What are the Marks of a Robustly Biblical Church Ministry?
Greg Thornberg       November 15, 2018

This article will defend the marks of robust church ministry as the qualifications and duties listed below and we will demonstrate how each of these are biblically and logically inseparable from effectiveness in ministry. These qualifications and duties as defined by Scripture include: First, that pastors ought to be believing Christians; Second, that they are called to the ministry and gifted for it; Third, that they practice holiness; Fourth, that they are faithful in both their personal life and in the oversight of the church; Fifth, that they master the essential doctrines of the Gospel and are gifted in teaching these doctrines; And sixth, that they do not labor alone. Each of these qualifications and duties are either expressly taught in Scripture or necessarily deduced from Scripture and each is inseparable from effectiveness in ministry. 

Main Arguments

A Robust Biblical Ministry has Truly Christian Leaders
In order to understand and teach Scriptures, a pastor must be born again, receiving the Holy Spirit, and thereby being enlightened in order to understand the Scriptures. This enlightenment enables him to understand what he must also teach. Paul expresses the necessity of this enlightenment in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14,

12 Now we have received . . . the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God . . .  14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [emphasis added]

Christians receive the Holy Spirit that they “might understand the things freely given [them] by God” (v 13). Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no true spiritual understanding. Such a man would be naturally inclined to consider the Scriptures “folly” and would lack the ability to teach the doctrines of the Gospel as truth when he is nothing more than a blind guide (Matt 15:14). To lack the Holy Spirit is the same as saying that a man is depraved (Rom 8:5-8) and a depraved teacher is a great danger to the church. Richard Baxter warned, “What speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides.”[1]
Since the gift of the Holy Spirit is necessary for spiritual understanding, how does one receive the Holy Spirit? All Christians receive the Holy Spirit by faith in the Gospel of Christ (Acts 2:38-39; Eph 1:13-14). Because the Holy Spirit is received by faith in Christ, a pastor must first and foremost be a believer.

Therefore, an effective church is concerned about appointing men who evidence true faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that we would know true teachers by their spiritual fruit (Matt 7:16-17). Likewise, Paul tells the church to examine the life and family of prospective leaders to see if he is qualified (1 Tim 3:1-7).

Testing the genuineness of a man’s faith will require time for his faith to be tested. This is why Paul adds that he must both be saved and “not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6). If a man has not had time to have his faith tested and proven to be genuine (1 Pet 1:7), a church would not be certain of the genuineness of his faith.
In summary, church leaders must first be believers in order to receive the Holy Spirit. They must receive the Spirit to understand and receive Scripture. And they must understand and receive Scripture in order to teach it. If true faith is the first qualification of successful pastors given in Scripture, it must be the first thing examined by those who appoint leaders if they are to expect success in the ministry of the church.

A Robust Biblical Ministry has Pastors Called to the Ministry
Because the leadership gifts of the church are appointed according to the Holy Spirit’s choosing (1 Cor 12:11), much effort should go into examining the will of the Holy Spirit to determine the true calling of men. Since not everyone receives the gifts of leadership and teaching (1 Cor 12:29-30), effectiveness in leadership will depend greatly on those gifts insofar as they are actually present. If the church, contrary to the will of God, appoint such a man as pastor, the church would soon experience a lack of success in their preaching. Such foolish appointments render a church less effective since any improperly appointed leader has not first been chosen by God. As Derek Prime asked, “What could be worse for a church fellowship than to have someone attempting to be a shepherd and teacher without God’s call?”[2]

When a gifted man is found, leaders in the church must not hinder those gifted from serving according to their gifts—leading, teaching, service, etc. (Rom 12:6). Such people should first be tested (1 Tim 3:10), but they should not wait indefinitely before they serve.

In summary, if the pastoral call is also a spiritual gifting, and if spiritual gifts are appointed according to the will of God, the church is more or less effective in proportion to how much it conforms to the will of God by selecting those leaders who God has first gifted for this call. It also follows that God reveals whom He has appointed by gifting such men and making their gifts evident to others.
A Robust Biblical Ministry has Pastors who Practice Holiness
Jesus tells us to assess a true teacher according to their personal fruit (Matt 7:16-17). Paul adds to this the examination of the teacher’s family (1 Tim 3:1-7). Why does personal holiness matter? The reason is that personal holiness is inseparable from usefulness. The nineteenth-century Anglican preacher J.C. Ryle argued, “We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others.”[3] Paul puts personal holiness this way in 2 Timothy 2:21,

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. [emphasis added]

Paul argued that usefulness to God is found “if” a man is actively cleansing himself from sin. Such a man is active in repentance. Likewise, it was only after David confessed his sins that he said, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Ps 51:13). Repentance precedes usefulness in teaching.
Knowing this, an effective church would therefore examine the holiness of both itself and its leaders if it expects to remain useful in God’s hands. Peter makes this same holiness-is-usefulness argument in 2 Peter 1:5-8,

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter likewise argues that effectiveness is contingent upon “if these qualities are yours and are increasing” (v 8). Both holiness and increasing holiness are required. Stagnation in spiritual growth is not an option for pastors who wish to be effective. The pastor must continually examine church and self to identify and weed out spiritual laziness in order to be effective in ministry.

A pastor’s family should be examined since his family is the proof of his leadership and personal holiness. Such examination is commanded in Scripture, with Paul requiring that,

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? (1 Tim 3:4-5)

Because the church is a household, a pastor must possess household skills evidenced by the state of his own home. Without this skill, he will lack what is needed and be ineffective. Since this is a command, a healthy church must regularly assess the households of its leaders if it expects to remain God’s useful instrument in proclaiming and ministering the Gospel to the church and world.

In summary, usefulness in ministry is directly related to personal holiness and non-stagnating spiritual growth. This requires the pastor to practice regular self-examination and the church to examine both the pastor and his family.
A Robust Biblical Ministry Masters the Gospel and is Able to Teach
Successful ministry requires teaching sound doctrines (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13-14; Tit 1:9), most especially in the preaching of the Gospel. Christians are “those who ‘know’ this doctrine.”[4] The more doctrinal a church is, the more faithful it is. Scripture puts particular weight on Gospel doctrines. Paul declared the Gospel to be central, saying, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). He called the Gospel that which is “of first importance” summarizing it as, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures elsewhere” (1 Cor 15:3-4). This very message is called “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). There is also great danger in the neglect of the Gospel—“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)!  Since the Gospel is central, of first importance, and the very power of Christian life, true effectiveness in Christian ministry consists centrally, first, and powerfully in the faithful, clear, and regular preaching of the Gospel.

Because the Gospel is the central doctrine, a pastor must master the Gospel. A pastor “must not be himself a babe in knowledge, that will teach men all those mysterious things which must be known in order to salvation.”[5] Furthermore, because the Gospel is essential for all who belong to the church, an effective pastor must assess his church to know who among his congregation does not know the Gospel or know it adequately. Where there is a deficiency of Gospel knowledge, the pastor must remedy this quickly and adequately.

The universal need for the Gospel adds to the necessity of it being proclaimed clearly to all. If the pastor fails to clearly proclaim the Gospel, many will not be able to receive it. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:9-11, gives us a doctrine of the need for clarity:

9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. [Emphasis added]

If the Gospel is not preached clearly, in words that the hearer understands, they hearer will not be able to combine the Gospel message with faith and be saved.
“Spurgeon’s sermons were accessible and affordable.”[6] His clarity was an example of the doctrine of clarity in use. It is therefore likely that clarity of words combined with knowledge of doctrine is what Paul had in mind when he said that a leader must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).

In summary, the centrality and power of the Gospel requires both mastery and clarity. Mastery is required because one cannot teach what they do not understand. Clarity is required because no one can receive what cannot be understood. Since both mastery and clarity are prescribed, a pastor who perfects both will be more useful in ministry.

A Robust Biblical Ministry Includes Faithfulness and Faithful Administration
Pastors must be faithful in holiness and provide an example worthy of following. Jesus led with a display of his holiness and set an example for his disciples to imitate (John 13:15). In the same way the author of Hebrews tells us to follow the example of leaders, saying, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7). Paul tells others, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1) and he commands Timothy, “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). To be a successful in ministry is to set an example worthy of following.

Secondly, pastors ought to be faithful in assessing the needs of the flock. This requires administrative skills and oversight. Jay Adams comments,
Many Christian ministers who believe the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and who are concerned about serving Jesus Christ as faithfully as possible nevertheless seem to have a strange blind spot when it comes to serving Him through Church administration.[7]

Paul commanded this kind of oversight to the elders in Ephesus, saying, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). How does one pay careful “to all the flock” if they do not closely examine and track their progress?

There is urgency to the matter of oversight in ministry. It was for a lack of tending to the flock in the Old Testament that the people of God were found wandering (Ez 34). Without oversight, the flock of Christ will drift. It is for this reason God gave the church leaders, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14).

A robust Christian ministry will assess the progress of its flock, measuring the doctrines the flock knows, assessing the holiness they exhibit, and watching for those who drift from the truth. Baxter argues for tracking the progress of the church, saying, “A schoolmaster must take a personal account of his scholars, or else he is like [sic] to do little good.”[8] The flock must know the doctrines of the Gospel because it is their power for life (Rom 1:16) and they must be holy because through the Gospel they are called to be holy (Lev 11:44; Heb 12:14).

In summary, faithfulness looks like setting a godly example worthy of following, having faithful oversight that tracks the doctrinal progress of the flock, oversight that tracks the holiness of the flock, and a methodical approach to oversight of individuals who are drifting due to a lack of both doctrine and holiness.
A Robust Biblical Ministry has a Plurality of Laborers
Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:37-38). In saying this Christ was informing even the apostles that they were not to labor alone. A pastor that desires to work alone is therefore unbiblical in both his actions and desires.

Even Moses was rebuked by his father in-law, Jethro, for failing to delegate responsibilities (Exod 18:14-18). In both Old and New Testaments we find the pattern for plurality of leadership even among the most excellent of the church’s leaders. If this was true for them, how much more is it needed for us?

In Summary, if the Christ Himself has appointed co-laborers to do His work, then we disobey His commanded when we labor alone. If Christ commanded even the apostolic leaders of the church to pray for co-laborers, then a robust Christian ministry will included a plurality of leaders.
We first argued that pastors ought to be believing Christians. Without faith in the Gospel one cannot possess the Holy Spirit and proper understanding. Second, pastors must be called to and gifted for their duties. Third, pastors must practice holiness and demonstrated from Scripture that there is a direct relation between holiness and effectiveness in ministry. Fourth, pastors are to be faithful examples worthy of being followed and they must be faithful in administration. Fifth, pastors are not able to teach what they have not mastered and must possess the skill of teaching. Finally we argued that leaders do not labor alone. The plurality of leadership is God’s design and pastors who resist this pattern will soon find their ministry to be resisting God’s will. We also demonstrated these points by showing that they were clearly taught in Scripture or that they were deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence.

Adams, Jay E. Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975.
Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007.
Packer, J. I. and Ryle, J. C. Faithfulness and holiness: the Witness of J.C. Ryle. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002.
Prime, Derek and Begg, Alistair. On Being a Pastor. Chicago: Moody, 2004.
Wells, David F. The Courage to be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today’s World. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017.

[1]Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 39.
[2]Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 25.
[3]Packer, J. I., and J. C. Ryle. Faithfulness and holiness: the Witness of J.C. Ryle (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002.), 147.
[4]David F Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today’s World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), 196.
[5]Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 68.
[7]Jay E Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 317.
[8]Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 179.


Greg Thornberg

Greg is the father of 13, grandfather, husband, author, and itinerant speaker.
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