Ministry for Mission: Ministry Outcomes (7)
For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2.20
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15.58
“Christ's ministers will, on the last day, according as they have individually promoted his kingdom, be partakers of glory and triumph. Let them therefore now learn to rejoice and glory in nothing but the prosperous issue of their labors, when they see that the glory of Christ is promoted by their instrumentality.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2.20
Laboring in vain?
Ministry is hard work. I have often heard an older pastor say to one considering this high and holy calling, that if he can do anything else, he should. Those who take up the work of the Word of God are held to higher standards and greater expectations (Jms. 3.1). This is because the ministry of the Word is a primary means for equipping God’s people and building-up His Church (Eph. 4.11-16). Since building the Church is Jesus’ primary agenda (Matt. 16.18) – the means whereby He signals the arrival of His Kingdom and achieves its steady progress in the world – those who take up the work of pastoral ministry must “learn to rejoice and glory in nothing but the prosperous issue of their labors, when they see that the glory of Christ is promoted by their instrumentality.”
We have seen that the glory of Christ is promoted as the saints of the Lord take up the work of their individual callings. God is glorified when believers serve Him faithfully, seeking His Kingdom and righteousness in all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. Put another way, the glory we seek, and for which God has entrusted us with His Word and Spirit, and called us together as His people, is primarily realized “on the ground”, where God’s people live and work and recreate and socialize and participate in culture and society. While we may enter and know the glory of God in worship, and other activities of the local church, if we make these the end we seek, we will deny the power of grace to make all things new in our lives, and of the Holy Spirit to use us as witnesses to Jesus and docents of the glory of God in every aspect of life.
Paul was determined that his labors in the ministry would not be in vain (1 Cor. 15.10; 2 Cor. 9.3; Gal. 4.11). He wanted the people he served to realize their full potential as frail vessels of grace and faithful ambassadors of the Kingdom of God (2 Cor. 4.15; 5.20). He did not want their faith or work to be in vain, any more than we should be content for ours to be (cf. 1 Cor. 15.58).
Paul urged those for whom he was the Lord’s shepherd to walk in the Spirit, make the most of each moment of their time, fulfill their individual callings, and glorify God in everything they did. He wanted them, that is, to live out their faith on the ground, in fulfilling their individual callings, in all the work they’d been given to do. His work as a shepherd would only be successful to the extent that those he served fulfilled their work to the glory of God, every moment of their lives.
Sent like Jesus
Not long ago I heard a pastor say to his congregation that there are only two kinds of people in a church: those who are sent, and those who send. He was trying to encourage his congregation to unite in supporting a work of church planting involving one of their staff, whom the church intended to send off to another community, once enough support had been raised.
While the pastor’s meaning was clear, he overstated his case for sending a couple to do the work of church planting. It is not true that some are sent and some send. Jesus said to His disciples – and we are to assume He meant it for us as well (Matt. 28.18-20) – that as the Father had sent Him to the world, so He is now sending all His followers as well (Jn. 20.21). We are all sent to seek, embody, proclaim, and advance the Kingdom of God. Whatever our niche or place or calling in life, the Kingdom presses against the barriers – moral, relational, cultural, and social – of unbelief and the lie, and works to establish the new dominion of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 11.12; Rom. 14.17, 18). And it does this on the ground, on every patch of ground where believers occupy space and spend time, in all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
As we take up the work we’ve been given to do – not just the job by which God provides our daily bread, but all our work – we bring glory to God and make His glory known to those who will otherwise continue to take it for granted.
And for this great work, believers must be equipped, discipled, overseen, encouraged, refreshed, and sent, over and over again.
To the world, for the world
Our Brother Jesse Slusher is pastor of a reformed charismatic church in Quincy, Washington. Jesse understands that the church he serves exists to bring the Kingdom of God to light in their community. He teaches his leaders and regularly reminds the members of his bi-lingual congregation that they are all sent like Jesus as citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, as they leave the auditorium after worship, to return to their homes and the week ahead, a sign above the exit reminds them they are now entering their Personal Mission Fields, there to do the work that glorifies God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor, God has sent you to His church to equip the saints for work (Eph. 4.11, 12). The work they’ve been called and sent to do takes them into large swathes of your community, where they are sent as salt, light, and leaven to bring Jesus to their neighbors. Your work is to equip them for such a glory-filled adventure by making sure they understand and embrace their calling, receive the training and encouragement and oversight they need to succeed, and are continuously refreshed and encouraged in the work they’ve been given to do.
Your work will bring glory to God as you faithfully minister by prayer, example, and the Word of God, and as the fruit of your labor is borne in the everyday lives of those whom God has designated as your glory and joy. The more the people you serve abound in the work of the Lord, the more you will know that their and your labors are not in vain.
We need to understand what it means for the people we serve to be sent like Jesus, to the world and for the world, so that God is glorified in everything we do. It is to this understanding of ministry for mission that we begin now to direct our attention in this series.
We ought not merely to labor in the Lord but to do so abundantly, to overflowing. The labor of man after his expulsion from paradise was punishment for his transgressions, but this labor is the basis for the rewards which are to come.
- John Chrysostom (344-407), Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 42.5
Personal Mission Field
Through the next several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, we will be investigating the believer’s calling to a Personal Mission Field. If you’d like a preview of the topics we’ll be considering, watch this brief video.
Resources for Shepherds
Visit our new website and the Resources for Shepherds page especially prepared to provide shepherds with a variety of resources and opportunities for improving their skills. You can even add your own items by clicking the submission form and posting a resource of your own.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).