A Noble Task – Ministry Spot


The recent “Australia Talks” survey conducted by the ABC, in which 60,000 people were asked their views on many different issues, found that 41 per cent of Australians don’t trust religious leaders “at all”, a 6 per cent rise on the previous survey in 2019. The distrust is even greater among 18-24 year-olds, with 47 percent not trusting them at all.

There’s no doubt that the credibility of religious leaders has taken a massive hit in recent years. Highly publicized sexual abuse scandals, along with the deeply disturbing findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse, have impacted the reputation of all churches and Christian organisations. Conversative churches have also been on a collision course with the prevalent values of society on issues of gender and sexuality, increasing the impression that Christians are unloving, intolerant and outdated. Add to these the typical depiction of anaemic and inept ministers in movies, TV series and period dramas, and it is not surprising that regard for “men of the cloth” is at an all-time low.

Personally, I now find myself hesitating when someone asks me what I do. When I began in pastoral ministry thirty years ago there was still general respect for church leaders, and I could quite confidently say I was a minister. Now, I’m never quite sure what connotations my occupation will have in people’s minds. Will they see it as a noble task? Some still do, but many don’t.

Yet that is exactly what Paul calls it in 1 Timothy 3:1. Speaking of overseers, who are elsewhere called pastors and elders, he says that if anyone aspires to such church leadership, he desires a “noble task”. Literally, it could be translated, a “good work”. The word “noble” (kalos) is variously translated honourable, beautiful, honest, fair and noble, but in seventy-one of the one hundred occurrences it is translated “good”. The word for “task” is the regular word for “work” (ergon). So, church leadership and, more broadly, gospel ministry, is good work.

If men are going to aspire to such roles, they will need to be convinced that, contrary to much popular opinion, it is indeed good work. Whether engaging in church leadership full-time as a pastor, or part-time as a local church elder, they need to be persuaded that of all the good things we can do with our time, this is one of the best.

So, what is so good about this good work? Here are four good things, among many more, that surface from Paul’s descriptions of the task.

First, it is good to be busy with the thing that God treasures more than anything else on earth: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are all sorts of good causes and activities we can engage in, but the church is a work particularly close to God’s own heart. Paul reminds the elders in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers, “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church is so precious in God’s sight that he gave his only Son to save and redeem her. And the church is not only saved by Christ but being sanctified for him. It is his bride, whom he loves and who will one day be perfectly united with him in the end-time “wedding supper of the lamb.”

God could not have a higher view of the church, and so serving as a leader in his great project is very good work. Of course, much of the time the church just seems like very motley collections of extremely ordinary people. But that’s the wonder of what God is doing. By his grace he is calling ordinary people to himself and forming them into a new community that is being transformed by his grace and bearing witness to him around the world. In the ordinary he’s working extraordinarily. As a church leader, then, it is good to be busy with what he is busy with.

Second, it is good to invest in the lives of God’s people. As we’ve just noted, the church is made up of very ordinary people. They are the sheep of his flock of which pastors and elders are called to be shepherds (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1–4, Eph 4:11–12). They are charged with caring for the flock by knowing, leading, feeding and protecting it. That means getting involved in people’s lives. Church leaders help care for weak sheep who are struggling, straying sheep that need to be brought back to the fold, new-born lambs who have just come to Christ, healthy sheep that feed and follow well, and sheep in other folds that need to be brough into Christ’ flock.

This shepherding care, at both church-wide and individual levels, opens such things as the privilege of rich spiritual conversations, engaging in discipleship and mentoring relationships, caring for people in some of the most intense moments of their life, encouraging, equipping and mobilising people in areas of ministry, and overseeing gifted and committed ministry leaders. Working with people for their spiritual growth and maturity in Christ is good work.

Third, it is good to be active in advancing the work of the gospel. As Paul writes to Timothy he keeps talking about the gospel. He wants him and the elders he appoints to not be ashamed of the gospel, to guard the gospel, keep the gospel, remember the gospel, and pass the gospel on (e.g. 2 Tim 1:8, 13, 2:2, 8).

As a local church leadership team, pastors and elders have a particularly sharp focus on the gospel as they oversee church life. They shape the entire gospel mission and vision of the local church. They oversee the ministry of the Word, ensuring that the teaching, preaching and worship of the church is biblically sound and gospel-focused. They are responsible for ensuring that the church is outward looking and serious about reaching the lost. They are to be constantly working for gospel clarity, faithfulness and sharpness in the ministries of the local church. Such a strong focus on the gospel is good work.

Fourthly, it is good to be engaged in ministry of God’s Word. There are many gifts and many ministries in the local church, but pastors and elders particularly have a ministry of the Word. Elders are to be apt to teach, and some are singled out as particularly labouring in preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Tim 3:2, 5:17, Titus 1:9). In fact, all the tasks of eldership revolve ultimately around the Word of God. It is the primary way in which the church is built up, people are shepherded, and the gospel is advanced.

Elders have to know the Word so as to defend the church against error. They have to teach the Word, publicly and privately so that the saints are equipped and trained for ministry. They have to be governed by the principles and truths of God’s word as they lead the church. They also have to be guided by the Word themselves, which is able to equip them for every good work, by which Paul means the good work of ministry they are called to (2 Tim 3:16).

There is much else that is good about being a church leader, but these are four key aspects of this good work. Of course, if one cares nothing for the church, or spiritual maturity, or the advance of the gospel, or the ministry of the Word, then this will not rate as a noble task. But in God’s sight, these things are of supreme importance and to engage in them is to be occupied with very good work.

Those who do such good work must be good men. You can only undertake this noble task if you are of noble character. That’s why Paul goes on to list some of the key qualities of those who should be appointed (1 Tim 3:2–7, Titus 1:6–9). If church leaders are greedy, power-hungry, abusive, sexually impure, dishonest, ill-tempered, untrustworthy or in any other not “above reproach”, they will bring dishonour on Christ, his church and the noble task of ministry.

But there are plenty of good men out there who should aspire to this task. Maybe you are one of them, or you know someone like this. Men who are not perfect by any means, but who are honest, caring and faithful. They love God and his people, they know the Scriptures and are deeply committed to biblical truth, and they are gifted to lead and able to teach.

Such men should aspire to being pastors and elders, because it is good work. It is a noble task.