It has been over 20 years now, but I remember as a young seminarian reading for the first time the book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes. It refreshingly described that “success” in ministry depended not on numbers, church growth, or happening ministries. Rather, it stated that God’s call is to be faithful rather than successful. As one preparing for a lifetime of ministry, that is exactly what I needed to hear and, at that moment, I committed myself to fulfilling the ministry the Lord gave me as a faithful steward, regardless of the results. Twenty years later nothing has changed. Through the many mountaintops and valleys in ministry, I am even more convinced that faithfulness is one of the most essential qualities of any pastor.
This is because pastors are stewards. In New Testament times, a steward was a trusted servant who was placed in charge of his master’s household and given authority over it. He acted in the stead of his master, supervising his resources and transacting business in his name. His primary responsibility was to be faithful with his master’s goods, not squandering them on himself or abusing his privilege as a steward. Such is the case of the pastor. He is nothing more than a steward, one who is entrusted with the Master’s provisions and charged to act in His stead. He is made a minister “according to the stewardship from God” (Col 1:25) and must employ his giftedness “as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).
This earnest commitment to faithfulness marked the apostle Paul in his ministry. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul testified to the importance of faithfulness in ministry stating, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” Rather than invoking his apostolic rights or asserting his position, Paul simply referred to himself as a “servant of Christ.” This unique word—meaning one who carries out the will of another—is the only time Paul used this word in his writings. Literally, this word means “under-rower,” a meaning the Corinthians would have immediately understood. Corinth was a port town where Roman war ships would pass through between the Ionian and Aegean Seas. These huge wooden vessels were powered not by engines but by slaves or servants rowing large oars. Many of these vessels were comprised of three decks of rowers, the lowest level of which consisted of the lowest ranking servants. On that third level, it was dark, hot, and smelly. Everything from food scraps to human waste eventually worked its way down to the third level. It was on that third deck that the “under-rowers” sat and, as such, there was nothing glamorous about being an under-rower. On a little deck above them, where every rower could see him, stood the officer in charge of that deck, barking out orders to push the ship in the right direction and at the right speed. Their eyes were fixed on this officer because their whole business was to obey his orders and please him.
Paul essentially says, “When it comes to my ministry, that’s all I am–a third-level galley slave, a servant of Christ, an under-rower with my eyes fixed on my Master. When it is all said and done, let it be said of me that I pulled my oar for Christ, that I took my orders from my Captain, and that I did exactly what I was told.” Paul’s whole business was to follow Christ’s orders and make his Captain look good. His sole aim was to wholeheartedly carry out the stewardship that Christ had entrusted to him. That yearning to be faithful is evident in his description of stewards in verse 2: “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” Faithfulness is that overarching quality that true stewards must be known for and must characterize their all-consuming desire. Notice that Paul does not say that stewards must be humorous, popular, creative, clever, successful, or even articulate. Just faithful! This quality of faithfulness must be woven into the very fabric of a pastor’s life and ministry.
Briefly consider four areas where a pastor must demonstrate faithfulness:
In His Walk with the Lord
Before pastors can effectively minister to others, they must minister to their own souls. Too often, I have noticed that many pastors fade out the further along they get in ministry, often compromising morally or falling into sins which inevitably disqualify them. We must heed Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Paying close attention to ourselves involves employing the means which enable us to be vessels for honor and useful to the Master–time in the Word, prayer, keeping a short account of sin, guarding our thoughts, and hungering for holiness.
In His Home
Pastors must also be faithful in nurturing their relationship with their wife and investing in their children. Paul reminds us that pastors must be those who manage their own household well because if he fails to shepherd his home life well, he will be unable to take care of the church of God (1 Tim 3:5). In other words, effectiveness in ministry begins with faithfulness in the home! Before we teach, preach, shepherd, train, or lead the body of Christ, we must ensure that the primary relationships the Lord has entrusted to us in our home receive our foremost attention, prayer, and care.
In His Preaching
Faithfulness in preaching the Scriptures is also required of all servants of Christ and stewards of His mysteries. Speaking specifically of the charge to faithfulness in the pulpit, Charles Spurgeon said:
If we play at preaching, we have chosen an awful game. To shuffle texts like cards, and make literary essays out of themes which move all Heaven and hell, is shameful work…. Be seriously in earnest. Live like men who have something to live for; and preach like men to whom preaching is the highest exercise of their being! Our work is the most important under Heaven, or else it is sheer imposture! If you are not earnest in carrying out your Lord’s instructions, He will give His vineyard to another; for He will not put up with those who turn His service into trifling.
Oh, how those words need to be heard and heeded by today’s preachers! The Lord will not endure those who have turned the pulpit into a place for wanton experimentation rather than a place to faithfully explain and apply the biblical text.
In His Shepherding
As pastors, our primary work is people. Sheep are our business. God has entrusted them to our care to love, serve, nurture, and labor to see Christ formed in them (Gal 4:19). For this reason, Peter reminds us to “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3). Although shepherding sheep comes with hardship and difficulty, we must demonstrate faithfulness as we seek the growth, maturity, and sanctification of the flock the Lord has graciously entrusted to us.
We must not forget that, though our Master is currently away, one day He will return. And when He does, we will be required to give an account of our stewardship. Though not specifically addressing pastors, Jesus Himself described the faithfulness He requires when He said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:42-43). While this quality of faithfulness in anticipation of the Lord’s return must mark all believers, it is indispensable for the pastor who desires to finish well and hear those wonderful words from the Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Todd Dykstra is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as the Teaching Pastor of Maranatha Bible Church in Comstock Park, Michigan since 2004.