Every Christian is supposed to be involved in ministry (Eph. 4:11-12, Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7). Whatever a person is called to do they should want to do it well, especially as it relates to serving the Lord. But what makes a person competent in ministry? What is it that makes one effective? These are valid questions, indeed they are important questions. We should want to be people of maximum impact. So what makes one a competent minister?
In the book of 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul answers that question for us. What Paul tells us is important for a number of reasons. First, he is writing inspired Scripture, and second, he is a seasoned, and successful minister.
I know success means different things to different people (even in ministry). For some success is measured by quantity for others it is measured by quality. When I say that Paul was successful I mean that he was one who made a great impact for the Lord.
I would like to call your attention to 2 Corinthians 3:5.
Now, before we consider Paul’s answer to the question about competency in ministry let us first note what he did not say. He did not attribute his competency to himself, nor did he point to any of the things that we might expect him to.
People in the world, and sometimes in the church, typically point to one of two things. In fact, some churches who are looking for ministers frequently consider these two things. I am speaking about education and experience. Now before we proceed, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with either one of these. Each, in its own way, can help a person to be competent in ministry. However, Paul did not appeal to either of these, though he could have because he possessed both.
Paul certainly had a good one. He makes reference to it in Acts 22 when he is making his defense in front of a large group of Jews in the city of Jerusalem. He mentions his teacher, Gamaliel. He also mentions that he was “thoroughly trained in the law” (Acts 22:3 NIV).
From a Jewish point of view he was highly educated with regard to the Scriptures. We can see this not only from Paul’s testimony in Acts 22:3, but also from an account such as Acts 17:2-3 which speaks of his proficiency in the Scriptures. In addition looking at the contents of his sermon in Acts 13:16-42 and his Scriptural response in Acts 28:23-27 are also helpful in this regard. However, Paul did not point to his education as the determining factor that made him a competent minister of the New Covenant.
By the time Paul wrote the book of 2 Corinthians he had been in Christian ministry for approximately twenty years. During this time he had a wealth of experiences, some positive and some negative. He had preached and he had been persecuted. He knew first hand both the victories and challenges that one could experience in serving the Lord. Paul had ministered in a variety of different locations to Jews and Gentiles alike. However, here again, Paul did not identify his experience as the determining factor which made him a good minister of Jesus Christ.
But Paul did provide us with an answer to our question about what makes one an able, or competent, minister of Jesus Christ.
What he says was the reason that not only he, but also his co-workers, were competent ministers of Christ.
His answer is worth nothing because I believe that what he says is still true today. Paul wrote “our competence comes from God” (2 Cor. 3:5 NIV). In fact, he stresses this point when he mentions again in verse 6 that God is the one who made them competent ministers of the New Covenant.
Paul affirmed this truth twice in this passage, but this is not a new subject that Paul is raising with the Corinthian church. He mentioned it at least twice in his earlier letter to them (1 Cor. 2:4; 3:6). If we are effective in ministry at all God is the reason for our success. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6 we can plant and we can water but God is the one who makes things grow. As we journey through this life and minister for the Lord may we be ever mindful that God is the source of effective ministry.
We need to humbly acknowledge this truth (because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble), stay close to Him, be filled with His Spirit, and rely on Him. Remember: Jesus said that without Him we cannot do anything (John 15:5).
John P. Lathrop – United States
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.