by the late Dr Martyn Holdt
It is required of a steward to be found faithful. Faithfulness is basic to the Christian ministry. Jesus Christ was absolutely faithful to the end. The apostle Paul was faithful throughout his ministry. All of God’s great servants were loyal and trustworthy throughout the period of their service in the kingdom of God. Faithfulness is non-negotiable. However, is a servant of Christ not meant to seek for and to experience the kind of prosperity God promised to Joshua and to all those who do the will of God? Joshua 1 v 8.
If I had my ministry over I would certainly avoid the many mistakes I made and I would give myself more heartily to the ingredients of a fruitful ministry as I have discovered them over the years and endeavour to apply them today. I wish to put out this slender booklet in order to help those who pine for the kind of spiritual prosperity which I am convinced is the will of God for a ministry. The following are things that are absolutely essential for a minister of the gospel should he wish to make it.
Learn to listen to God:
A pastor has the duty to read the Bible much, much more than the average member of his congregation. It is our only source book which teaches us those things which God wants us to make know to His people. When God told Joshua what He did in Joshua 1v 8, He meant him to understand that not a day should go by without a good dose of the book of the Lord: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.” Read at least 20 chapters from the Bible every day. It is very important not to be tempted to do anything which will interfere with this. Also, before you read get on your knees and pray earnestly that God will enlighten you and that the Holy Spirit will teach you all that He wants to teach you. Take the prayer of Psalm 119 v 18 to heart and repeat it earnestly before the Lord whenever you read the Bible. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Be saturated with Scripture. Every effective preacher has been and you need to be as well. A few verses of Scripture a day is not nearly enough. When you have done this every day for a month you will notice the difference and so will those who you minister to. That’s a proven fact.
Talk to God
Your praying as a minister of the gospel must be far, far better than the people to whom you minister. If they wait upon the Lord, you should do that much more. My heartfelt recommendation is that you take a notebook and have a prayer list of several pages to work through every day. Begin on the first page with worship where you write down passages of adoration as, for example, from the Psalms and repeat them audibly in God’s presence. Add to these verses items of thanksgiving such as your salvation, your health, God’s provision, God’s providence and other spiritual and material blessings with which God daily showers us. Afterwards, write down the names of your family and the things you want God to do for them. Every time you begin to pray through your list plead with God to deliver you from vain repetition and trust the Holy Spirit to make your time of prayer meaningful and a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Pray for the people to whom you minister by name, pray for your fellow pastors by name and do not forget the names of missionaries as well. Include all items that require prayer. You ought to spend at least an hour a day in prayer. That is the amount of time it ought to take you to worship, to confess your sins and to make supplication for matters in which you need God’s help. Most important is that you should pray that your preparation might be empowered by the Holy Spirit when you discover the meaning of the passages on which you will preach and plead with God that your eyes may be opened to see Christ in the text. You will discover that He is there, after all, even if you do not see His name. Discover the power of prayer in your life. It will make a huge, huge difference in your ministry. Together prayer and Scripture-reading will get answers to prayer. John 15v7: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
When you prepare, work your way through good, reliable commentaries and do not neglect that great classic Matthew Henry’s commentary. There are choice gems of truth in that brilliant commentary on the Bible. While you prepare, pray repeatedly for insight into the passage of Scripture and power to preach it as God wants you to. Fall on your knees to do so as you express your deep and urgent dependence on God for light upon the pages of Scripture. You will be amazed to discover how God works and leads you into truth. As a young preacher Dr. Harry Ironside visited the aged Alexander Fraser and listened enthralled as Mr Fraser opened one truth after another from God’s Word until he could restrain himself no longer and cried out “Where did you learn these things?” “On my knees in a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland,” replied Mr Fraser. “There with my Bible open before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and asked the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I could ever have learnt in all the colleges and seminaries in the world.” Do not be satisfied until the passage from which you are to preach thrills you so much that you are determined to share with His people the things God has revealed to you. Do not be satisfied with your preparation unless and until you clearly see Jesus Christ in the passage. John A. James in his book An Earnest Ministry records that in his day and age the churches in England which were thriving most were those where the preachers made much of Christ and Him crucified. Another preacher, William Taylor, experienced a dramatic change in his ministry when he gave much more attention to the importance of preaching Christ than ever before. He preached the cross and he remembered that Jesus has said, “I, when I am lifted up shall draw all men to Myself.” In addition to the Bible, a preacher should study as many good books on the atonement as possible. If he does, it will make a huge difference to his preaching. Preaching Christ and Him crucified is not an option at any time. It was the meat and drink of the apostle Paul’s ministry. 1 Cor. 2v2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” For us to do anything less, is a blatant sin of omission!
Teach people to pray for you:
The greatest preacher after Christ begged people to pray for him. Rom 15v30 “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” He did this repeatedly. Eph. 6v18,19: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”. He testified to the huge difference this made to him as he preached the Word. 2 Cor 1v11: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said to his congregation if they ever stopped praying for him they should tell him so then he would stop preaching! Preaching is an urgent matter and it should never be seen as a spectator sport. It is a team effort when the people of God in the congregation cry to God for a truly anointed ministry such as the apostle coveted. 1 Cor 2v4 “and my speech and my message were not in a plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
Become your people’s best friend:
While you fight for your mornings in the study when you spend time in the Word and in preparation and in prayer, the afternoons, especially the late afternoons and evenings, should be reserved for visiting the people to whom you bring the Word of God. Make your visits meaningful. Enquire about the physical and spiritual welfare of each member of the family, read a passage of Scripture and pray for them. Lack of pastoral visiting has become a scourge in our day and age. The famous Richard Baxter of Kidderminster saw revival break out as he visited hundreds of homes during the time of his ministry and as he personally ministered the Word of God to members of the families in Kidderminster. Do not neglect to go to be where your people live.
Become a reader:
If you do all the above you might ask, where to find the time to read anything in addition to the Bible which you would have read for at least 2 or 3 hours every day? You redeem the time by gathering up the fragments of time and using them to read. Take a book with you when, for example, you have to sit in the waiting room of a medical practitioner. I am a slow reader but I am amazed at how much one can cover by simply making good use of those odd minutes which otherwise you would be wasting by simply hanging around and doing nothing. Charles Haddon Spurgeon read 6 thick volumes every week and felt he had to do so if his mind was to be fresh and his preaching arresting. Who are we to think less of the importance of reading? John Wesley whose preaching was owned by God in the conversion of so many people, once wrote to another preacher: “What has exceedingly hurt you is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste of it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was 7 years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and the daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it; anymore than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire a taste which you have not: what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life: there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days and a pretty superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul: give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will al the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you.” So read for your life and be no longer a disappointment to the people who listen to your sermons.
I cite the above having spent more than 40 years in the Christian ministry. I suppose it is true to say I am entering the last lap of the Christian race in my life. I share the above out of deep concern and with much love for my fellow Christian soldiers in the Christian ministry. I want you to do better than I have. Nevertheless, I can at least look back and lift up my voice and say: Thank you, o my heavenly Father, for all that I have learnt from You through others who have done your work so much better than I have. Forgive me all my blunders and sins. I thank You that, having been mentored by great and godly men and having done what they advised me to do, I have seen fruit upon my ministry. Having seen that, I praise You for, “Not to us, o Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. “ Ps. 115v1.