were trying to track him down to get ninety thousand dollars from him. In you life, have you been considering that God has been trying to hunt you down so that you would give him your time, your energy, you money? And you just couldn’t afford that. Please know God is not a debt collector. God is a blesser. God is the one who gives good gifts, and He is hunting you down to give you something that you will enjoy for ever and ever and ever, amen.