Today there are many tools and methods used in Christian ministry. Some are very helpful whereas others are very unhelpful. Sadly, many of these are designed to appeal to the desires of people. This method is often referred to as being “Seeker Sensitive”. Obviously we don’t ever want to use methods that are mean to people, but to tailor everyone around people’s desires is unbiblical. The goal of a lot of these methods is to help produce a successful ministry. Many people measure a successful ministry by large numbers. Is this legitimate? Biblically speaking, true success is not determined by large numbers but is determined by faithfulness (cf. Joshua 1:8 and Proverbs 3:3-4). Without question, the apostle Paul was a faithful and fervent servant of Jesus Christ. He took his calling with great seriousness and this was evidenced in his service for the Lord. Towards the end of his letter to the Romans Paul shares some thoughts regarding his ministry and some of his plans for the future. This section provides us with great insight into the characteristics and conduct of a ministry that glorifies God. That is what a successful ministry is.
THE CHARACTERISTICS A SUCCESSFUL MINISTRY (15:14-21)
Though Paul had a unique ministry to the Gentiles (15:15-16), it contained the characteristics that are glorifying to God. What are the characteristics of a ministry that brings God glory? In verses 14-21 we discover three necessary components to a faithful ministry as seen in the life of Paul. Firstly it will be a priestly ministry (15:14-16). Paul viewed as a priestly act in which he offered up to God spiritual sacrifices. Paul’s goal in serving was to be pleasing to God. Secondly, it will be a powerful ministry (15:17-19). Paul did not draw power from his own abilities, personality or social network. The power of his ministry was from the Holy Spirit. This reveals humility and confidence in the Lord. Finally, it will be a preaching ministry (15:20-21). Paul was not interested in being entertaining or tapping into societies priorities. He understood that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:15), so he preached the gospel (15:20a). For Paul he had a particular calling to do that in places where Christ had not been named (15:20b), and this fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (Rom. 15:21 cf. Isa. 52:15).
THE CONDUCT OF A SUCCESSFUL MINISTRY (15:22-33)
In practice, how did Paul carry out his ministry? He didn’t rely on man-centered methods, but rather he conducted his ministry in accordance to the will of God. This was demonstrated by the way he dealt with plans for the future (15:22-24), the priorities for the present (15:25-29), and then requested prayer for the ministry (15:30-32). Regarding his plans for the future, Paul had a longing to see the gospel spread to the ends of the world. He had a desire and plans to go to Spain. Even though Paul had a holy ambition to be used of God in the ministry with his future plans, he did not neglect his priorities for the present (15:25-29). Money had been collected to provide aid for some struggling saints in Jerusalem (15:25). This seems to be the opposite direction of his future plans, but Paul conducted his ministry by being committed to priorities of the present. Paul’s focus was to complete his present responsibilities before he moved on to the next (15:28-29). Paul understood that in was always in need of the Lord’s help in his service. For this reason he appeals to the Roman Christians to prayer for him (15:30-32). He desired that he would accomplish his present task and then travel to Rome, with the view of going on to Spain. Of course Paul does make it to Rome, but in an unexpected way, namely as a prisoner.
When we strive to minister according to the will of God, things might not work out the way we planned, but we can trust Lord and ought to honour Him. Paul’s ministry was a successful one. Not because of its popularity or prestige – but because it was a faithful ministry that brought glory to God.