This post was originally published in March 2019. –ed.
Half measures have no place in Christian ministry. The apostle Paul reminds us that it requires immense dedication. He describes the godly minister as one whose relentless devotion is to maintain a thoroughly biblical ministry. The apostle charges Timothy with these words: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Paul’s words give three straightforward tasks to those in pastoral ministry: expound the Scripture, explain its meaning, and exhort the people to follow it.
God’s servant leaders need to be relentless, tireless teachers. The Puritan clergyman John Flavel (c. 1630–1691) wrote, “It is not with us, as with other labourers: They find their work as they leave it, so do not we.” Picture the cabinetmaker who leaves his unfinished work in the afternoon and the next morning comes back to it as it was. Flavel continues, “Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impression we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanishes before the next.”  John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, vol. 6, reprint (London, UK: Banner of Truth, 1968), 569.
We fight against the unraveling process all the time. That’s why I repeat much of what I teach. Every good pastor and teacher knows people forget what he has taught, so he must be repetitive. But he also realizes that people become familiar with what he teaches. When they realize they are being taught something they have already heard, people often think they know the material and thus become bored by it. The easy option is to take the same message to new audiences. But the challenge for the faithful servant leader is to persevere among his people, repeating his teaching in such a fresh manner that it never grows tiresome or repetitive. And if you study the Bible, you’ll find that it does the same thing. The Holy Spirit repeats Scripture’s principles over and over in different contexts and through different narratives, but always in fresh ways.
The servant leader is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of reading, exhorting, and teaching God’s Word—never tiring of this God-given task.
The apostle expands on his exhortation to Timothy in the next verse: “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you” (1 Timothy 4:14). There are a variety of concerns, issues, and activities that could easily consume a pastor’s time. But Paul saw the calling on his life—and on all ministers of the gospel—with distinct clarity. He would later encourage Timothy to “suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). The faithful shepherd keeps his time, his efforts, and his ministry focused on the Word of God.
It’s interesting that this is all that is said about a pastor’s specific duties. Similarly, when Paul explained the qualifications for elders and leaders earlier in his epistle to Timothy, the only real function described is “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). There’s nothing here about being a dynamic leader, a master strategist, a chairman of the board, a vision-caster, or any of the other pastoral models prevalent in churches today. It just says he is to teach the Word.
The church is often guilty of having too low a view of pastoral ministry—look at any list of the most popular and influential pastors for all the proof you need. But today there is also a sense in which too much is made of the pastor’s ministry—that it must entail recording podcasts, writing books, earning doctorates, speaking at conferences, and achieving global recognition. That’s simply not how the Lord measures the faithfulness or success of a pastor. God’s standard is much higher. A pastor must faithfully feed the Word to the flock the Lord has given him. The New Testament knows nothing of a pastor without a flock—a local church.
(Adapted from The Master’s Plan for the Church and John’s forthcoming book Final Word)