Orlando is Senior Minister of Christ Church Southampton He is married to Libby and they have four children. Orlando enjoys watching sport, listening to music and reading.
How do you lay the ground for a fruitful ministry?
Spiritual fruit was certainly what Paul longed for in the visit to Rome he was planning. He’s very clear about his motivation or the trip ahead: ‘in order that I might have a harvest among you…’ (Romans 1:13).
And the first fifteen verses of his famous letter show us what it meant for him to prepare the ground for that fruit he longed to see. At the same time, they prompt 7 questions worth asking by any minister of the gospel who shares the desire to see a harvest.
1. Is my foundation secure?
Paul spoke as an ‘apostle’, a ‘servant’, one ‘set apart’ (v.1). He built his ministry not on personal opinion but on the revelation of Jesus himself. We could do with following his lead. Any fruitful ministry will likely be attacked – perhaps by the sneers of friends (“Don’t you know religion is discredited? Are you just stupid?”), or maybe the suspicions of our own minds (“Have I in fact built my life on a lie?”).
The storm winds will blow hard, and without a firm foundation, a ministry may come crashing down.
2. Is my message consistent?
Paul’s gospel was in tune with Old Testament prophecy (v.2), focused on the kingship of Christ (v.3) and centred specifically on his death and resurrection (v.4). That meant it didn’t change – even under pressure. The temperament of many of us is such that we like to be liked, and we hate giving offence. In practice what that means is that our message gradually morphs so as to cause minimum offence. Don’t do it!
A squidgy message leads to squidgy fruit.
3. Is my attitude expectant?
Paul knows what he’s looking for: his call is to ‘the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake’ (v.5). If we’re to share that sense of expectancy, we will be making sure that we speak of (and model) repentance as much as faith. Jesus must be Lord as well as Saviour. That means a commitment to deep discipleship of individuals.
Keep the bar raised high.
4. Is my dependence absolute?
The minister may look for opportunities, but God creates them. The minister may seek to persuade, but God convicts.
When Paul heard of the faith of the Romans, his response was straightforward: ‘I thank my God’ (v.8). It’s a right instinct to attribute spiritual life to God. The minister passes on the gospel, but God invented it. The minister may look for opportunities, but God creates them. The minister may seek to persuade, but God convicts.
And more than that, the minister may get some encouragement from a response, but God gets the glory.
5. Is my appetite persistent?
There’s an urgency about Paul’s prayers: ‘God is my witness… how constantly I remember you… at all times… I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened…’ (v.9-10) He was hungry! Ambitious, even. Ambition often gets a bad press. Yes, personal ambition is to be crucified by the minister, of course. But ambition for Christ is quite appropriate.
How’s your appetite?
6. Is my approach mutual?
For Paul, ministry is not a one-way street. ‘I long to see you so that… you and I may be mutually encouraged’ (v.11-12). Many of us in our insecurity develop a kind of ‘paternalistic’ style of ministry: I have to be competent, the one with the answers, that one who can solve the problem. Not Paul. He could give and take.
Ministries which flourish involve both serving and being served.
7. Is my conviction deep-rooted?
Ministry wasn’t just a job for Paul, or even a career. It was a necessity. Paul could not but preach! ‘I am a debtor’ (NIV) / ‘under obligation’ (ESV) (v.14-15). When ministry gets tough, we may find ourselves wanting to run away – unless we have a deep motivation for our work. It can’t be just one option among a number.
It needs to be the work I can’t be stopped from doing.