“In ministry, what matters is faithfulness, rather than results.”
If you’re involved in any kind of gospel ministry, you’ve probably heard this kind of sentiment expressed by others; perhaps you’ve even uttered it yourself. I actually agree with the statement wholeheartedly. However, I think it’s very important to clarify exactly what we mean by ‘faithfulness’. What or whom are we supposed to be faithful to?
You see, it’s possible to think of ‘faithfulness’ principally in terms of ministry structures. In this understanding, a ‘faithful’ minister is somebody who faithfully reproduces whatever particular pattern of ministry he learned in his youth. ‘Faithfulness’, in that case, means avoiding new-fangled ministry techniques, doggedly sticking to familiar patterns (e.g. 25-minute 3-point expositional sermons every Sunday), and lamenting the good old days. In that case, the expression “what matters is faithfulness, rather than results” sounds a bit lame. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like an excuse for avoiding hard questions about why hardly anyone is listening to what you have to say.
But that’s not what the Bible means by ‘faithfulness’ at all. Here’s a selection of passages from the New Testament that talk about faithfulness in ministry:
- The ‘faithful’ servant is somebody who manages well and exercises godly, other-person-centred leadership. He takes seriously his responsibility as a servant entrusted with the welfare of others. He does not live for self-gratification (Matt 24:45-51 / Luke 12:42-46).
- The ‘good and faithful servant’ is somebody who does something with the knowledge of God which has been given him; taking active steps to ensure that this knowledge bears fruit and grows (Matt 25:15-23 / Luke 19:12-17).1
- The ‘faithful’ servant is somebody who doesn’t live for worldly wealth; instead, he actively uses worldly wealth to make friends in eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9-13).
- The ‘faithful’ steward sticks with the seemingly weak and foolish message of the cross; he doesn’t change or tailor the message simply to win the approval of his congregation (1 Cor 4:1-5).
- ‘Faithful’ ministers encourage people to hold fast to the apostolic teaching and way of life (1 Cor 4:17; Col 4:7, 9; Eph 6:21-22).
- The ‘faithful’ minister communicates Christ to people (Col 1:7).
- ‘Faithful’ teachers are committed to transmitting the message of Jesus Christ rightly from one generation to another. A key task for the ‘faithful’ teacher is to actively raise up future faithful teachers (2 Tim 2:2).
- The ‘faithful’ hold on to Christ even in the face of persecution and death. They suffer, they struggle and if necessary they die for Jesus (Rev 2:10, 13).
Do you believe that faithfulness matters? If so, you might want to use the list to see how your faithfulness is going. And if, like me, you’re a bit discouraged when you compare yourself with the biblical ideal of faithfulness, remember the words of the apostle Paul:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, …
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim 1:12, 15-16).
1 I’m assuming that the money in the parables represents knowledge of the kingdom of God. If you want to know why, compare Matt 25:29 with Matt 13:10-12; also compare Luke 19:26 with Luke 12:48.