How to Have a Successful Ministry

When Paul wrote about his brief work in Thessalonica, he affirmed that his time with them “was not in vain” (1 Thess. 2:1), meaning that his work was not devoid of results. It was not fruitless. What made it so? What are the components of a successful ministry? The first twelve verses of 1 Thessalonians 2 reveal the answer.

Preach the good news of Jesus, regardless of the consequences. Paul wrote, “We had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition” (1 Thess. 2:2). Though Paul and his company had faced mistreatment for preaching Jesus in Philippi, they preached the same message in Thessalonica with courage that God supplied. Satan does not want people to hear “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), and he will do whatever he can, including the employment of human opposition, to get our focus onto lesser things. We must preach the good news anyway.

Keep your motives pure. Paul’s preaching was not “from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (1 Thess. 2:3). He did not use “flattering speech” as a “pretext for greed” (2:5). Preachers should regularly look deep within themselves and genuinely assess their motivations. Why do we do what we do? What drives us? Is it the praise of others? Do we seek power and authority? Do we want to create a personal support base like Absalom did (2 Sam. 15:1-6)? Do we seek the failure of others so we can flourish (Phil. 1:15-17)? Improper motivations often lead to improper conduct.

Remember to whom you will answer. Paul preached “not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). He did not “seek glory from men” (2:6). As a minister of the gospel, Paul understood that God had given him a sacred trust (2:4), and one day he would be called to account for how he handled it. We will stand before the same God to answer for how we have handled that same trust. It is not before the world or the church that we will stand and be judged, but God. Remembering that will keep us from altering the message to court the favor of others.

Be gentle. Paul wrote, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). It appears that some preachers believe the path of bitterness, rancor, hostility, and vitriol to be the path to successful ministry. Paul chose a different path. He would later encourage Timothy to walk the path of gentleness, too. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Establish close relationships with your church family. “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). Though Paul was not in Thessalonica very long (Acts 17:1-9), he did more while there than just impart information. He did more than give sermons. He gave himself. Today’s preacher must remember that even though his primary focus is the ministry of the word, he is not just a worker in a sermon factory. It is tragic for a preacher to spend years in one place and yet not become “very dear” to anyone.

Don’t be high-maintenance. Paul was very concerned that he not become “a burden to any of you” (1 Thess. 2:9). Contextually, the burden Paul wanted to avoid was financial. He worked “night and day” so that the church in Thessalonica would not have to support him and his companions monetarily. He did, however, receive financial support from the church in Philippi (Phil. 4:15-16) in addition to what he earned in other endeavors. But I want to make a different application. Preachers can be a burden to the church in other ways. Do we monopolize our elders’ time and discourage them by always complaining? Do we pout and sulk when we don’t get something that we ask for? Paul didn’t wan to be a burden to anyone, and neither should we.

Practice what you preach. Paul wrote, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers” (1 Thess. 2:10). Not only did Paul teach others to conduct themselves properly, he followed his own teaching. Few things can damage a man’s ministry than blatant hypocrisy. No preacher is perfect, and each of us will sin. The church understands that. But people can tell the difference between a man who stumbles because of weakness and a man who simply refuses to apply Bible teaching to himself.

Take your preaching seriously. The words Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 2:11 to describe his preaching convey that he approached his work with a proper sense of gravity. He wrote, “We were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you.” While there is a place for the judicious use of humor, preachers are not comedians. We are engaged in a battle for the souls of men and women. It is a solemn duty to stand before the bride of Christ and speak for God (cf. James 3:1).

Preach practically. The goal of Paul’s “exhorting and encouraging and imploring” was “so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). For Paul, preaching was not just an opportunity to communicate information. He was preaching to change lives. Our sermons are not finished until they answer the questions, “So what?” and “Now what?” If we are not giving our listeners something that they can take home with them and use, we are hindering our own ministries.

Preacher, if you want to know whether or not your ministry is successful, see how it measures up to Paul’s work in Thessalonica. Because of the above characteristics, his efforts among them were “not in vain” (2:1). If we follow the same formula, perhaps God will grant us a fruitful ministry, too.

Romans 1:1-17

Introduction: Douglas Moo wrote, “Romans is one of the most interesting and engaging books in the Bible – precisely because it shapes the way we think about so much of the universe we inhabit” (16). I cannot argue with that assessment. In this letter, Paul discusses the sinful condition of all mankind, the consequences of that sinful condition, the lengths God has gone to justify us in spite of our sin, the faith response required of us to obtain that justification, and how the justified should live in view of that justification. Romans is deep, theologically challenging, and imminently practical. In this first section of the letter, Paul introduces the reader to the underlying theme – the good news of Jesus is God’s power to save because it reveals his plan to make men righteous.

I. Introduction and Greeting (1:1-7)

A. Paul identifies himself (1) as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”

1. Each of those terms emphasizes Paul’s understanding that his life was not really his own. He belonged to another.

2. Galatians 2:20; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 14:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:15

B. Paul identifies some key elements of the gospel (1b-4)

1. It originates with God, it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, and Jesus is its subject (cf. Luke 24:44; Acts 26:22-23).

2. Regarding Jesus, Paul calls attention to his humanity, his deity, and his resurrection. These are key components of the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

C. Paul explains his apostolic mission (5-6) – “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (cf. Rom. 16:26). The good news of Jesus is designed to produce obedient trust in him.

D. Paul identifies the recipients of the letter (6b-7) – they belong to Jesus, God loves them, and they were called to be saints.

II. Gratitude and Prayer (1:8-15)

A. Paul’s reasons for being thankful and his requests for them (8-10).

1. Paul is grateful for their faith, through which they had developed a widespread reputation (8).

2. Paul prays for them “without ceasing,” longing to be able to come to Rome and visit them (9-10).

B. Paul explains his desire to visit them personally (11-15)

1. His desire to visit them revolves around his desire to strengthen them through the imparting of “some spiritual gift” (11) that Paul believed would result in mutual encouragement and deeper faith in both him and the Roman church (12).

2. To reinforce how much he wanted to visit them, Paul further explains his motivation, sense of obligation, and eagerness to preach (13-15).

III. The Theme Statement of the Book (1:16-17)

A. The gospel of Christ is God’s power to save (16).

1. The gospel of Christ can be viewed from different angles: there are basic facts that must be believed (1 Cor. 15:1-4); there are commands that must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 6:17); there are promises that can be enjoyed (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

2. This good news saves anyone who believes it – whether Jew or Gentile (cf. Rom. 2:9-11).

B. The gospel reveals God’s plan to make men righteous (17).

1. The “righteousness of God” in the book of Romans is not a reference to a characteristic of God’s nature; rather, it is a reference to the righteous status that God bestows on those who believe the gospel.

2. In other words, Romans 1:17 is affirming that God’s plan for making men righteous is revealed in the gospel. It is a plan that is both rooted in faith and leads to additional faith.

3. To supplement his point, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, which affirms that spiritual life is obtained by trusting in God.

Conclusion: When one stands before the book of Romans he stands on holy ground. To understand Romans is to understand the message of the entire Bible – the sinfulness of man, the grace of God, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of Jew and Gentile, the power of faith, and the necessity of showing our faith in submission to the authority of Christ. It should be a wonderful study!

REFERENCE

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. Print.