Seven traits to look for in a gospel worker
If you're seeking to appoint a new pastor or other gospel worker then here are seven characteristics you should be looking for.
After many years in pastoral ministry, and more recently helping churches in my role as FIEC Training Director, I am more convinced than ever of the prime importance of the character of any aspiring gospel minister. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of being overly impressed by someone’s gifting and lose sight of the fact that the Bible majors upon integrity as the key tool in any minister’s toolbox, without which any ministry will eventually flounder and sink.
Below are seven of the traits that the Bible tells us to be looking for in prospective gospel workers. Of course, none of these qualities will be fully formed this side of Glory – we are all “work in progress” – but they ought to be evident in good measure in the life of anyone being considered for ministry.
This in itself presupposes that a good relationship exists between the local church leadership and the prospective Christian worker. Character is developed and proven in the everyday situations of life, church and ministry, so it is essential that church leaders build relationships that enable first-hand observation and input. Such relationships are a key aspect of a church leader’s role and responsibility.
Trait 1: Godliness
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4v16)
Notice the intriguing order that Paul sets out in that verse. He puts life before doctrine. What matters to the Lord of the Church is clear: Who we are matters more than what we’ve done or what we know!
Is there evidence in the life of the individual of a growing submission to Christ and of a growing spiritual maturity? (1 Timothy 3v6; 1 Peter 5v2) Gospel ministry requires moral authority and a gospel worker must be known for their integrity and emotional stability.
Trait 2: Teachability
Do they have they a “teachable spirit”? (Philippians 3v13-14). We never stop learning in the Christian life and we are never too old to be taught!
Are they clearly under the oversight of a local church? How do they respond to constructive criticism? Does they have people in their life who are calling them to account, speaking the truth in love and being a true friend in Christ?
Are they self-aware? Can they identify their own strengths and weaknesses? Do they realise that their own heart is their greatest challenge in ministry?
Trait 3: Faithfulness
Faithfulness is not much in fashion in our society, but it has never gone out of fashion with the Faithful God (2 Timothy 2v2). Faithfulness is one of the great hallmarks of a maturing Christian.
Are they dependable? Are they consistent in both their relationships and their service? Have they proven discipline and endurance?
Bad time keeping, a lack of organisation, failure to return calls – these are all seemingly small but very significant signposts that ought to ring warning bells.
Trait 4: Servant-heartedness
The Christian model of leadership is radically different from that which the world promotes. In God’s new humanity the greatest is the least; the most heroic is the one who is servant of all.
Does the person you are considering look out for others and their needs? Do they readily see what needs to be done and get on and do it?
This is also strongly linked to the next characteristic…
Trait 5: Humility
Paul spoke out of his own experience when he counselled that ministry flows out of weakness:
“The Lord said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12v9)
Do they know anything of the battle of having their pride subdued? (1 Peter 5v5: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”) Do they have a natural humility that has been shaped by experiencing brokenness and weakness in their life?
Trait 6: Love for people
Christopher Ash, Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, once made a passing comment that has long impressed itself on me. Talking of the ‘call’ to ministry he said:
“Increasingly, the first question that I want to ask of anyone who says they are called to ministry is this: Do you love people?”
Some aspiring to gospel ministry can be more taken-up with the ministry itself than the aim and purpose of ministry! Without a compassion and affection for people and an accompanying good level of emotional intelligence, folk are best steered away from ministry.
Trait 7: Proven-ness
Far too many younger folk are being encouraged into ministry today and taken into Bible colleges without much life and workplace experience. In the longer term it is not serving the local church well to have unproven leaders.
The Bible tells us to appoint to leadership those who have a “good reputation with outsiders” (1 Timothy 3v8), who have demonstrated an ability to manage their family (1 Timothy 3v5) and have a ‘proven-ness’ about themselves. There is more to ministry than a good theological education! I am concerned that for many this lack of basic experience in handling and leading people will come back to bite and harm them in the everyday life of gospel ministry.
We need to take the long term view when preparing people for ministry. Life and workplace experience is not time wasted but a vital part of the preparation for a lifetime of ministry.
So, those are seven traits to look out for. I commend them to your thoughtful consideration!