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Pastoral Ministry Defined

I want to interrupt our tendency to unfavorable comparison, unattainable aspirations, and the resulting discouragement of soul. I want to ask a question: Why are we discouraged?

Often we are vulnerable to discouragement because we have forgotten what pastoral ministry truly is. We measure ourselves against unattainable standards, and inevitably we do not measure up.

So if you find yourself discouraged, you’re not alone. I’m familiar with this state of soul. And the most effective way I can encourage you is to remind you of the definition of genuine pastoral ministry, as revealed in Scripture.

In 2 Timothy 4:1–5, we find a biblical definition of ministry that will clarify our goals, purify our hearts, and liberate our souls. This passage can protect us from the temptation to compare ourselves with others. It can realign our motivations for ministry. It can protect ordinary pastors from discouragement. And it can sustain us through many years of joyful service to God’s people.

Paul writes to Timothy (and to all of us),

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:1–5)

Pastors, this is your definition of ministry. “I Charge You” Second Timothy 4:1–5 is more than a definition—it is a charge!

Paul, who is facing imminent execution, says to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” (v. 1). When reading it we should imagine Paul’s voice appropriately raised, infused with seriousness and urgency. In these words, Paul places Timothy—who, in comparison to the Apostle Paul, is an ordinary pastor—under a divinely inspired obligation.

And this divinely inspired letter is not just personal correspondence between Paul and Timothy. “These words,” John Stott writes, “are Paul’s legacy to the church….It is impossible to read them without being profoundly stirred.”¹ These words are Paul’s charge—and God’s—to every extraordinary pastor, and every ordinary one.

We all have differing gifts, influence, and even fruitfulness. Let’s be honest: I can’t match the gifting and influence of John Piper or Al Mohler. And neither can you. But regardless of our varying gifts, we all have the same charge: pastoral faithfulness.

Pastoral ministry that is pleasing to God is not ultimately about gifting, influence, or even fruitfulness. It is not about how many books you have written, which conferences invite you to speak, or how many of your sermons are downloaded on iTunes. It is not even about whether your church membership numbers grow or shrink. Pastoral ministry that is pleasing to God is about faithfulness to the charge of 2 Timothy 4. You and I are called to be faithful to this charge.

In the following posts we’ll look at the three areas in which Paul calls us to faithfulness:

  • faithfulness to the message,
  • faithfulness to the ministry, and
  • faithfulness to the Savior.

As we examine this passage, let’s allow Paul’s pastoral charge to address our motivation for ministry, shape our aspirations, and protect us from discouragement.

This post is part of a series entitled “Ordinary Pastors” and is adapted from a message I preached at T4G 2010, which was published in a compilation of sermons from that conference entitled The Unadjusted Gospel (Crossway, 2012. Used by permission.)

¹John Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 105.