Ministerial Joy and Glory

God has called us to serve people: lost sinners who need to be reached with the gospel and sinful saints who need to be sanctified.

At the most basic level it must make us realise that our ministry is people-focused. This in no way contradicts the fact that it is also Christ-centred and God-exalting; but simply that all our efforts to centre our ministries on Christ and through them bring glory to God can only make sense when they actually engage with real people.

 

Employment in the secular sphere is usually evaluated in terms of job satisfaction and job prospects. But what are their equivalents for those who work in the church – notably as Christian ministers?

Although some embark in the ministry with a notional ‘career trajectory’ in mind – from humble Youth Pastor to Venerable Archbishop – most ministers have the theological wit to realise that no such thing exists. Not only does church history tell a very different story with the likes of John Owen and John Newton (both of whom ended their ministries in much smaller congregations than those they had served earlier) but the doctrine of ministerial calling in Scripture by definition precludes such an idea. The Master calls his servants to serve where he is pleased to send them; not where they necessarily aspire to go.

The same is true when it comes to ministerial ‘job satisfaction’. The experience of the clergy is often radically different from those who work in the secular world. If the pleasure derived from their profession was only to be found in visible fruit for their labours, then, as one minister-friend of mine once put it, ‘Every Monday morning I resign from the ministry; only to go back every Tuesday because there is nowhere else I can go!’ Even for those who are blessed with tangible ‘results’ for their labours, it is strange how even the best of them seem to bring as many discouragements as encouragements.

The Bible’s answer to this question is more surprising than we might imagine and is well captured in what Paul says to the church in Thessalonica. Even in the face of the suspicion and covert criticism he was facing from this congregation, he says of them, ‘You are our glory and joy’ (1Th 2.20) – a statement that is echoed in different language in what he says elsewhere to the Corinthians (2Co 1.14) and to the Philippians (Php 4.1).

In other words, his greatest honour was not found in himself; but in the lives of those God has entrusted to his care. And his supreme joy did not arise from the pleasure of what he did through preaching and pastoring; but the impact it had on the lives of his beloved people. Calvin points out in his comments on Paul’s use of ‘glory’ that the apostle in no sense saw this as a reflection on himself and his own abilities; but, rather, as the visible proof of God’s work through him.

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