Sunday, August 27, 2006

How to Succeed in Ministry-- Pauline Clues

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
remarkable man.

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.


yuckabuck said...

"earnestness is mistaken for truth over and over again"

I completely agree with this statement, and believe that it is one of the reasons why the church misses God's will again and again. Because we have to "prove" our spirituality by being more zealous than the rest.

You believe in the authority of the bible, but I am more spiritual because I also believe in the LITERAL PLAIN MEANING of it!

You believe that the bible should critique modern society, but I am more spritiual because I believe that our culture should be remade entirely in the church's image (as the "FOUNDERS" intended) through banning same-sex marriage, denying women to be pastors, enforcing a strict male hiearchy in the home, and pulling our kids out of public schools for the purpose of raising them in a bubble!

You believe that God's salvation is of grace, yet God has given prevenient grace enabling us to choose or reject His offer, but I am more spiritual than you because I believe I was saved through the unconditional election of God and I (unlike heathen you) had absolutely NOTHING to do with my salvation!

(As Paul said, "I speak as a fool.")

It just doesn't sound as spiritual to say, "I believe the Bible is God's Word, given in the words of humans, in certain historical situations" (adapted from G.E. Ladd).

When I was in bible college, I thought it was just something related to youth. Just because young men and women felt called to bible college, they assumed that God's will for them must be something HUGE. I was a little older, so I did not initially give in to the pressure. But I never sounded as spiritual as the rest, when I would say, "I think God wants me to teach psychology in a Christian university in Bolivia." To prove that I was "on fire for God," I should have said. "God is calling me to light the fires of revival beginning in Bolivia and spreading throughout South America!" Unfortunately, in my senior year, I gave in to the pressure and attempted to go on a year long mission trip to Bolivia which was really not God's will. We didn't raise the money, and ended up in debt. Nine years later we are still stuck in Ohio and my "ministry" is being a manager of a meat department.

Zeal without knowledge is always wrong. Now, I would rather hold to what is true, even if all evangelicalism calls me a liberal.

Sorry if your comment struck a nerve. :-)

Shawna Atteberry said...

This is a frustrating thing for me as an ordained elder. I agree with both Chrysostom and this post, but this was not the training I received at college or seminary. Neither my education nor my experience to date helps me move toward a more bilical way of being a minister. But may be that's another post?

Peter Kirk said...

I agree that "there is hope for those of us who are not St. Paul and cannot conjure up miracles". But it is not to concentrate instead only on "good character and apt teaching". Nor is it to resign ourselves to second class ministries on the basis that this generation needs only a few Pauls - as if it is not in fact in need of legions of servants of God filled with power as Paul was to bring revival to an apostate and lost world.

No, if any one of us lacks the miracle-working power which Paul had, we should ask God to fill us with that power through the Holy Spirit, as well as with the good character and apt teaching needed to right use of the power. Then, maybe, we will get away from a situation where our countries are dotted with plenty of powerless churches, and a few high profile international ministries, but huge numbers are not being reached with the gospel at all. Then we will be able to work miracles, showing Christ's compassion to the world although of course they do not save in themselves. Then, by God's grace, we will see the church empowered and God's kingdom advancing.

Ben Witherington said...

Clyde G: Most of the seminary professors I know have been pastors before or during their tenure as teachers. I have pastored six UM churches before I taught full time, and continue to help my local church each week gratis. I agree with you that there are too many seminary profs who have no pastoral experience at all. Some think it should be a requirement to teach at a seminary, but actually some are not cut out to be pastors, but are excellent teachers. Here is where I say there should be paid teachers on the staff of every decent sized church-- and when I say teachers I do not merely mean someone with a masters in Christian Ed. though that is a fine degree. I mean teachers with PhDs. There are plenty out there who haven't found decent jobs. If you want to know one reason why Sunday school attendance is one third of worship attendance in most churches its because the teaching is not very good.


P.S. ClydeG you wouldn't by chance be my old friend Clyde Godwin would you? :)

Ben Witherington said...

To Traditionalist:

No one's debating that Adam was created first. Nor that Eve was created because it wasn't good for Adam to be alone (something never said of Eve). This tells us nothing about the subordination issue.

What you fail to note is: 1) the term 'helper'(as in suitable helper or companion) here is also used of God in various places and implies no subordination at all; 2) the woman is presented as the crown of creation, the last one made in an ascending line of complexity, and the only creature after which God said it was 'very good'; 3) 'subsequence' by no means implies subordination otherwise we should think that land animals are subordinant to birds since they were created later; 4) Gen. 2 is perfectly clear that the image of God is both male and female and to both of them he said fill the earth, subdue, rule over the critters. There was no differentiation of roles in Gen 1.28-30; 5) the fact that a man will leave his parents and be joined to his wife is a matriarchal society pattern not a patriarchal one. Normally the wife is integrated into the family of the husband in those cultures. 6) the phrase of the curse on the woman is so very clear "your desire will be for your husband and he will lord it over you." Gen. 3.16 This is not the original blessing, its a result of sin and the Fall as is perfectly clear from the fact that all of Gen. 3.14-19 is about the effects of the fall.

In short, your argument about the subordination of women to men in creation before the fall falls way short of making your case. Woman was equally created in God's image and made of the same stuff-- bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh-- truly and fully human and meant with the man to rule over the world.

Sorry Traditionalist, you've mistaken the effects of the Fall for God's creation plan,


Bill Barnwell said...

A friend of mine who is following this debate is convinced that Adam had dominion over Eve from the beginning, even before the fall. His trump card is that Adam named Eve, and that this itself was a sign of authority, just as Adam named the animals. Much is made in many commentaries that the power to name was a sign of authority in antiquity. But the several corresponding OT references in support of that are always that of a king RENAMING somebody for some reason or purpose. What is your response, Dr. Witherington, to the "Naming = authority = hierarchy" argument?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Bill:

This sort of rule of naming=authority over doesn't work in various instances. For example, does Elizabeth's naming of John the Baptist mean she has authority over John in some sort of gendered way? I think not. Does Jesus receiving the divine name 'kurios' after the resurrection mean that he is subordinate to the Father? Quite the opposite he assumes the roles of the Father, even joining him on the divine throne after the ascension.

The problem is that we have genderized this debate.



yuckabuck said...

Another problem of the points that Traditionalist quotes concerns the use of narrative as establishing precedence: Just because it happened in a certain way does not mean it establishes a universal precedence. God chose to make Eve out of Adam's rib, but He did not see fit to carry that pattern to any other woman that I am personally aware of. If every detail in Scripture narratives sets a precedent for us, then we should be using swords to set up a theocracy based on the Mosaic Law, believing in a second work of grace with tongues as the sign, picking our leaders by casting lots, and sending blessed handkerchiefs to people for their healing.....
Wait, many people do believe these things. :-)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Excellent, and for me, a breathtaking post. Amen. May God help us all.

Bill Barnwell said...

I think for the most part, pastors aren't real big on controversy. They don't mind making statements that would be interpreted as bold and controversial to society at large--the typical right wing talking points in most conservative congregations--but they are making them to an audience that already agrees with what they are saying. There's a lot of "preaching to the choir" but many of the things that the choir needs to hear, some things that might be controversial on an internal level of a local congregation, are not always talked about because many pastors do not want to rock the boat. Plus, there are some people, that even if you corrected them in the most godly manner, they will leave your church. I'm astounded how quick some are to leave a church or threaten to leave a church.

I also wonder how and if a pastor's income comes into play. Rocking the boat = possibly less people = possible threat to livlihood. I hate to be cynical, but perhaps with some there might be some of those types of motivating (or nonmotivating?) factors as well.

Mike Spreng said...

Great post! There are many of us who feel the same way you do but no body is willing to band together. It will take people the courage to sell their homes and migrate to form allegiance.

This sounds extreme but it is just the simple truth. I see all these blogs that are desperately calling out for help and asking God "why," but no body is willing to do anything.

We need men who are willing to tent-make and who don't care about fitting into a denominations sticky mold. We need ministry that is fluid and passionate and that is not bound to preppies, cowards and career ministers.

The question is: How bad do we really want the kingdom and what will we do to get it? Or for that matter, what will we do to get it back?

Erik said...

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.

Although I may diagree with a couple of your specific assertions, I definitely agree with you in general. This statement you made is so true. People just want to hear that they are doing fine. They just want a pat on the back and some encouragement. So many pastors care too much about promoting self-esteem and not enough about promoting the Cross and the need for Christ.


Erik said...

Having read your exchange with Traditionalist as well as some of your other posts on the issue, I am curious as to your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.
I'm not really attempting to make an argument and use this passage as a sword, but as a complementarian I see this passage saying quite a bit both literally and symbolically so I was wondering your take on it.


Ben Witherington said...


In regard to 1 Cor. 11 if you pay attention to the 'nevertheless' you will see that this passage is not simply endorsing some patriarchal hierachy. The word 'kephale' can be used to mean some sort of authority figure, but it also is the word used to mean source-- like the 'head' of a river. So for example we could certainly translate vs. 3-- "now the source of every man is Christ, the source of woman is the man (i.e. Adam), and the source of Christ is God." Then in vs. 8-9 we hear once more that woman was created from man and for man. Vs. 11 however is the crucial one. Paul has been talking about what is true in the order of creation. But now in vs. 11 he turns to what is different 'in Christ' or in the order of redemption. He says "Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man nor the man without the woman in the Lord. For while woman came from man, [ever since] man has come forth from woman, but everything comes from God."

This entire argument is about the source of things. And what vs. 11 then stresses is that men and women are mutally interdependent--- couldn't exist without each other. This levels the playing field and equalizes things. In the present state of affairs, woman is just as much the source of man, as vice versa was the case in the garden of Eden. And the ultimate leveler or equalizer in this argument is that everything comes from God. So, this argument is not primarily about authority and certainly not about men having authority over women just because the first woman came from the first man. Were that Paul's point, there is no point in mentioning that ever since men have come from women--- does that mean ever since women are the head of men? Hardly. But Paul is going to say that as long as women have authority on their heads (in the form of the head covering) they have authority to pray or offered inspired messages in the assembly meeting. So the main function of this passage is to authority women to speak in church, not to put women in their place.


Ben W.

Erik said...



Pastor Astor said...

Hi Ben!
I really enjoyed your post. I just have one question: In what way do you see Paul the apostle coming in to the early churches and taking over leadership from the local leadership? In my understanding he doesn´t do that - he pleads, argues, scolds them and even threatens them, but I can´t see a single instance where he would take back the leadersip he has entrusted to a local leadership team.

debtique1 said...

PLEASE I beckon to you all to take time and hear Les Feldick teaching's. They will clear up so many questions you all are posting.He is on the tv in many states, and on the radio. Also he has a web site Les Feldick Ministries. It has helped us so much. Thank you Debby