What is a Minister?
Disclaimer: The word “minister” does not always refer to the professional contracted by a congregation to preach or serve. Every Christian should be a minister in some aspect (1 Peter 4:10). However, for this series of posts I will use the common concept of a preacher being the minister. So here we go:
The question, “what is a minister?” may have many answers depending on the specific audience or individual you ask. There are many expectations that an optimistic youth entering college and fulltime ministry may not fully understand or even realize. An email discussion in March 2005 on GospelPreachers, a Yahoo Group, highlighted some of these expectations as the group discussed the topic of preachers interviewing. Don Laughary remarked, “It might help us who preach to realize we are not necessarily ‘hired to preach’.” Laughary’s comment is a realization that in many areas a church hires a minister as a preacher, visit coordinator, social planner, spiritual counselor, marriage counselor, wedding coordinator, bulletin editor, writer, motivator, outreach coordinator, youth and senior ministry specialist, and in some cases lawn maintenance worker, plumber, Air Conditioning consultant, baptistery repairman, handy-man, and cook. Faced with such overwhelming expectations many young men find themselves overpowered in realizing a minister is many things to many people, and with the aim of being a minister they may not really know who they are to be.
What is a minister? There three qualities I see as necessary for one to serve as a minister. These qualities are the heart of whom and what a minister is to be. I believe that without these three characteristics no education in theology, public communication, or personnel management will be of any practical service to the life and work of a preacher.
The first of these characteristics is that he must be Christian. Notice that the statement does not say that he must be “a” Christian. The latter statement should be a foregone conclusion. The difficulty is that one may be “a Christian” and not be Christian; this is to say that one may do all the things necessary for the world and the Church to identify him as a Christian, but if he is not truly converted in the inner man he is not Christian. The Apostle Paul tells the young minister Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Ti 4:16 – ESV). In a separate passage Paul says of himself, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1Co 9:27). A minister must strive to live as a Christian every moment of every day; there is no need for “nominal Christians” to apply. A minister must be one hundred percent dependent upon Christ and he must have complete conviction that God is, that Christ is, that the Spirit is, and that the Bible is God’s revealed word and as such contains all that is necessary for life and for godliness (2 Pet 1:3).
Related, yet separate from the first quality, is the second quality of a minister; he must be a “lover of God.” Jesus references the ‘shema’ as the greatest command (Mt 22:37-38). This command basically says that all Christians, including ministers, are to love God with all that they have, all that they are, and all that they will be. A person cannot minister for God if he is not first in love with God. The love of God is powerful motivation to be Christian, and the reciprocity of that love motivates one to lead others to know God’s love and to fall in love with Him. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 emphasizes the importance of love in all that Christian ministers do.
Love is not only vertical, but love is also horizontal. This horizontal love for his fellow man is the third characteristic necessary to be an effective minister. Jesus calls this love the second greatest commandment; Christian ministers are to love their neighbor (Mt 22:39). If a minister does not have this love, he will not be able to lead men and women to God. Observation of many ministers actions and written words suggest that they seem to delight in the prospect of the punishment of the wicked. This apparent attitude results in turning people away from God as opposed to leading them to Him. God does not see punishment as a joy, but God sees punishment as a necessary response to disobedience. Peter records that God is not willing that any receive punishment (2 Pt 3:9). God’s love reaches to the entire world longing for the salvation of all (Jn 3:16). A minister should live this love. A minister cannot selectively love the saved and hate the lost. He cannot love the struggling and hate the rebellious. Nor should a minister prejudice one ethnicity over or under another. Peter learned the impartiality of God in Acts 10 and affirms “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). A minister’s love must grow from the love of God. When one realizes God’s love for him, despite his short-comings, he ought to embody that love to all he is in contact with (cf 2 Co 5:14).
David Fisher concludes his chapter on the minister’s identity saying, “I am a man in Christ. That is the foundation of my life. . . . Everything else in my ministry flows from that foundational conviction.” The above section is, should be, the identity of a minister. Similarly to Fisher, out of this identity flows everything that follows in a man’s efforts as a minister. The degree to which a minister lives as a Christian in love with God and in love with man determines the effectiveness of his life as a minister.
 Don Laughary, “Interviewing” a post on GospelPreachers@yahoogroups.com, March 15, 2005.
 David Fisher, The 21st Century Pastor, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 20.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV), (Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 Fisher, 29.