We are using the phrase "the Christian worker" to refer to a wide variety of Christians, including parents, teachers, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, disciplers, Christian education directors, youth and children's workers, administrators, church music directors, and seminary and Christian college professors -- anyone who ministers to others. The basic goals of all these workers are the same. So are the basic principles that apply to their work. The daily activities and particular means employed by each one may differ, but such differences are relatively superficial. The core of each ministry is the same. One consideration at the core of every kind of ministry is the quality of the person who is doing the ministry. His character and his attitudes toward other people, more than his talents or formal training, will determine the effectiveness of his ministry.
What qualifications must a Christian worker have? Obviously, he must be a genuine Christian. He must be at least somewhat grown up in many areas of his life, and continuing to grow spiritually.
Two particular areas of growth seem to be especially crucial in light of the significance of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, as discussed under Principle 1. First, he must have a good grasp on the Bible's teachings. This is not to say that he must be a walking Bible encyclopedia, but he should be quite familiar with both Old and New Testaments, have an accurate interpretation of the Bible's main teachings, and have a well integrated view of God, man, and life. Paul told the young minister, Timothy, to be one "who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Secondly, he must live what he knows. He should consistently exemplify the Christian walk which comes from applying the Bible's teachings in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the young minister, Titus, "in everything set them an example by doing what is good" (Titus 2:7).
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy involves feeling the same feelings another person has. Thus, sympathy is mainly an emotional thing. But empathy is mainly cognitive. Empathy involves understanding another person from the other person's point of view. Notice how the Bible discusses this idea of empathy, even though the word is not used in these passages:
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but
also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
The American Indian saying, "Walk a mile in my moccasins," expresses the same idea. We must strive to identify with any individual we are trying to help by putting ourselves in his place. We must realize what it would be like to face life having his background, his abilities or lack of abilities, and his circle of friends. Without empathy we won't have genuine sensitivity to others. Without empathy we cannot truly apply the golden rule (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31; 1 Corinthians 10:24), because the application of the golden rule requires us to identify with others. Perhaps this is one of the reason James advised us to be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). Listening is the first step toward empathy.
Jesus drew a contrast for his disciples in order to help them understand an attitude they should not have, and an attitude they should have:
The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28; see also Luke 22:24-27 and 1 Peter 5:1-3).
The Christian worker is always looking for ways he can serve others, not for ways they can serve him. This is not normal, for by nature people tend to look out for their own good first. But it is the way Jesus both commanded and exemplified.
Christ Jesus ... being in very nature God ... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:5-7)
Paul used Jesus' example to illustrate his command:
In humility consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
Some have mistakenly thought that Paul in this verse commands us to have the lowest possible self esteem. But if we examine the context, especially Jesus' example in the following verses, we will see what Paul's intent is. Paul is telling us to consider serving others more important than serving ourselves.
Everything the Christian worker does in aimed at serving others by meeting their needs. In fact, the concept of meeting needs is one of the most basic concepts in all Christian ministries. Paul said that everything we say should be
helpful for building others up according to their needs. (Ephesians 4:29)
What a contrast this is to the person who appears to minister to others, but is actually ministering more to himself, his underlying (and probably subconscious) motives completely selfish. He may enjoy the feeling of power he gets from his position of authority or leadership, or his ego may need the praise and public recognition that often comes with the more visible, "up front" kinds of ministries. Any motive that serves the needs of the minister more than the needs of the one being ministered to is out of place. The Christian worker must view himself as a servant and must desire to meet the needs of others.
Jesus said, "I am gentle" (Matthew 11:29). Paul said, "We were gentle among you" (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul also said that the pastor, or overseer, must be gentle (1 Timothy 3:3). The forceful individual often bruises and discourages others, but gentleness shows a deep respect for, and a sensitivity to, each individual.
Gentleness should not be confused with weakness. Being gentle is not the same as being timid or lacking initiative. Many times the Christian worker must step forward and be bold, but always with great consideration for the impact his words and actions have on others.
He does not view others as objects to be used or manipulated. Rather, he views others as worthy of his service, and his service is to guide them. Sometimes our organizational structures work against us. We often work in a hierarchy of various levels of positions and authority. All this makes it easy for the worker to think of himself more as a boss than as a gentle guide. But if the Holy Spirit, from his high position and authority, can still function as a guide (John 16:13), we should do the same.
All of these attitudes are summarized in the word "love," the love shown us by God. "God so loved the world that he gave ..." (John 3:16). Likewise, our motivation and attitudes toward others must grow out of the kind of love that gives.
Are people called into Christian work? Yes, every Christian is responsible to evangelize the lost and to edify the saved. Christian service is part of Christian living.
Are some called into full-time Christian work in certain special vocations such as the pastorate and missions? That depends on how you define the call. The Lord does give some service gifts to certain Christians that he does not give to others. Also, some Christians find themselves in circumstances which allow them to devote more of their time to Christian ministries than others can. And the Lord gives individualized leading to those who are obedient to him and open to his will, leading some into certain full-time Christian vocations and leading others elsewhere. One or several of these factors can be considered a call. But today there is no special call which comes as a direct revelation, as there was for the Old Testament prophets and for the Apostle Paul. If there were such a call, we would expect to find it mentioned in at least one of the three lists of qualifications for elders (pastors) and deacons in the local church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 8-13; Titus 1:5-9). Some who mistakenly believe in such a call assume that whoever is called in this manner is automatically qualified. Because of this mistake, some might enter into full-time Christian positions who are unqualified, while others who are qualified might fail to follow the Lord's leading into a full-time Christian position because they have not gotten the "call." This view ignores the abundant teaching of the New Testament on the subject of the character and attitudes of the Christian worker.