Developing Excellence and Finishing Strong
By Byron D. Klaus
“Preparation for the ministry should begin at the moment when we sense the call upon us. It should never end.”1 With that poignant statement, Ralph Riggs described simply, and profoundly, a foundational part of the equation for effective ministry over the long haul. Although this Assemblies of God leader made that statement more than 65 years ago, its value refuses to be outdated.
Huge transactions are occurring in our world. Regardless of where pastors live, none are exempt from the radical morphing of our world, regional culture, and the church context in which we find ourselves.
The clash of civilizations predicted by historians and scholars is occurring, not only between cultures but also within similar cultures. Pastors need only to observe the Muslim world to see a fracturing that is mind-boggling.
Regardless of what a person may feel about postmodernism and its impact on our culture, there is a definite change in the assumptions by which values are arrived at personally or corporately. One need not be a student of the Pentecostal church to know that changes are occurring at an extraordinary rate in this Movement. The effort to keep up may doom us to be forever outdated.2 The apostle Paul’s stark inquiry, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:16) is not mere rhetoric; it captures the haunting question that faces every honest church leader.
Pastors live in a chaotic world that might be more accurately described as chaordic.3 Multiple layers of change are occurring simultaneously in the places where God has called pastors to serve as leaders. Pastors can choose to create their own virtual reality — a reality that becomes a safety zone removed from the real challenges of representing Christ’s kingdom to a fallen world. Pastors are most effective, however, when they choose to see that Jesus, as Minister par excellence, is not just a model, but also the continuing power of ministry being lived through them by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Driven Or Called?
Ralph Riggs’ poignant observation that preparation for ministry begins at one’s calling requires the person who is called to make sure he proceeds from that point as one truly called, not driven. A pastor must see himself as Christ’s steward, and not as a master of his own purposes, role, or identity.
The contrast between called and driven can be seen in juxtapositioning the lives of John the Baptist and King Saul. John the Baptist seemed to have a sense of destiny that came from a deep understanding of his heavenly calling. We see John the Baptist’s inner disposition in John 3:27–30, where he said that the source of his ministry purpose and power was heavenly. He understood whom he represented when he concluded his speech by saying that “He (Jesus, the Messiah) must increase, but I must decrease” (KJV).4
Contrast John the Baptist with King Saul, who assumed that his call/anointing meant that he personally owned the throne of Israel. Any threat to that ownership needed to be met with violence and a defensive posture. As a driven person, Saul took his God-appointed role and created a major crisis. When we observe Saul’s life from his anointing/calling forward, we see a slow but steady trajectory toward self-destruction.5
A comparison of John the Baptist and Saul provides a biblical example of what can happen to any 21st-century leader who does not proceed from the point of God’s call with proper perspective. Biblical foundations are the primary and necessary structure on which ministry must be built for the long haul. What are biblical foundations for a lifetime of ministry?
The Word Of God: A Foundation For A Lifetime Of Ministry
Pentecostals hold a deep belief in the authority of the Word of God. This dimension of our tradition has not wavered from its affirmation of historic commitment to the authority of the Bible. Yet, this commitment is not meant to be a cold and calculating position that views the Bible as a scientific document that must be approached with the skill and precision of a scientist and only those professionally prepared to enter into such an interpretive exercise can hope to know what the Bible says. My pastor father often sang this song before he preached:
“The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands.”
This song was a declaration of the Bible’s authority that affirmed the seriousness of reading the Word with respect. Because of the Bible’s authority it also affirmed that the Bible reveals God’s perspective to readers so the Bible reads us while we read it.
The priority of building one’s ministry on a biblical foundation is most effective when the Bible is viewed not only as a source of authoritative information, but also as a dynamic of spiritual formation. When pastors build foundations for ministry on a view of the Bible that sees God’s Word as merely a source of authoritative information, negative results can occur over a lifetime of ministry.
First, pastors can grow weary of accumulating more information. They can become comfortable with their quota of information and retire not only from the rigor of studying God’s Word, but also, more important, from any spiritual willingness to submit their lives to the Bible’s authority.
Second, pastors can become proud of the intellectual capabilities they have honed over a lifetime of ministry, such as their command of texts, tenses of verbs, and syntactical nuances.
Finally, a pastor’s expertise in biblical interpretation can become a source of pride, and he can wield his sword with self-filled efforts to demonstrate his biblical prowess and destroy another person’s perspective on similar texts. Such understandings of biblical foundations for ministry can become self-centered and lack any life-giving spiritual guidance or fuller disclosure of Jesus Christ.
Biblical foundations for ministry that view the Word of God as formational yield an entirely different result over a lifetime of ministry. The Word of God is a mediator between people and God. It intrudes into people’s lives and brings with it the presence of God that critiques their self-centeredness. The Word brings the power of God that calls people to repentance and demands submission to the purpose of God in His kingdom.
The picture Paul uses in 2 Timothy 3:16, when he describes Scripture as God-breathed, is crucial to any Pentecostal leader who desires an effective lifetime of ministry. God not only breathed on those servants He used to first write the texts of the Bible, but God also breathes on people as they read those God-breathed words so they can see God at work in their lives through a divine companionship with the Scripture they read. As a result, the Word of God shapes pastors into the bearers of God’s presence in this world as their lives are empowered by the Holy Spirit to represent His redemptive purposes in concrete ways to a lost world.6
The Present Tense Of Jesus
When pastors have allowed a formational understanding of biblical foundations for ministry to be their experience, they open themselves up to a ministry based on the present tense of Jesus. Such a ministry takes seriously the guarantee of Pentecost that provides the assurance that the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth continues to this day by the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s intent in his two-volume contribution to the New Testament was to demonstrate the connection between the earthly ministry of Jesus with its authoritative nature and the role of the Holy Spirit in continuing Christ’s redemptive ministry in the present by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible becomes a roadmap as pastors view the perimeters and dimensions of Jesus’ ministry on earth and realize this same ministry is resident among them as Jesus in the present tense. When pastors realize this Pentecostal principle, they begin to understand that a lifetime of effective ministry is connected to their ever-maturing capability to discern Jesus in every aspect of ministry in which they participate. Pastors no longer view the Bible as a mere repository of authoritative information, but as an ever-present doorway to a deeper understanding of God’s desire to redeem lost humanity. Pastors infuse their ongoing ministry with a continuing sense of His presence that connects biblical times and present experience.7
Ministry in the 21st century requires professional skills that previous generations would have known little about. For example, new technical skills are necessary for continuing effectiveness in our world. Huge philosophical shifts that have been in the making for half a century are now evident as pastors navigate the 21st century. These shifts will impact their preaching, relationships, and affect the social structures in our world. Changes will impact the way people understand the church and the way it is organized. Pastors cannot be shoddy in the way they approach preparation for the huge task of being a leader of the church in the 21st century. Quick-fix solutions to massive problems or short-term preparation for a lifetime of ministry that sees preparation as a nuisance and a waste of time cannot produce the deep rootedness that will reap effectiveness in the 21st century.
Discernment: A Basic Tool
While there is no lack of literature on leadership and management in general and for the church in particular, the Pentecostal leader who wants to experience long-term effectiveness as a leader needs desperately to cultivate the skill of discernment.8
Discernment for ministry is the spiritual maturity to know the difference between works of human effort and the continuing ministry of Jesus empowered by the Spirit. If pastors have built their ministry on the Word of God that shapes and transforms their lives, they will enter into the realm where discernment becomes the minimal requirement for effectiveness.
Some may describe such a tool for 21st-century ministry as lacking practicality. The propensity toward concrete actions that produce results in ministry and the Pentecostal tendency to value results as a bottom line can cause pastors to become insensitive to the spiritual dynamic necessary for powerful Holy Spirit ministry. Well-intended ministry efforts can also be nonreflective of the continuing work of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastors must be willing to admit that not all of their ministry efforts have been carried out in the power of the Spirit. The reality is that in their frenetic pace, ministers sometimes create their own vision for ministry, build the organization for that ministry, solicit the funds for such ministry, and think they have done God a favor by praying at the end of this process that their vision will glorify God.
Discernment critiques our tendency to work hard and believe that our efforts are self-validating because we called our efforts ministry. But the only ministry that will have lasting results is the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ working through us by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. If pastors do not cultivate this basic leadership skill, they are bound to experience the same shock experienced by the leaders in Matthew 7:21.
How do pastors build ministry discernment skills? Focusing on the Word of God is foundational. When pastors accept the Bible as God-breathed, and affirm that God-breathing includes them as they encounter this doorway into God’s presence, they have built their foundation well. As pastors encounter God’s Word as transformative, they see the Bible as alive and God at work. There is a sense that the presence, power, and purpose of God’s redemptive plan is written on every page. We affirm this continuing action in the same way that Jesus says He was continuing the work of His Father (John 5:17).
Pastors must nurture a deep realization that the Bible is the authoritative doorway that not only records God’s action and perspective with His created world, but also affirms that redemptive action continues to this day because the followers of Jesus have been empowered to bear witness to that redemptive purpose (Acts 1:6–8). No part of our world, or any dimension of our ministry in the name of Jesus Christ, can avoid the necessity to reflect on the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. Pentecostals have long been known as people who believe that Jesus is coming soon. They have been infused with a baptism of God’s power that is intrinsically connected to the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ. The will of the Father is that none perish and that some from every tribe, tongue, and nation be present on that final day to bear witness to the power of redemption.
As a Pentecostal leader, I live under the realization that the present tense of Jesus is here and now. The redemptive work that Jesus did 2,000 years ago is still going on; and, by the guarantee of Pentecost, we get to participate in that ongoing ministry. The most practical thing Pentecostal leaders can do to connect to the ongoing ministry of Pentecost is to realize that God is at work to this very day. He does not have a new agenda because it is the 21st century. God has the same agenda that brought Christ to earth. Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The only thing that will please God and assure ongoing long-term ministry effectiveness is a keen awareness of when we have constructed our human efforts as a substitute for God’s transforming power. Ministry effectiveness only occurs when we have truly allowed Christ to shine forth in all His intended redemptive power.
Preparation: Where And How?
As a seminary president, I believe in thorough preparation and continuing development of ministers. While I cannot make a case for the number of earned degrees (or the lack of degrees) as a clear indicator of effective long-term ministry, I do know that personal growth as a minister requires time and hard work. Personal preparation is not an addendum to add to one’s agenda if he finds time at the end of the day. I do not want a surgeon operating on me if the last time he was in an operating suite was during his medical residency. If real estate agents are required to continue learning to maintain their real-estate licenses, then it seems that a lifelong pursuit of those spiritual resources that create vibrant Pentecostal leaders should not be avoided.
The continuing growth of a minister cannot be done in a haphazard way. Professionals, such as doctors, have specific pathways toward certification. Real estate agents who want the state to renew their licenses must follow a prescribed pathway of continuing education to remain certified.
While pathways offering training abound, these can be categorized in three major areas. The formal process is one in which a set course of study is systematically carried out in a prescribed place over a prescribed period. Because the course of study is highly informational, this process is usually housed in an educational institution. We usually call educational experiences received through formal processes pre-service. This kind of education process is seen most clearly in colleges and universities, and for some in seminary.
The nonformal process is short term and what might be called in-service training. People in professional careers take short periods of time to sharpen their skills so they can be more effective. Nonformal education is expected to bring immediate results in the effectiveness of the professional because enhanced skills are the focus of this training.
The informal process happens in the context of relationships. Intentional friendships/relationships allow human relationships to become the classroom for growing as a person and a leader. Current examples of this are mentoring relationships, accountability groups, and life coaches. This educational process focuses on the inner life of the leader and the way in which one’s inner self plays out in human relationships.
Leadership that expects to have long-term effectiveness needs to have components of all three of these educational experiences. Lifelong growth toward effectiveness acknowledges that pastors need an ever-expanding breadth of information with which to understand the people God has placed them with, the needs these people have, and how those needs have developed. But informational knowledge must be applied because human relationships are the context in which church leaders operate. A pastor’s self-awareness as a human being and his growing in his capability to communicate with people are crucial. New skills are often necessary as pastors face an ever-changing world. Nonformal education can facilitate the growth of those professional skills that help keep pastors sharp and effective.9
While today’s pastors have learning opportunities that our forebears never dreamed of, the most important need Pentecostal leaders have is to make learning a way of life. The development of rabbis in the later part of Old Testament history created a priority and desire in Old Testament life for a never-ending commitment to learning.
A commitment to learning does not necessarily mean the pursuit of academic degrees, but it does mean a commitment to systematic growth and exposure to learning resources that can enhance our lifelong pursuit of God’s call on our lives. I have met some Pentecostal leaders who say with pride that they have not read a book since the day they graduated from Bible college. They view this as a badge of spirituality. Such affirmation smacks more of personal pride than of spiritual vitality.
Some leaders’ aversion to continual growth as a leader is stymied by the memory of a teacher who was boring and out of touch with ministry realities. While such experiences can be powerful, they do not explain why one would want to repeat that odyssey. Poor examples abound as to how some pastors were mentored, taught in an educational institution, or shaped by on-the-job training.
The needs of our world are too great, the challenges of the 21st century so daunting, and the hunger for spiritual things too obvious in our world for pastors to be anything less than committed to the most rigorous efforts in growing as 21st-century leaders. This is a lifelong task; it is a necessary discipline for the person called by God, and it will require thoroughness, not shoddiness, in our efforts.
1. Ralph Riggs, A Successful Pastor (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1931), 20,21.
2. See Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996). Also see George Barna, Revolution (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005).
3. Chaordic is a word coined by the founder of the VISA card, Dee Hock, to describe a world that has simultaneous order and chaos intertwined. See Dee Hock, Birth of the Chaordic Age (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2000).
4. Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 56–59.
5. See 1 Samuel 18–31 for the full account of Saul’s self-destructive life trajectory.
6. M. Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, rev. ed. (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2000), 41–43.
7. Ray S. Anderson, The Soul of Ministry (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), 149–158.
8. A search of http://www.amazon.com using the keyword leadership will yield at least 71,000 entries. If the word management is used, an additional 200,000 entries are offered. Even allowing for significant overlap of the entries, this still demonstrates that there is no lack of information on the subject.
9. Edgar J. Elliston, “Designing Leadership Education,” Missiology: An International Review, 16, no. 2 (April 1988): 203–213.