Up to this point in this series I have focused on what R.C. Sproul and John Piper have taught me. The focus has been on teaching, and rightly so. Pastors are teachers (Eph. 4:11). The one skill they must possess is the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). So I have rightly focused on these two men’s teaching ministries.
However, I would be remiss if I communicated that the secret to these men’s ministries is their profound giftedness in teaching. I don’t think that’s why their ministries have such depth and breadth. In fact, I don’t believe the key to effective ministry lies within them at all.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16 is why I think this way: “We [preachers] are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” If the apostle Paul was not sufficient for such a ministry, what pastor is sufficient for his task?
No pastor can raise the dead. No pastor can impart spiritual life. No pastor can sanctify the saints. It is beyond any man’s reach. John Piper writes,
“A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit—which is the only kind that matters—knows neither God nor himself . . . . We are called to labor for that which is God’s alone to give. The essence of the Christian ministry is that its success is not within our reach.”
So what’s the key then? What makes pastoral ministry effective? What is the greatest asset of any pastor?
Bold Preachers and Praying Believers
The answer can be found in Acts 4. In this chapter the apostles Peter and John are arrested for preaching in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. About five thousand men had believed the word (vv. 2-4), and the Jewish council inquires of Peter and John, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (v. 7). Peter answers and concludes that there is no other name but Jesus by which we are saved (v. 12). The next verse is key: “But when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished” (v. 13).
This is puzzling. The apostles were bold men; there is no denying that from the text. But why were they so bold? Was it because they were naturally intelligent? Were they so confident in their innate reasoning abilities that they knew they could take on the religious leaders in a debate and win? No, that’s not the reason. The text clearly states that they were uneducated, common men (v. 13). They weren’t naturally intelligent. They didn’t have high IQs. They had no formal education. How then could they be so bold in preaching the word and defending the gospel before the council? Where did their boldness come from?
We see the answer just a few verses later. After Peter and John were released, “They went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them” (v. 23). And how did these other believers respond to the apostles’ report? “And when the friends heard it, they lifted their voices together to God” (v. 24). They prayed. They prayed for Peter and John. The immediate response of the believers was to approach the throne of God.
And what did they pray? After acknowledging God’s providential hand in all things, they make an astonishing request to the Lord: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (v. 29). What an amazing thing! Grant O God boldness to your servants! Keep them bold in their preaching of Your Word!
This is an incredible prayer by the early believers. They knew something very crucial: Bold preaching is a gift of God. It’s not innate. It’s not inherent. It’s a gift of God. That’s why the believers prayed for it. They knew Peter and John were not innately bold. They needed grace to carry out their ministry. So the believers asked God for the grace of boldness in the apostles’ lives.
What’s incredible is that God immediately answered their prayer: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness […] And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” (vv. 31, 33).
The passage ends exactly as it begins: the apostles preaching boldly about the resurrection of Christ. Only by this point we know why they can do it. It’s not because they’re genius men. It’s because they’re gifted men. They have the gift of the Holy Spirit empowering them to speak the gospel with boldness. Great power is the result of great grace.
The Greatest Asset of Any Pastor
Charles Spurgeon was once asked about the secret to his ministry. His response? “My people pray for me.” Nothing will happen in ministry if God’s people don’t pray. Both the grace to do ministry and the grace that works through ministry come from the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit empowers those who ask for His enablement. This is the greatest asset of any pastor: a praying people.
A.C. Dixon got it exactly right:
“When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; but when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do.”
May pastors always depend upon the grace of God in the ministry of the Word, and may God’s people pray for God’s power for God’s preachers.
Other Posts in this series: