In the second of a two part series, Mark O’Donoghue answers the question “Gospel Ministry – Am I right for it?” The first part addressed the question, “Gospel Ministry – Is it right for me?”
My previous post reflected on how the victorious risen Lord Jesus Christ generously gives gifts to his people to use for building up his church. We discern our gifts as we use them and as we receive feedback from other Christians. Our goal is to answer the question: ‘How can I, as the person that I am, with the gifts God has given me, best advance the glory of God?’ However, if I am prepared to address this key question, what are the criteria by which to reach a conclusion?
1. Character: The list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 almost exclusively concerns character: beyond reproach, a one-woman man, self-controlled regarding drink, money and our temper. We should all pray that only godly men and women enter full-time paid gospel ministry. It is worth saying that, although in one sense we should all consider ourselves unworthy to serve, other people are often better judges of our character than we are.
2. Convictions: It is not enough merely to understand the gospel. The question is, if you cut me, will I bleed gospel? Is it in the marrow of my bones, in my DNA? John Newton, in his advice to those considering ministry, said we “must have a real desire to promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” Only if we have gospel convictions will we be prepared to teach truth, refute error and endure suffering for the gospel.
3. Capability: Twice in 1 & 2 Timothy, amidst the character qualifications, Paul says church leaders must be able to teach (1 Tim 3.2; 2 Tim 2.24). We must not mistakenly assume that the ability to teach is a mark of godliness; most godly Christians do not have this gift. So, if after testing, your church leaders suggest you do not have this gift, don’t mishear them as saying you’re ungodly! Nonetheless, if they are not convinced that you can teach the Bible faithfully, clearly and, at least in some degree, compellingly, then please do not enter full-time word ministry because it will be a disaster! All Christians should want to be round pegs in round holes; we need to guard our hearts from assuming that there is only one way to serve God – and I speak to pastors as well as those considering full-time ministry.
4. Compassion: Gospel ministers must love people otherwise they will not be heard. Teaching God’s word involves more than merely explaining a text; it is a relational activity. In the second half of 2 Timothy 2, Paul speaks of the ability to teach within the context of a teacher who is gentle when provoked, prayerful when opposed, and driven by a desire to win his hearers back to God. Without that compassion, it doesn’t matter how clear or clever we are, we will not be effective gospel ministers. We should pray that we would be like the apostle himself who was like a mother and father to those under his care, or like the Lord, who wept over the city as he saw people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
5. Circumstances: God gives us wisdom to make godly decisions and one of the factors ought to be our circumstances. Am I married or single, fragile or robust, high-maintenance or low-maintenance? Do I have a large capacity or small capacity, elderly parents to look after, a wife and 12 children to support? Such circumstances can and should affect our decision regarding when and whether to enter full-time ministry.