A man who has a ministry
In the church, any man may bring an exhortation, a testimony, a psalm, or a truth God has revealed that he wants to share with the body of Christ. But this is different from a man that has a ministry. If you make a study of ministry, you find that it is serving. With the specific choosing or calling of God, a greater responsibility is put on the one who serves because he is given a greater measure of revelation for a purpose. God requires more of the one He gives it to.
When we begin to "build in God's building," we may begin by seeing many good truths. But we have not yet driven one nail into the building. We have not yet given direction, or said, "This is the way." The Holy Spirit has had no opportunity yet to put on a demand that moves us on from where we are. But this is what God wants to do in the assembly, and this is the responsibility God puts upon the minister. It's not enough to say, "All of us in the church will do our little bit." We need those that have a gift. Yes, other brothers can work and share in the burden. But God has given gifts to the body for a purpose.
If you've been given a gift, you have a responsibility from God. You will have to answer to Him for your life. Is your life a broken vessel though which the message can be ministered to others? You must answer to God for that. I don't believe that God asks, "Do you want a gift?" and then gives it. He gives gifts according to His will and choosing, and then we're responsible for that gift. The responsibility God calls us to bear is not always easy. It's a grave responsibility because God gives the gift for a purpose. We should know the aim and purpose of our ministry.
The importance of spiritual ministry in the body of Christ cannot be overemphasized. As ministers, we must believe that what God has given us is important. No matter how small it seems, or even if the truth is only in seed form, it is important, or God would not have given it to you. Even if God is just beginning to work in you, you must be faithful to God with what He has given.
A man who has a ministry sees something and continues to labor in what he sees. Over a period of time you will see a brother laboring in what God is revealing to his heart. He is not sitting by passively; he is laboring to bring that light to the body of Christ. You can't mistake a man who is laboring in the measure of grace or ministry God has given him. You can't help recognizing when he sees the purpose of God and is ministering in it. It fits right into place, and it does what God wants it to do. It supplies the need: the life of God to the body.
If a minister is ministering light and life and the word is real to him, he wants to see that same word working in others. He wants to see them moving in the same joy he has. He doesn't want others to be like him, but like Jesus. He continues to labor over a period of time. He is stable and consistent. He may get discouraged, but he continues to labor. As time goes by, others will know those that are laboring, holding up the vision, responsible. Then God moves in all the others who may not have that calling or ability, to bring a full expression of His life with every member functioning. Even if it is "only" a prayer ministry, every member is active. I believe every brother and every sister should be functioning. Each one is a part of the body, just as the minister is. Ministry will bring a gathering to the point where each member is alive. It should prepare each member to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. It is the responsibility of the ministry to bring the assembly to this place.
Ministry without anointing will not bring the results that we and God desire, but a true ministry is one that God can anoint. God must build the ministry in the heart of the minister. It must possess and swell up within him. It will burden him as he sees the needs. A minister doesn't just say, "I'll go study my Bible and stay before the Lord a little bit, and then I'll come in and minister." No! When a minister comes into the assembly and sees needs in individual lives and corporate needs in the whole assembly, he will be burdened with them. How does he exercise this burden? Where does he bring it? Does he get discouraged and say he can't do anything about it? No, he brings it to the Lord, and by the gift God has given him, he starts to build.
Ministry is a function, not an office
"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work" (I Timothy 3:1). I believe "office" is an inaccurate translation here. "Function" is a better term. Do you say your thumb has an "office," or your foot has an "office"? No, they are members of one body and they have a function. They serve a purpose, but you don't bow down before your thumb or let the thumb govern you. In the body of Christ, Christ is the only one who governs. We must always recognize Jesus Christ as the head of His church. To do this, we cannot look at individuals as having an "office" that gives them any authority to govern others. But God has given them a function and we should recognize and honor the authority of Christ that flows through them.
Saying this does not take away from our personal honor of one another. But we cannot elevate man--we must only recognize the authority of God. We must see the balance, and not go to one extreme or the other. One danger is to not respect or honor anybody, and the other is to only respect certain ones. We need to see that we are gathering together as one body, and that the church is the apple of God's eye.
The condition of the church throughout the ages is always revealed in the ministry. Trace it and see. Whatever the tendency of ministry was in a certain time, it is revealed in the church. For example, the scripture makes no distinction between "clergy" and "laity." It is a revelation to see what the brotherhood is, what the body of Christ is, what the church is, and to see that all brethren are equal, yet there are grace gifts. The authority of God moves through those God has chosen, not because man has set them up as a special group, but because the grace of God is upon them. They have no more privilege than another brother, but they have a greater responsibility because of the authority of grace flowing through them. They will give an account to God for that grace.
With wrong understanding, we will make a distinction between "laity" and "clergy," and think that some men have been given an "office." We cannot make this distinction. God does not give any brother a "position" or an "office." He gives grace that flows through the vessel. The gifts set forth in Ephesians 4:11--apostles, evangelists, etc.--are "grace gifts." They are all by grace. What we are saying is that you can't separate the man from the message. We are admonished to honor those who labor among us (I Thessalonians 5:12-13) but we don't honor the brother just because he has a ministry. We honor him because of the word of God that is coming forth from him. His authority is recognized because of what God is doing in and through him, not because he is "holding an office." This is very important. It will make a difference in what we go on to do or to see. What God is doing in ministry is precious, but it's not in "persons." He does not choose a person and put authority on him.
"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ..." [we're all equal, we're all members] "...and individually members one of one another, and since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each one exercise them accordingly, if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith..." (Romans 12:4-6). Everything God is doing is according to the proportion of our faith. Individuals have a responsibility, but I believe the scripture reveals there is an equality in God between members of the body that takes precedence over the ministry that God has given. In this equality, we recognize the grace that flows through men, and we partake and submit to the message and to the authority of Christ, not to the man. We submit only to the authority and grace of God that is flowing through any brother, in the measure and portion that is moving through him. If we don't understand this, and we start looking at the man rather than the authority of God, our feelings about a person will hinder us from submitting to the grace of God. God wants ministry in our midst to be established in Him.
Functioning in grace
We read in I Peter 4:10, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." In Romans 12:3-7 we read, "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." Our relationship is as "many members in one body." Now we must have a concern for ministry, or "gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us." And now we minister "according to the proportion of faith." We need not go past what God has worked in us and what we are convinced of.
Paul said, "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation..." (I Corinthians 3:9,10). Grace is a personal thing. You can't go beyond, nor should you lag behind, the measure of grace God has given to you. God has given you something and He expects that measure of grace to manifest in you. We need to learn the place of rest, but we shouldn't hold back. Paul, as a "wise master builder" said, "I have laid the foundation." Paul knew what he was doing. A measure of grace was given to him, and he knew what he was here to do. We should never become proud or think too highly of ourselves, or tell people who we are. We just need to know what we are here to do.
The "grace" given to ministers is the ability of God for a certain ministry, and the "measure of grace" is all that he can actually deliver to those God has sent him to. The grace to minister and the grace given to every member of the body are two different things. Titus 2:11-12 tells us what grace does. Grace moves through ministry, "instructing us to deny ungodliness, worldly desires, and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age." This is the grace we are looking for, to be flowing through faithful brethren, ministers of the word. Thank God for the ministers of the word that He has given! We should pray that God would give more fullness of ministry and add to the ministry.
Calling, ability, and responsibility
Because ministry is given "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," a great responsibility lies on the ones that God has called. The way of the minister is not an easy way, not an easy life. It is a life that must pay the cost. You cannot just feel you have something to say and speak it out, thinking that it will bring life. Ministry costs. It is a daily encounter with God, a continued open anointing before Him for a continued expansion of the revelation.
How does God begin to work in the heart of a minister? First, I believe we must know we are called by God. This is shown throughout the epistles. Paul knew he was called. There are some whom God calls to specific ministries in the church, and the one who is called does not decide, "I'm going to be a teacher," or "I'm going to be an apostle," or "I'm going to be a prophet." When God calls a man and gives him a certain ability, he must apply himself to that calling.
James 3:1 in the King James version says, "My brethren, be not many masters..." but I think a better translation is, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (NAS). God has called some to be prophets, some to be teachers, some to be apostles, some to be evangelists, but all are still brothers. These functions are gifts of grace to brothers. James says that not everybody should desire this place. But if you are called, you cannot escape the call of God. If man feels he may be called to ministry, but he is struggling or has doubts, I would advise him to get together with the brothers that have a recognized ministry, and submit himself to them through counseling and fellowship. Then, if there is no evidence of a gift, he can just move back into the rest of God, and function in whatever God would have him do. It may be exhortation once in a while, or something else. Sometimes we try to do one thing when God has really given us ability to do something else. But each one has a function.
On the other hand, sometimes we are afraid to make a positive statement about what God is doing in our lives. We know it is all by grace, and that we are nothing in ourselves, but still we are either called or not called. If God calls and sets His seal upon a man, He gives the ability. You cannot work up this ability within yourself, or even by fellowship with others. Either you have ability from God, or you don't, and we cannot "fool" others who are seeing and moving in the revelation. Brothers and sisters can tell whether a man is moving out of his understanding, or ministering out of the revelation. This discernment doesn't require great understanding; all it takes is the Holy Ghost.
As ministers of the word, we are responsible unto the Lord for the message and for the discipline of our own vessel (bodies and minds), so there can be a real, pure flow of the word of God, not just our thoughts or feelings. We must allow God to work this discipline, but first we must know that He has called us.
I am convinced by the scriptures that when God calls anyone to be a minister, the first thing He does is to give him the message. It may be only in "seed form"--and it usually is. I believe it takes years of God's dealing with us to produce vessels He can really use to let His word become life to others. This is where we must be patient, one with another, encourage and exhort one another, and give direction. God wants a free-flowing ministry. There will be struggles, and there will be difficulties, but we cannot become discouraged just because we have difficulties. We must continue to strive for openness, so that as God moves in the heart of a brother, he can feel free to exhort the congregation. This puts great responsibility, not only on those God has given to care for the flock (elders), but upon each brother who ministers what God has given him.
"...That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Ephesians 4:14) Those that have any ministry or even a word of exhortation must be laboring for singleness of eye together. We are no longer children, so there must be a maturing. When we stand to minister, to build, there is life coming out of the minister. Or we could say, if there is life coming out of the ministry, it will build us, and give us direction and singleness of purpose. Then we must move in that.
This ability given by God to the minister is the only thing that will bring results. This fact doesn't cut anyone out; rather, it puts responsibility upon those to whom God has given a gift. Ministry is given to bring life and understanding. All that Christ is to the minister is expressed in words that are brought to bear by the Spirit, not by the letter. As a minister, the measure of grace that comes to you is what you are to pass to others, in the fullest measure God has given it to you. Sometimes we are slack. We may get an abundance, yet be slack in passing on all that God has given us. I believe we should be channels for the fullness of what God is revealing. We are not to keep it to ourselves; it is to share with others.
A personal revelation
If God calls us, I believe He will reveal something to us. A call to minister means that the minister has a "revelation," or a vision. Vision and revelation are essentially the same thing. Proverbs tells us that without a vision the people perish (29:18). We must have a vision and revelation in our midst, not just from one or two brothers, but through all that minister the word (in any degree). Each one must see the same thing. I believe that when God calls, He gives us a single basis of revelation: knowing who Jesus Christ is and what His purpose is. A minister must have that to some degree, before God can speak to him and bring ministry out of the word to serve Christ to others. The minister is not over others; the minister is a servant, a vessel that God has chosen to serve Christ. It is a very responsible place, and we should take it very seriously.
Even the whole church should continue to pray that God would give a greater revelation and increase our vision. We need to know the overall plan of God, at least in a basic way. To illustrate this, let us use the building trade. A building always has a plan. It shows where the bedrooms are, where the kitchen is, and so on. Each specialist may not know everything about the building, but he is knowledgeable about his own area. God has given each one grace. But all need to know the overall plan, to know where to work. You don't place a door in the middle of the kitchen! If we are not ministering with the overall plan in view, in agreement with the other brothers, we're not really building in God. We must know the overall plan in some measure.
If God has spoken to you, you need to be convinced of what He is doing. This is true for each brother. Each one must be convinced of what God is saying and what He is doing. We may not see fully, but we must see together. There must be a common divine aim, a common understanding. Where is God taking us? What does He expect of us? There must be some measure of this working in every member's heart and every minister's heart. Otherwise, we'll be divided, and we'll have troubles that can take time to work out, areas that are not easy to correct. Someone may think, "You're trying to make me believe like you do." This is not the case, but if a person does not see the overall plan of God, he may be doing something that is out of keeping, not really ministering life, not moving toward that common goal.
Without this basis of revelation and the burning goal of God, there can be no true ministry. This applies to all kind of ministry. Each of us has a "personal ministry" to some degree. Ministry is not only what takes place in the meetings, given by prophets or teachers. These are held more responsible for the gift they have received, but God has placed responsibility upon each one. Everyone in the body has a responsibility to seek God to see the plan of God. A sister may see just as quickly as any minister, if she applies herself to God. If the anointing is in her life, it teaches her all things.
If the message you're bringing is not affecting your life, you have no right to bring it. It must take effect in you. If you are not hearing what you're saying and it's not affecting you, you have no right to bring it to the church. If the message is worth hearing, it must affect you. It must stimulate you before you can expect that same message to be heard by others and to stimulate them. The dominating force is not you, not me, not us together--but the voice of God!
God wants to dominate us. The message must master us, take control of us, and speak to us so that people cannot run from it. Then when they start to obey it, it will bring a oneness. We will see these definite effects. If we're not seeing them, we need to get on our faces as ministers and brothers, and saturate the message with prayer. If we've got the message and we're moving together, but it's not doing what it's supposed to do, we will have to saturate it with prayer until it does. We can't give up bringing it forth. We must continue until we see it come into being, no matter what we have to do. It may take prayer with fasting, or anything God leads us to do, but we must see God's ministry bring forth God's results, and we must be unified in that resolve.
Moving with purpose
Looking at the apostle Paul's life, we see that a man that is called of God and has a revelation burning in his heart is not half-hearted. He's aggressive. He's moving with purpose. He's not sitting down, passive. There is a "positiveness" to your life if you are seeing something. In other words, if you are not convinced of what you see, you cannot minister in faith. You must be convinced. You must be positive about what you are seeing--yet willing to be wrong. Nobody can say, "This is the last word," but if you see something, you must minister that positively. You must know what you are seeing, and then be willing to submit it to the other brethren, to be considered and judged according to the word.
I believe a minister must be given over to ministry. If God has called you, you must give over your faculties so that God can use you to the fullest measure of the grace that is coming through you. A man can have a job and still minister, but I am talking about giving over the faculties: making yourself available for the message. If God has called you, your calling is the most important thing you have. If God has spoken, we must minister the message with such fervency and zeal that it's as though something is burning within us!
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (II Timothy 4:1,2 NAS). This charge was given by Paul to Timothy. We can learn many things from it. We can begin to realize what is meant by the anointing of the Spirit, the anointing on the word, the anointing on the revelation, and the timing of God. We must give God a place to put a burden on the hearts of those He has called to labor, not focusing too narrowly on the aspect of inspiration, or we'll find out in the time of need that we are lacking the strength of the ministry of the word. We cannot end up only waiting for inspiration, without the ongoing labor that should be coming forth. If God has called you, you are a builder. One of the proofs of every minister is that he continues to labor at what God has shown him until he sees the Spirit of God anointing that word and results being seen in the body.
If we do not desire what God is showing us to be manifested in the body of Christ, we do not yet know or understand what ministry is. You continue before God; you labor for fruit. And Paul is saying here, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus...preach the word!" Preach the word. Don't minister your opinions. Don't minister some philosophy that you feel is right. Minister the word. That doesn't just mean scripture after scripture, but expounding the word (Christ) that the Spirit breaks into your heart--that which has become a reality to you. It can only become a reality to others as you are able to convey what God is speaking to you.
I believe it is our responsibility as ministers to so speak, that every member of the body of Christ may be brought to a place of obedience in all God wants to lead us into. We bring the word so that the Holy Spirit can use the word to bring every member to a place of obedience to what God is saying. It's an awesome responsibility, and too often we don't see the seriousness of it. God has chosen these channels of ministry to bring each person to a place where they can see more. The individual life of the member is also a factor, and hearts must be prepared. But the scriptures show that God has given these gifts to bring the revelation to people, that they might see together.
We cannot make people obey, or make the church obey. But we must bring them to the point of obedience. That's why we must minister with fervor and with diligence, but still leave every member in the hand of Jesus. That takes the grace of God working in your heart, and spiritual understanding, or you can become discouraged if people don't move after you have brought the truth. You may be "hitting the nail right on the head," but they don't move! That's why you must leave each one in God's hands--to move them as He will. As ministers, we need to move together, benefiting from what each one of us sees from God, having fellowship in it, but also realizing that we are also not trying to change each other.
We can only give the message that God has given us. We must leave every member in the hand of God. They don't belong to us, and we can't change them--God must change them. So if they're not changed and we've done all we could do, it burdens us--just as you see the burden on Paul's heart. He had a constant burden (II Corinthians 11:28). We must rightly divide what is the minister's responsibility and what is the body's, but ministers have a responsibility to affect and function. As we move with knowledge, we don't become discouraged. If we need more, God will give us more. We don't move with earthly knowledge, but with spiritual knowledge. And if we're functioning, doing all that God tells us to do, it will still be left in the hands of God to change people.
Valuing the gift of God
The scripture says we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). However, we should value the gift of ministry which God has given us. Putting a low value upon the gift and shrinking back brings no honor to God. We have been given a gift to cultivate and to use. We are not to get our eyes on ourselves, but when we realize the value of the gift, we won't hide it. As we minister our gift, we should not see ourselves, but the God who gave it.
If we don't feel that what we have has value and will change people's lives, we will not use it. But if we put value on our gift in the proper way, we will spend the time that is necessary to cultivate it, using what God has given us and sharing it with others. Giving the gift its proper value will cause us to base our lives around it, not neglecting anything that would qualify us for ministry. This should be kept in its proper balance at all times. We don't shirk other duties, and our lives and homes must be in order--but still, we have one aim, if God has given us a gift. We need to use that gift because it is precious, and because it is not ours but God's. He has entrusted it to us and we need to use it.
To use the gift properly, we will spend time learning how to use it. The Holy Spirit will teach us, but that is no excuse to be ignorant or slipshod with that which God has given us. If we value the measure of grace working in us, it should motivate us into action in God--moving as God directs, in His life. When we value the gift God has given us for the body, we will give time to it, and we will be sensitive in working with others.
The calling of God or the fact that a man applies himself to study diligently do not necessarily mean that God can reveal truth more quickly to him. A minister is a minister because of a gift--the place God has called him to. The gift will be revealed for what it is, and it will make a place for itself in the body. It does not necessarily mean that a man has learned more quickly than someone else. He is given the gift so that he can serve others.
Don't sell the gift short! It's not just learning about the revelation. God has given a man the ability to do something that He has not given to another. The gift is not the revelation, but the ability to move in the ministry God has called him to. The anointing of the Spirit is in each member's heart, but ministers are given different abilities by Christ for specific functions and purposes.
Christ has given the gifts according to His choosing, so let's not worry about what we don't have--let's be concerned with what we do have, in the measure Christ has given it, and He will give more. If we're looking for more understanding, God alone, by the anointing, will give us the understanding that brings forth life. We can discuss, and we can have fellowship, but God alone by His Spirit will bring spiritual understanding to your heart. This will possess you so that you will take the time to stay before Him until you can also speak words of life to those that hear.
Abandoned to God
What should we look for in a minister, or how do we try (examine) our own ministry? First, a minister should be zealous. If God has spoken to you, what you have is very precious, worth giving yourself to. A minister is aggressive--not in himself, but in the Spirit. If God has spoken something, you're sure, and you're positive in your ministry now. This doesn't mean you cannot be corrected, or that you cannot be wrong, but you should be positive of what you have seen in God until God changes you or until you see you are wrong. Your spirit is open, so that it's easy for you to be changed. But when you minister, you're speaking as an oracle of God. It is done in a positive way, without hesitation.
A minister also is uncompromising. With that must go patience. We cannot compromise the message of God. The message of God is the only thing that will unify us, the only thing that will break down every barrier. It is the only thing that will build Christ in each one, the only way we will grow up into the fullness of Him. The message is positive, and if we've really heard God, it will take zeal to come over the "hard spots" and the things that are thrown against those who are laboring. We will have to be zealous for what God has given us.
A minister is abandoned to what he sees. He is abandoned to the message. He is abandoned to his ministry. It is "number one" in his life. If God has given you a ministry, let nothing get in the way of that ministry. But rightly divide that truth, for if your character does not back it up, your ministry is no good. It does not mean that you abandon your family, because if your family is not functioning properly, you are already disqualified, and your ministry has no meaning until you get that corrected. God cannot anoint it, no matter how much charisma you present it with, how good your wording is, how much understanding or knowledge you have. You are disqualified, and God cannot bring the anointing that will bring forth eternal results. The scripture says that a man God can anoint must meet certain character qualifications (discussed in the next chapter). So abandonment does not mean that you abandon your responsibilities. It means that you are abandoned to the message and you work out these areas so you stay qualified before God in love. You keep your home working, you keep your relationships right--but you are abandoned to the message.
Abandonment does not mean you cannot have a job. I don't see any reason brothers cannot labor in "a full-time ministry" and still have a job to provide for their families. Paul had a job: he sewed tents. If we need to sew tents, we sew tents. But we're abandoned to one thing: the message. We've been called with the highest calling there is, and we will answer for it. If you are called, you will be held responsible before God. You will give an answer for the gift He has given you. Not only that, but you will be judged more severely than another brother. That's why James tells us everyone shouldn't desire this--because he will be judged with more strictness. This is very important to understand. But again, it means we must be abandoned to what God has called us to do.
A minister has an uncompromising abandonment to all that he sees. You can tell whether someone really believes what they say, or whether they just want something to say. Do you really believe what you say? Is it ordering your life? Have you given yourself over to what God is saying? It is the ones who are gripped by what they see that continue to learn. Those who have a vision, those who are gripped with the revelation, those that are hungry, are people that are learning by leaps and bounds. They are taken up with what they see, abandoned to it with their whole hearts. They are learning in God. We all begin as learners, and we continue to be learners. The church is never a teacher; we are always continuing to grow and learn in the Lord.