Editor’s Note: You can read our previous article in the series “Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Minister” here!
The apostle Paul and his co-workers Silas and Timothy had been thrust out of Thessalonica against their will. Their gospel preaching was met with immediate reception by some folks in the city (1 Thess 1:4), but it also drew the ire of many others. After engaging in ministry and gaining some genuine converts in Thessalonica, Paul and his cohorts had to move on to another Macedonia city due to persecution arising from Jews and, likely, from Gentile citizens as well. Of course, leaving a fledgling church in the thick of persecution was far from ideal, and Paul feared that these new believers would be waylaid by Satan’s temptations (1 Thess 3:5). Out of concern for their spiritual stability, Paul sent Timothy to make sure they were well-established in the faith (1 Thess 3:2). Thankfully, Timothy’s report was positive: the Thessalonians were holding fast to Christ.
Paul may have also been concerned that his departure from this fledgling church caused some of the unbelievers in Thessalonica to malign his character by suggesting that he was a religious charlatan, and that greed motivated his ministry rather than a genuine concern for the souls of these new believers. If this was the case, such slander could have undermined Paul’s authority among the Thessalonians and destabilized their faith. Paul, therefore, had to defend his ministry in order to protect these young believers from doubting Paul and, most importantly, doubting his message.
We can’t know exactly what caused Paul to pen 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, but we can be grateful to God that he did. In this passage, Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians in order to remind them that his conduct and his motives for ministry were both blameless. Providentially, by moving Paul to defend the character of his life and ministry, the Holy Spirit supplies us with a template around which to craft our own ministries.
A Discernible Effectiveness
The first quality of a genuine minister is that his ministry is confirmed by the church: “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.” As Paul addresses the nature of his ministry to the church in Thessalonica, he begins by appealing to their own experience of conversion and growth. The people were proof that Paul’s ministry to them was not “in vain.” They knew first-hand that Paul delivered the gospel to them in the power of the Holy Spirit and that the truth had pierced their souls and produced genuine salvation (1 Thess 1:4-5). In other words, Paul’s ministry to the church in Thessalonica was effective, and he knew it because of the fruit it bore (see 1 Thess 2:19).
In a fashion similar to how Paul defended his ministry in Corinth, Paul proved the legitimacy of his ministry in Thessalonica by pointing to its spiritual fruit. Spirit-wrought conversions and maturity under his ministry were evidence that Paul was a real, New Covenant minister. Writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul reminded them that they were his “letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Cor 3:2). Their new lives in Christ were a testimony that they were a “letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3). The Spirit-wrought conversions in Corinth were evidence that Paul was a Spirit-empowered minister of a New Covenant gospel.
Paul never suggested, however, that the fruitfulness of his ministry was ultimately his work. He was clear that his sufficiency came from God (2 Cor 3:4), and that God was the ultimate cause of people’s salvation and spiritual growth (1 Cor 3:5-9). Nevertheless, Paul’s giftedness and calling by God were confirmed by a tangible measure of ministry effectiveness, an effectiveness that the Thessalonians themselves could verify. Paul could even anticipate the Lord’s coming with joy because the believers in Thessalonica were evidence that the apostle had faithfully conducted his ministry (1 Thess 2:19).
The Necessity of Corporate Confirmation
The application is this: while conversions and spiritual maturity among Christ’s people will vary from ministry to ministry, a man cannot finally determine his qualifications by himself. It is not enough for a man to have a desire for ministry or to conclude that he is gifted for such work based on his own private assessment. A man’s gifting and calling must be confirmed by the church, both by its leaders (1 Tim 5:22), and its people (1 Cor 9:2; 2 Cor 3:4; 1 Thess 2:1). There must be some kind of measurable evidence of pastoral fruitfulness in the life of the man who desires to pursue gospel ministry.
As we will see in future articles in this series, this confirmation will attest to man’s teaching effectiveness and personal character (see 1 Thess 3:5; also 1 Tim 3:1-8). But it is the people to whom a man ministers who must confirm the effectiveness of his ministry. Indeed, there is no other way to determine whether a man is equipped and called by God to serve the church as a gospel minister than the testimony of those who have observed his character and experienced the life-transforming power of God’s Word under his ministry. So-called gospel ministers who haven’t been confirmed in a local church setting are acting unwisely at best and presumptuously at worst, and churches that do not require a reliable confirmation of a man’s suitedness for ministry are flirting with danger.
The Role of the Local Church
Self-proclaimed gospel ministers who have never passed through the gauntlet of corporate validation are not yet ready to take the helm of a church, regardless of any personal feelings, desires, or convictions they may claim to have. It seems to me that Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus regarding church leadership implicitly serve as a safeguard to keep untested men from finding a way into the pulpit. In directing Timothy and Titus in the selection process, Paul made the local church the place where such leaders were to be chosen and confirmed, addressing the matter of church leadership with the assumption that the men chosen for these roles were selected from within the local congregation precisely where a man’s suitedness for ministry could be adequately assessed (see 1 Tim 3:1-8; 2 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 1:5-9).
None of these observations are intended to suggest that a church can never look outside its walls to locate a minister, or that Timothy and Titus were forbidden to consider men who were presently not members of their congregation. My point is only to emphasize the necessity of the church’s role in validating a man’s gifting for ministry. Timothy needed to identify men who faithfully taught the Word of God (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2) and assessing faithful teaching must include those being taught. The local church is the best place to assess such qualities.
So, whether you are a pastoral hopeful who is pondering a venture into ministry or simply a member of a local congregation, it is essential to keep in mind that a genuine gospel minister is not a man who merely claims to have a calling and a desire, but someone who also has the validation of the church.