Sacrificial Labors

Pastoral ministry is hard work, and we need to work hard at it.

Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (13)

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls…. 2 Corinthians 12.15

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 1 Corinthians 3.6

 “Ministers should follow the example of Christ in his diligence and laboriousness in his work…So abundant was he in labours, that oftentimes he scarcely allowed himself time to eat or drink…That three years and a half of his public ministry was so filled with action and labour, that one of his disciples that constantly attended him, and was an eyewitness of his activity, tells us that if all he did should be written, the world could not contain the books.Ministers should follow the example of Christ, in his readiness not only to labour, but suffer, for the salvation of souls, to spend and be spent for them.”

  - Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example to Ministers

The minister as disciple
Every minister of the Gospel is first of all a disciple of Jesus Christ. We pattern our lives and work after Him, daily seeking to improve in the various roles we see Jesus fulfilling during His earthly sojourn.

Jesus was a seeker, as He told Zacchaeus (Lk. 19.10); He did not simply rent a space and hang out a sign reading, “Religion at 11.” He went looking for the lost and needy, to serve and save them. Ministers, too, should seek out every opportunity to reach people with the grace of Jesus, and to be a fragrance of Christ in every area of their lives.

Jesus was also a servant, as we see in various places, in particular in His washing the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13.1-5). As angels, anointed with glory, are sent to serve the people of God, so pastors, who occupy a high calling in the church, must devote themselves in service to those entrusted to their care. Jesus did not come to be served and honored, but to honor and serve; His example must suffice for pastors (Mk. 10.42-45).

Jesus is the Good Shepherdto His flock, and pastors are those faithful shepherds who serve under and with Him to make disciples and build His Church through the disciplines of shepherding Jesus practiced and taught (cf. Jer. 23.3, 4; Jn. 10). 

Jesus sowed the Word of God into the Lord’s field (Matt. 13.37), and He has appointed His shepherds to sow in season and out of season, that is, in every situation in which they serve and shepherd the flock of the Lord (2 Tim. 4.1-3).

Finally, Jesus exercised good stewardship of all the Father entrusted to Him (Jn. 4.34), and pastors must likewise be good stewards of their time, gifts, opportunities, and resources, spending and being spent to watch over and nurture the souls of God’s people (Heb. 13.17).

The minister carries out his discipleship in a particular calling, namely, that of being a shepherd of the flock of the Lord. In that role he must modelthe life of a faithful disciple, so that all those he serves may similarly aspire to be like Jesus. He must pray for His people and for many other matters as well. And the minister must continually sowthe Word of the Lord in every phase and aspect of his ministry.

Such a demanding calling requires a life of devotion and sacrifice. As Jesus denied certain prerogatives that are uniquely germane to His being and office as Son and Word of God (Phil. 2.1-11), so pastors must live sacrificially, continuously preparing themselves for the ministry of the Word, and sowing that Word at every opportunity into the Lord’s field (2 Tim. 2.15).

The Word in all and over all
It falls to the minister to ensure that every facet of the life of the church be firmly grounded in Scripture. The Word of God is sufficient to equip us for every good work, and building the church in unity and maturity in the Lord is certainly a good work (2 Tim. 3.15-17; Eph. 4.11-16). God has provided a pattern for building His Church, just as He gave Moses a pattern for the tabernacle, and He calls us to understand and follow that pattern, and not to think in any way that we can improve on what He has revealed concerning how to build His Church.

This puts a tremendous onus of responsibility on the pastor, both for equipping and shepherding those who lead in the church – teachers, officers, and servants and disciple-makers of various kinds – and for ensuring that their work is done unto the Lord, according to His Word, and not merely according to received custom, current fashion, or mere convenience.

The minister thus must be diligent to study and understand the applications of Scripture to all aspects of life in the church, and he must be careful, working with church leaders, to ensure that all teaching, leading, organizing, conduct of ministries, worship, services of various kinds, and all other activities of the local church follow the pattern God has revealed for a healthy, growing church.

Leave the results to God
Pastoral ministry is thus a demanding calling. It requires a breadth of knowledge and a palette of skills that must be continuously refreshed, expanded, applied, and evaluated. Ministry is hard work, and although it is not necessarily harder than the work church members do in their individual callings, the thoroughness and effectiveness of the pastor’s work will be reflected in the thoroughness and effectiveness of those who fulfill their callings in their own spheres.

Every minister of the Word must thus consider whether he is working hard enough and smart enough according to what the Gospel of the Kingdom requires. Paul’s idea of “spending and being spent” clearly derives from his own knowledge of Christ, Who invested all His time and strength in bringing the Kingdom of God among men, and Who was spent through suffering and sacrifice for our salvation. Good shepherds, Jesus explained, must be prepared to lay down their lives for their sheep.

And they must resist the temptation of thinking that the results of their ministry are somehow their responsibility. When we fall into this snare, we immediately begin looking for things to count, and then seeking ways to increase the numbers of the things we count, rather than focusing in all matters of ministry on building the Word of God deep into the life of the church and the lives of her members, and in supporting the whole in unceasing and fervent prayer.

Pastors must work hard at their personal example, and at prayer and the ministry of the Word, fulfilling their calling by sowing the Word into every situation and aspiration of the church. If they will sow faithfully, sacrificially, and thoroughly, God will give the increase in His way and time. Our calling is not to increase the numbers, but to work faithfully, sacrificially, and diligently in our calling to shepherd the flock of God.

This, certainly, was an evidence of a more than fatherly affection ― that he was prepared to lay out in their behalf not merely his endeavors, and everything in his power to do, but even life itself. Nay more, while he is regarded by them with coldness, he continues, nevertheless, to cherish this affection. What heart, though even as hard as iron, would such ardor of love not soften or break, especially in connection with such constancy? Paul, however, does not here speak of himself, merely that we may admire him, but that we may, also, imitate him. Let all Pastors, therefore, learn from this, what they owe to their Churches.

  - John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Timothy 2.15

Shepherding God’s Flock at The Ailbe Seminary
We’re pleased to announce that our course, Shepherding God’s Flock, is now open for registration at The Ailbe Seminary. Whether you are a pastor, elder, or church leader in some other capacity, this course can show you how to make disciples, build the Lord’s church, and advance His Kingdom according to His example and teaching. Watch this brief introductory video, then register at the website (upper middle of the website), download the Course Introduction and Overview, and seek the Lord about enrolling in this course.

For a free, 28-day devotional to improve your work of shepherding, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll send you a copy of The Work of Shepherds, featuring insights from great shepherds such as Columbanus, Gregory the Great, John Calvin, and J. Gresham Machen.

Men, if you would like to pray for revival with other men, join us each Tuesday at 10:00 am Eastern as we gather online around a psalm to seek the Lord for revival. If you’re interested in joining us, send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll make sure you receive an invitation.

Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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