Fulfilling the Ministry: New Testament Principles for Faithful Ministry

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At the end of his letter to the Colossians, Paul identifies a specific leader in the church for special exhortation. He says, "Say to Archippus, 'Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it'" (Col. 4:19, NASB). Outside of this verse and the reference to him in Philemon v. 2 (where Paul calls him a fellow soldier), nothing more is said about Archippus in the New Testament. What Paul says to this obscure figure, however, is very significant and is applicable to all in ministry regardless what their specific ministry is.

What does it mean to fulfill one's ministry? How will I know I am being effective in doing that?

Some in ministry, like many in society in general, might measure effectiveness by the number of tasks being completed. Busyness could be mistaken for effectiveness. There certainly are objectives (tasks) to be completed, but those tasks are not the ends. Completing tasks alone is not necessarily "fulfilling the ministry." Identifying and focusing on the larger goals to be reached by the completion of each task, individually and collectively, provides a set of principles for effectiveness in ministry. Effectiveness, thus, can be measured in terms of what principles are followed as guides. The following four principles (among many) from the New Testament offer insight in this area.

Prayer Precedes and Accompanies Ministry

A rather cliché, but true, statement often uttered is, "If Jesus had to pray, what about me?" The Gospels recount Jesus' praying throughout the duration of his ministry. He prayed before significant events in his life, like choosing disciples and ministering to people. Then Jesus prayed for his disciples after he had been preparing them for ministry (John 17). In his farewell address he enjoined the disciples to pray, followed with a promise, that when they prayed in His name, their prayers would be answered. The context for such prayer was their service to Him after his departure.

The book of Acts shows that the apostles prayed in association with key events as well, like the selection of Judas Iscariot's replacement or when Peter was in prison. The apostle Paul prayed for the churches he established and/or wrote. Some of those prayers in and of themselves included material that our own prayers should contain. But in addition, Paul solicited the prayers of those who he served that he would be ever fulfilling his calling (Ephesians 6:19-20). The twin letters of Ephesians and Colossians exemplify for us the kind of praying we can engage in on behalf of these we serve. Consider his prayers in Colossians 1:9-12 and Ephesians 1:15-23 and 3:14-19.

A question to ask on a regular basis: Am I praying sufficiently for the people I serve? Am I sharing prayer concerns with others so they can intercede for me? Am I praying for God's direction in how I should serve him and his people?

Ministry Remains Focused on the Goal

As mentioned, though clearly unintentional, ministry can get reduced in checking off tasks to be completed. If not reviewed on a regular basis, one can lose sight of the meaning of it all. The New Testament identifies what goals are to be accomplished. With all the activities that can be part of doing ministry the question has to be, to what purpose are these?

Paul's words to the Colossians and Ephesians, including his prayers regarding them, reveal some of the goals of ministry. He prayed that everyone be perfect in Christ, that they be united in love, and have the full riches of complete understanding to know Christ (see Colossians 1 and 2). The various gifted offices mentioned in Ephesians 4 serve a specific function as well, the equipping of the saints for ministry. Such equipping would lead to the mutual edifying of the body of Christ with the same results Paul identified in Colossians. All members of the body of Christ have a gift for contributing to the growth of the body (1 Corinthians 12). Leaders in ministry should be focused on helping members identify and use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. Paul saw the long-term necessity of equipping others. To Timothy he wrote, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Timothy 2:2).

Effectiveness in ministry can be identified as the extent to which the people we minister to are growing in their knowledge of Christ and are being trained for service to Christ. As we minister, are we helping others be and do all that God has for them?

Ministry is a Team Endeavor

Jesus called The Twelve. He spent his ministry serving others with them at his side. Even if they did as little as distribute bread to the crowds on the occasions Jesus fed multitudes, they aided him. He also sent them out on mission to preach, thus multiplying his own ministry through them. Later in Acts Peter had John and others as partners in ministry (Acts 3). The apostles of the early church called for the office of deacon in helping meet needs of neglected widows so they could attend to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6). In Antioch, Barnabas enlisted the help of Paul (Acts 11). Subsequently, they went on missionary journey together (Acts 13). In ensuing endeavors, Paul worked with the likes of Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke, Aquila and Priscilla, and many co-laborers. Paul never conceived of himself as serving alone. In his letters to Timothy and Titus he instructed them regarding enlistment of others to minister in the congregations at Cyprus and Ephesus. Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians of the different gifted offices to help in the various areas of ministry.

The team concept is not for the larger ministries alone. The fact is, whether a person serves as the sole leader in a congregation or other form of ministry, service can't be completed alone. One can enlist the aid of a spouse, a key lay leader or some key leaders in the church, or, yes, even deacons (whose function is to serve alongside pastors). Beyond the local setting, ministers should be in communion with others in like ministry who can offer feedback, accountability, encouragement. In all these areas, working alongside others in service and mentoring others for further service (as clearly Jesus and Paul were doing) are hallmarks of effective ministry.

Evaluate: Do I act alone or do I welcome/desire team members? With whom can I partner (and mentor) in ministry in my setting?

Ministry is Service

The CEO mindset can easily creep into a person in ministry, even the lone person in ministry. One can easily fall into thinking of one's authority. What follows from that is temptation to lose sight of the real meaning of ministry. That is to serve. Stories can be multiplied of people losing sight of why they wanted to become doctors. Unfortunately, the same can be said about those who go into ministry. It is obvious that ministry is about service, for that is what the word means. The common New Testament word diakonia means service, ministering, caring for others.

The constant reminder that ministry is service, however, is necessary. Jesus set the tone with the proper attitude. Lest we be tempted to treat ministry as anything other than service, Jesus' words should be ever before us, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45//Matthew 20:28). In his farewell to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul reflected on his ministry among them and could honestly characterize his service as being done in humility. In his own brief reference to gifts, Peter indicated that the gifts were to be used to serve others as stewards of God's grace (1 Peter 4:10). He further exhorted them to shepherd with the proper attitude and motives, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing ... not pursing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Evaluate: What is my motive for doing ministry? Is it to serve or to be served? What must I do to remind myself that it is not about me?

These are only four principles. Space does not permit discussion of many other things which could be identified: the necessity of personal spiritual formation, proper self-care, maintaining faithfulness to Christ, faithfulness in rightly handling the Bible in teaching and preaching, and the need for humility in serving, among others.

In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul wrote to Timothy words similar to those he instructed be delivered to Archippus. Like those words to Archippus, these to Timothy are applicable to all in ministry: "But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

Lastly, of course, is love, what Paul called the greatest. One can serve without loving, but one cannot love without serving. You can fill in the blank to paraphrase Paul's words to the Corinthians: If I can __________ but have not love, I am a __________.

May love, for God and for people, be the ultimate motivating factor in ministry.

Written by Dr. Joseph Matos

Dr. Joseph Matos serves as a Professor of Biblical Studies at Dallas Baptist University.