Maxims for Ministry

As I begin this article, as a matter of full disclosure, I am by no means any kind of expert at pastoral ministry, nor do I pretend to have any great wisdom to offer on the subject. I’ve been pastoring for just over three years now, and only transitioned to full-time pastoring a couple of months ago. Nonetheless, in the brief years I have pastored, I have found some advice from various mentors along the way indispensable. So here are seven helpful maxims for ministry:

1. “Ministry happens in the context of relationship.” ~ Mike Davis. 

During my college and seminary years, I was greatly blessed to intern with Mike Davis. Unlike many internships, Mike insisted that his interns simply plug into the life of the church before serving in any ministry roles. His reason for this was simple: ministry is not simply about positions, but people. It is only as relationships are developed that you can have a meaningful influence in someone’s life. At the end of the day, ministry is not so much about an organized program, but but about influencing people to be more like Christ, and this requires relationships.

2. "Preach the Word; love the people."~ Tom Petro

In a day in which there are a thousand strategies for church growth and models for pastoral leadership, Pastor Tom’s summary of pastoral ministry is profoundly biblical and simple. Expository preaching coupled with a deep love for God’s people is indeed the essence of pastoral ministry. The two are so interrelated: love for God’s people motivates a concern that they be comforted, confronted, convicted, and conformed to Scripture. A commitment to Scripture will, in turn, require loving God’s people to such a degree that you will courageously protect the flock from false teaching, gently counsel sufferers, and lovingly confront those wandering (or running) into sin. See Acts 20  

3. “Take care of the depth of your ministry; God will take care of the breadth of it.” ~John MacArthur. 

I hesitated to include this one on the list for the simple reason that I have never met John MacArthur or attended his church. Nonetheless, I have been “mentored” in a sense through MacArthur’s books and sermons. The idea in this maxim is that God calls the pastor to faithfulness, not worldly “success.” Remaining faithful in the task of declaring the gospel and expounding God’s Word is the focus of the pastor; the results are up to God. The temptation to adopt pragmatic methodologies to broaden one’s appeal is great. While we certainly should desire numerical growth, numerical growth is downstream from spiritual growth within a church. A healthy church will be a growing church. With a confidence in God’s Sovereign purposes to save sinners, we are called to simply be faithful. See I Corinthians 3. 

4. “Love them where they are; lead them to where they need to be.” ~ Jon Lands. 

I had the privilege of interning with Pastor Lands during the summer before my senior year of college. This piece of advice, much like Pastor Tom’s, centers on the importance of loving God’s people. God loves His people far more than I ever could, and I better not forget it. Rather than insist that people make quantum leaps of spiritual growth, pastors should meet their people where they’re at. Spiritual growth is a slow process, one in which we take just one step at a time. Unless there’s an urgent matter of sin and repentance, demanding that an individual or a church make sudden changes is almost always a bad idea. It’s far better to lead for change slowly and patiently, and perhaps take longer than you’d like to take, than to rush and lose people in the process. It’s not ok to treat God’s people as roadblocks to be plowed through in the race to ecclesiastical success (whatever that may be). 

5. “Young pastors overestimate what they can accomplish in five years, but underestimate what they can accomplish in twenty years.” ~ Mark Dever. 

Like the quote from MacArthur, I hesitated to include it, and for similar reasons. Nonetheless, Dever shows great pastoral concern and wisdom in counseling young pastors, such as myself, to be patient. Go to a church and plan to stay a while. A belief in God’s sovereignty will enable the pastor to patiently pray, preach, engage in personal discipling, and patiently wait for God to bring forth the fruit in His time. Keeping a longer range view—even an eternal perspective—has helped me fight off discouragement when church growth flattens out, pandemics shut down services, and new ideas flop. 

6. “There’s a difference between someone saying, ‘You’re right’ and saying ‘That’s right.’” ~ Aaron Carpenter.  

Actually, this is not original to Aaron, but I'll give him credit since he passed it along to me. The point of this maxim is that there’s a difference with someone just agreeing with you because you’re the pastor, and being truly convinced by the truth you are promoting. It’s a variation on the old statement, “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” It’s helped me, on several occasions, to avoid approaching a problem with guns blazing. With sheer weight of argument and official authority. Sure, I might convince someone to agree with me—but lose any opportunity to meaningfully pastor them and bring them to an embrace of the truth (“that’s right”). It is sometimes far better to gently ask a good question, drop a thought-provoking suggestion, and then allow the Holy Spirit to work on a person’s heart.  I often have to remind myself that I’m not the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. 

7. “Does the church exist to build the people, or do the people exist to build the church?” ~Mark Sinclair (my dad). 

This is not technically not a "maxim," but rather a question. This is a great question to ferret out your view of both the church’s purpose and the church’s people. Far too many churches view their members as resources to be used rather than people to be loved. I one time heard a fairly well-known pastor describe ministry as, “Woo them. Win them. Wet them. Work them.” Get people saved and put them to work staffing the church’s myriad of ministries. Not only does this view completely overlook the importance of ongoing discipleship, it also has a one-dimensional view of ministry as merely a program run by the church. While “ministry” most certainly is helpfully facilitated by programs, ministry itself is the every-member activity of “speaking the truth in love.” That’s what builds up the body of Christ (a participle of means, for those who care about such syntactical labels). The goal of the church, according to Ephesians 4:11-16 is to equip and build up the saints, with the wonderful result of the church being built up. The church exists to build up God’s people, who then, from an overflow of love for Christ, disciple one another and reach the world. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten for ministry? Which maxim from the list do you find most helpful and challenging? 


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