John Chrysostom, in reflecting on Paul’s approach to ministry says this:
"For Paul’s work found its source in power, mighty power, power that surpassed mere human diligence. For Paul brought three qualifications to the
preaching of the word: a fervent and adventurous zeal, a soul ready to undergo any possible hardship and the combination of knowledge and wisdom. Even with Paul’s love of the difficult task, his blameless life would
have accomplished little had he not also received the power of the Spirit.
Examine the matter from Paul’s own words: “That our ministry not be
blamed” And again “For our exhortation is not founded on deceit, nor uncleanness, nor guile nor hidden under a cloak of covetousness.” Thus you
have seen his blamelessness. And again “For we aim at what is honorable,
not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of human beings.”
Without this Paul’s work would have been impossible. People were not converted by Paul’s miracles; no it was not the miracles that produced faith,
nor did Paul base his high calling upon the miraculous but upon other
grounds: a man must be irreproachable in conduct, prudent and discreet in
his dealings with others, regardless of the dangers involved, and apt to
teach. These were the qualifications that enabled Paul to reach his goal."
(Homilies on Ephesians 6).
Chrysostom’s reflections on Paul’s ministry and the reasons for its success
place the emphasis, of course, on the divine factor — God’s divine power enabled Paul to accomplish these things. Yet at the same time Chrysostom emphasizes that it was not the miracles that Paul did that produced faith, but rather
his good character and apt teaching. If these are the most essential characteristics of successful ministry, then there is hope for those of us who are not St.
Paul and cannot conjure up miracles. But to good character and apt teaching
Chrysostom adds zeal, a willingness to suffer or endure hardship, and both
knowledge and wisdom. In other words, Chrysostom thinks that it takes more
than an average person to accomplish such things as Paul did. Indeed, it requires a very exceptional person.
Some teachers and preachers have knowledge but are unable to turn that alloy into
something more precious, namely wisdom. Still other teachers and preachers have zeal, but not a zeal that is “unto knowledge.” This is especially dangerous in our age of biblical illiteracy, when earnestness is mistaken for truth over and over again. Still others are willing to endure much for their task and their charges
but have few rhetorical gifts and have not been properly trained. Still others
have all the requisites mentioned but are of dubious character. Such folks become quite compelling false teachers and preachers. Yet there is something more that
Chrysostom fails to mention here.
Throughout 1 Thessalonians 1-3 one is struck time and again
by Paul’s pastor’s heart and by how much he loves his converts. He does indeed
really relate to them as a parent to his beloved children. He worries about their
safety, their perseverance in the faith, their health, and all the usual things a
good parent worries about. In addition, he stresses that he treated them like the
gentlest of nannies when he was with them, nursing them along slowly in the
faith, not getting impatient with them. It is clear that he is elated when Timothy
comes with the good report as to how the church in Thessalonike is doing. It
takes a rare combination of gifts and graces, timing and opportunities, persistence and perseverance, and of course the power of God to produce a Paul. We
would be fooling ourselves if we saw him as just another ordinary Christian
who had an extraordinary experience of God. This is saying too little about this
But the early Christian movement did not require a legion of Pauls for it
to grow, develop, and advance through time. It seems to have required only a
few, who could then direct and empower willing coworkers and local converts
in the right direction. There is no getting away from the hierarchical character
of early church leadership structures, with apostles at the top, then coworkers
just below that level, local church leaders below that, and finally everyone else.
But this hierarchy was not based on gender, ethnicity, or social status. The criterion was proximity to Jesus, knowledge of his life and teachings, having seen the risen Lord or been converted and trained by those who did, and willingness to
serve even under exigent circumstances, to mention but a few factors. The early
Christian movement was not a democracy, nor did the local congregation have
the final say over its own existence — the itinerant founding apostles and coworkers could intervene at any time and rearrange things.
Yet it is notable and truly remarkable just how much Paul tries to make
room for the freedom of his converts. He prefers to persuade rather than command. He uses rhetoric rather than manipulation and strong-arm tactics to accomplish his ends, unless the congregation is really in extremis. He wants them
to take up the tasks of Christian life and work freely, and he always speaks the
truth to them in love, being gentle, though seldom subtle. When churches today
look for leaders, do they pay attention to the qualities Chrysostom lists and
Paul exhibited? Not so much, I am afraid.
And here is another thought. With Paul's rap sheet and prison record, he could not get hired today by the vast majority of churches, including Protestant ones. Imagine passing on St. Paul because he was controversial and his message had political implications. Imagine missing out on one of the great pastors and missionaries and intellectual giants in any age because he refused to allow the world to squeeze him into its mold (see Rom. 12.1-2).
Most churches today whether democratic or hierarchial in polity reward loyalty and mediocrity, so long as the budget is made and the church is growing a bit. They do not generally reward cutting edge preaching, counter-cultural exhortations, expensive mission trips and work, or prophetic witnessing to the powers that be in our culture. They much prefer pastors who will mostly leave them alone except for the occasional request for attendance and funds. They truly like pastors who tell them they are on the right track, are not confrontational, and do not suggest they need to drastically change their lifestyle to please God and serve Christ. 'God bless our standard of living' is a message that preaches well in the land of the health and wealth Gospel.
But then of course, should we be puzzled by why the church looks so remarkably like the world? Why is it that the divorce rate in the church is as high as in the culture at large? Why is it that Christians give no more to their churches and other charities than other people in our culture who don't attend church? Why is it that only a Christian like Bono is leading the charge on debt-reduction by forgiveness for the two-thirds world, and the ever malignant AIDS crisis in Africa? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind. If only that wind in our church culture would blow in a more Pauline direction, then we might get the ministers we need--- not the ones we deserve.