Ministry for Mission: Sent like Jesus (2)
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.” Matthew 24.45-47
“Let all who are called to an honorable office learn from this, that they are so much the more strongly bound, not only to bestow their labor faithfully, but to strive with their utmost zeal and industry to discharge their duty. For while it is enough for ordinary servants to go through their daily toil, stewards, whose office embraces the care of the whole family, ought to go much farther. Otherwise Christ charges them with ingratitude, because, while they have been chosen before others, they do not answer to their honor; for why does our Lord prefer them to the rest, but in order that they may excel all by extraordinary fidelity and wisdom?”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 24.45-47
A working household
In His story about the household servants, Jesus instructed His disciples concerning the importance of their work, and the need for them to be diligent about it. As the end of days approached, nothing could be more important to the coming of Christ’s Kingdom than that His stewards should be wise and faithful in their appointed task.
All the characters mentioned in the parable are servants in a household; one of them is appointed steward over the others, as Calvin notes in his commentary. All the servants had work to do, which we can imagine occupied them most of their waking moments, and the end of which was to maintain the household in a state of good health.
The steward’s job was to make sure the other servants had what they needed to do their work well. While in Jesus’ story, the steward’s primary task was to provide food for the other servants, we can imagine that his work entailed rather more than that. He was “ruler” over the master’s household, and thus he would have been responsible to make sure that all servants were not only appropriately fed, but also properly oriented and equipped, and daily diligent about their individual tasks, completing them to what all would have understood to be the standards and expectations of the master of the household.
The steward’s task was to care for, nurture, equip, and oversee the other servants, and not to neglect or abuse them by being distracted to other interests and concerns. The faithful and wise steward understood that his duty was to make sure all the servants of his household were able and diligent in their individual callings and duties.
The lessons of this story must not be lost on the stewards of God’s household today. The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ is a working household. To every member of the household a sphere of service has been appointed, a network of relationships, roles, and responsibilities to which they are sent each day as agents of grace and ambassadors of the Kingdom not of this world. It is by means of our work that the household of faith increases in unity and maturity and the Master of the house is glorified in the world.
And the ongoing success of this project depends on the wisdom and faithfulness of those who are appointed as stewards.
Equipping for ministry
The shepherds of God’s flock are the stewards appointed over His household. Their duty is to feed, equip, oversee, and support those who daily attend to those works of ministry by which the Lord’s household makes increase of itself in love (Eph. 4.11-16). The Master of the house superintends its work from His throne at the Father’s right hand. He is looking at the servants of His house, to see that they are being diligent to fulfill their callings and appointed tasks. And He is looking to the stewards of His household, to see whether they are faithfully, and in wisdom, carrying out their duty to equip the servants of God for works of ministry.
The goal of all Christian instruction is love (1 Tim. 1.5), in all the many and varied ways that love for God and our neighbors are expressed in the everyday situations and circumstances of our callings. The goal of all pastoral ministry is to equip the saints of God with those understandings, affections, values, and skills they need to love God and their neighbors by good deeds and truthful words.
Which is just to say that the goal of all Christian ministry is mission. Believers are a people sent, like Jesus, to embody and proclaim the Kingdom of God (Jn. 20.21). Pastors and teachers – the stewards of God’s household – are appointed to fit the people they serve for the works they’ve been given to do, for it is in our works that God is glorified. The work appointed to the members of the household fills all their waking moments; we are always to be about the Master’s business in our spheres and callings. And to do this faithfully and well, the servants must be given “food in due season”.
The measure of pastoral effectiveness
Rightly fed, equipped, sent, overseen, helped, and encouraged, the servants of God’s household will fulfill their daily callings, showing the love of Jesus to all the people in their own spheres, and loving God by glorifying Him in all they do.
The measure of pastoral effectiveness, therefore, is not the number of people who attend our church, or how careful and thorough our preaching is, or whether we have all the right programs in place according to the interests of the people. The measure of our effectiveness as shepherds and stewards in the household of God is whether the people of God, disbursed throughout the community and the Lord’s field, are being faithful and wise in those works of loving service that glorify God and build His Church.
God’s servants must be equipped, given the proper spiritual food that will prepare them for every good work. Faithful and wise stewards are those who understand two crucial factors: What God’s servants need to do their appointed work, and how best to preparethem for their callings.
The bishop is represented in this parable by the faithful and wise servant who was set over the household. He is fully equipped and enabled to care for the people entrusted to him. He needs to be attentive to his instructions and obedient to the commandments. When he speaks the truth and prudently applies doctrine, he will confirm the weak, heal the broken, convert sinners and feed his household with the Word of life—their eternal food. If he is found performing these tasks diligently, he will receive glory from the Lord as a faithful servant and effective steward.
- Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew 27.1
T. M. Moore
Personal Mission Field
This is the second of several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, in which 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).