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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 26, 2006
Qualifications for Ministry
When is a person qualified to tell someone else about Jesus Christ? In some circles of modern American Christian culture it would seem like you need some sort of Bible degree to meet the qualification. That only reveals the problem of churches making up their own standards either by design or by default through their practices. We have already seen through our study of Acts that the only qualification is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Recall that on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and the church was born that everyone there was proclaiming the mighty deeds of God. In Acts 5 after the apostles were released after having been arrested and beaten by the Sanhedrin, the church prayed for continued boldness in proclaiming Christ, and that is exactly what they did. Not just the apostles, but all of them. In Acts 6 we find that it is Stephen that is boldly proclaiming Jesus to the Hellenistic Jews to the point that the only way they could deal with him was to lie about him and bring about his murder. In Acts 8 when the great persecution came following Stephen’s death, the church scattered though out Judea and Samaria proclaiming Christ. We saw in Acts 11 that some of the Christians had even gone North into Syria and over to Cyprus and West to the Coastal cities of Africa. Proclaiming Jesus Christ is a privilege and responsibility that belongs to all believers. You do not need a Bible degree or special training to be involved. All you need to be is a disciple of Jesus Christ and then just be faithful to tell others what you know. You pursue further training simply so that you can be more knowledgeable and effective in carrying out God’s commission to you to be His witness.
What then are the qualifications for someone that will devote their life to taking the gospel to other people? We usually refer to such a person as a missionary. If all followers of Christ are to tell others about Jesus, then isn’t every Christian qualified to be a missionary? Or are their additional qualifications? What does Scripture tell us about this question? This is not just a question that needs to be answered for the person that desires to be a missionary, but also an important one to answer for the rest of the church in considering who they should be involved with and support as missionaries. Turn to the Acts 12:25 where we pick up the story of Barnabas and Paul and then see the example set by the first church to formally send out missionaries.
Barnabas & Saul Commissioned (12:25-13:3)
Return to Jerusalem (12:25)
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with [them] John, who was also called Mark.
Recall from our study in Acts 11 that prophets revealed to the church in Antioch that there would be a famine in the future. That church, made up largely of Gentile Christians, responded out of love for their fellow believers that were affected by that famine by taking up a collection as each was able to contribute. When the famine came, Barnabas and Saul were sent to Jerusalem with the money which was then given to the Elders of the church in Jerusalem for distribution for those in need. The money would then be used to buy food that had been imported from other areas. If the church in Antioch would have had the ability to send a shipment of food, perhaps it would have done so, but the most effective way for them to meet the need of their brothers in Judea was to send money that would then be used to purchase what was needed.
That brings up a couple of important examples for us to follow. There was no command for the church to take up a collection. They did so out of their own love for Christ which generated a love for the brethren. They were made aware of the need and they gave as they had ability and desire. The same is still true for us today. As we are made aware of the needs of other Christians, we will strive to help as we have ability and desire.
Another example set here was that they sent what they were capable of sending that could be effective in meeting the needs. This text cannot be stretched into a mandate that the church only sends money. Recall from our study of Acts 6 that the way in which they met the needs of the widows was left vague. It could have been either the material goods needed or the funds to purchase the necessities of life. The same is true for us today. What is to control us is the desire to meet needs as we are able by the most effective means available to us.
Barnabas and Saul had fulfilled their mission. They brought down the gift from the church in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem, and now they return. Luke notes that they brought back with them John Mark who we have noted before is Barnabas’ cousin. Acts 13:1 & 2 tell us what happens next in Antioch after their return.
Set Apart by the Holy Spirit (13:1,2)
Acts 13:1 (NASB) Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was [there], prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
In that church there were those who were prophets and teachers. Remember from our earlier studies that the NT prophet was someone that was characterized by the ability to publically proclaim the word of the Lord. Some of them also had the ability to foretell what would happen in the future as the Lord revealed it to them, such as those that had forewarned the church in Antioch about a coming famine. Teachers are those that have the ability to explain the word of God to others. Some can do that in a public setting, others in a private setting, and others in either one. The church at Antioch has men with these spiritual gifts and Luke gives the specific names of some of them. Included are Barnabs as well as Simeon who was called Niger. Niger is Latin for”black.” There was also Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene is located in North Africa and it was from Cyrene that disciples of Jesus had come to Antioch and began preaching to the Gentiles (11:20). This may also be the man that Paul mentions in Romans 16:21.
A fourth man mentioned is Manaen. Luke notes that he had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch. This is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, brother of Philip the tetrarch, and uncle to Herod Agrippa I who was spoken about in Acts 12. Herod is the tetrarch or Roman ruler over the region of Galilee. The fact that Manaen had grown up with Herod would indicate that he would have been well educated. The last one mentioned by Luke is Saul.
Verse 2 states that it is while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting that the Holy Spirit revealed His plans for Barnabas and Saul. There is no indication that this was any sort of special meeting. It is presented as simply part of their normal activities of worship of God. These are men that are serious about their walk with God, so they are sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit. When He directs them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for other work the men immediately respond.
Keep in mind that Saul had already been told in Acts 9 (cf. Acts 26:16-18) that he was set apart by Christ to take the gospel to the Gentiles. In Galatians 1:15 Paul comments that he had been set apart from his mother’s womb and then called through God’s grace to preach to the Gentiles. The event taking place here in Act 13 is the particular point in time when the Holy Spirit revealed His calling to the church in Antioch so that they might commission them.
Ordained and Sent Out (13:3)
3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Fasting is usually associated with prayer as it is here in verse 3. After they fast and pray some more, these men lay hands on Barnabas and Saul and send them away to do the work the Holy Spirit was directing them to do.
It is extremely important to note here that the prophets and teachers of the church are not the ones that called Barnabas and Saul to do a new ministry, but it was the Holy Spirit that did this. These men simply recognized what the Holy Spirit had already done (“called” is in the perfect tense). That is what is done when they laid their hands on them. This is ordination, which means to lay hands on. It is the outward recognition by the church of the Spirit’s work and call upon an individual. That is still supposed to be its meaning in the church today, though not all churches have the same view or practice.
Please also notice here that neither Barnabas or Saul act unilaterally. They do not take it upon themselves to go out on their own even though both of them were present when the Holy Spirit gave His directions. They both waited for the other church leaders to confirm them. This was not done until after additional fasting and prayer. Notice also that no apostle is “laying hands.” Saul, the only apostle present, is a recipient.
Qualifications for Ministry
This example tells us several things about the qualifications of those that would desire to be recognized and supported by a church in the work of ministry. First and foremost is that the calling is the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains God’s work in equipping the individual for ministry in 1 Corinthians 12. In verses 4-7 he says, 4 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all [persons.] 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul adds in verse 11 after listing some of the spiritual gifts, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” The reason that the call to ministry is the work of God is because the spiritual gift, ministry and power for doing it are all given by God as he desires. It is not according to the whims of the individual.
This an important point because there are many people that will seek to do things in the name of God that have not been sent by God. When we get to Acts 20 we will find that Paul warns the Ephesian Elders about wolves that would come and not spare the flock and this would include men from among them that would speak perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. 2 Peter 2 also warns about false teachers that would come and secretly introduce destructive heresies. Such false teachers invariable claim to be from God and led by the Holy Spirit, but their claim is false. How then can it be discerned who is actually called by the Holy Spirit and who is lying? That brings us to a second principle we learn from the example given here in Acts 13.
The Holy Spirit also revealed His call of Barnabas and Saul to the church leaders in Antioch. They recognize the Spirit’s call and fast and pray. After that they ordain Barnabas and Saul and send them out to their ministry. It is key that the church leaders also recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit and respond accordingly. Barnabas and Saul are not self-promoting individuals nor do they act independently. They work as part of a team and submit themselves to the counsel and direction given to them by the other church leaders. When someone is self-promoting and demanding there is strong reason to be suspicious of their claims. The Holy Spirit is not going to reveal His will to one individual in the church without confirming that will through other godly people in the church. That brings up a qualifier to what I mean by church leaders.
If the Biblical principles are followed, then the church leaders will be godly individuals. It is tragic, but not every church selects godly people to be their leaders because they set their qualifications and method of selection on something other than Biblical principle. Often leaders are selected on the basis of who is powerful, rich or popular. Sometimes they are chosen because the church constitution demands that a certain number of people serve on the leadership Board with the only qualifications being older than a certain age and having been a church member for a minimum amount of time.
How can you know if the church leaders are godly? They will meet the qualifications of their office as detailed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. If the church leaders do not meet those qualifications, then their ability to truly discern the will of the Spirit will be questionable. That is one reason that it is so important for church leaders to meet the Biblical qualifications. How else can they discern God’s will for their church and give confidence to the people that they are leading them toward godliness? If the church leaders are not godly, then confirmation of the Spirit’s leading will need to come from others that are godly.
Having said that, it is still important for someone who wants to be in ministry to gain the approval of the church leaders. If they do not have that approval and support then there is serious reason to question what that person is doing. If the church leaders are so unqualified so as to not be able to discern the leading of Holy Spirit, then there is a question as to why that person is still going to that church. If the church leaders are godly and have not approved the person, then there is a legitimate question whether they are seeking to minister according to God’s will or their own.
How serious of an issue is this? I receive a lot of requests for support by people who want to do some particular ministry. Usually their requests will give some indication of why they want to do that ministry and why they and that ministry are worthy to be supported. Regardless of how well they present themselves and their ministry, I still do not know them, their character or their abilities. I must rely on godly people that do know those things for the initial screening. The result is that unless there is also something that indicates that the leaders in their church approve of them and the ministry they desire to do, their material is discarded. If they are not approved and supported by the leaders of their home church, then there is no reason for us to do so.
These are issues you also need to take to heart when you receive requests from people to support them or some ministry. Just because someone is a good writer and tells a good story does not mean they should receive your support. Ask questions and seek to verify if what they are asking you to support is something that is according to God’s will.
Qualifications for GBC Missionaries
There are practical ramifications for this church as well because we have to discern if an individual seeking our approval has been called by the Lord. What then are some of the indicators we look for to determine this?
First, what is their testimony of salvation and the evidence that their profession of faith is genuine? It is not enough to say the right things. There must also be, as John the Baptist put it, fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). This a reason we want to know the individual before we will approve and support them. This why we will get references and find out what the person is like in the other part of their life including home, work, school, business and reputation with their neighbors. Anyone can fake the Christian life for awhile in a limited context, but that is difficult to do in every part of life for a long period of time. What people appear to be in church does not always prove to be true when they are away from church. Those claiming that they are being called by God need to consistently demonstrate their profession of faith in all aspects of their life.
Second, we want to know if they are spiritually mature enough to carry out the ministry they are proposing. The spiritual maturity needed will vary with the particular ministry. For example, it will take much more maturity to be a church planter in a foreign culture than to be a helper in a short term missions team that will assist another church to put up a building. We would expect everyone that goes on a missions trip of some sort will be spiritually stretched, so we are not looking for perfection, but we are looking for enough spiritual maturity to know that they will be growing through the experience and not overwhelmed it.
Third, we look for the spiritual gifts needed to carry out the ministry the individual is seeking to do. That requires much more than just a spiritual gifts inventory. They will have to have already demonstrated their gift or gifts in ministry. Believe it or not, it is not uncommon for me to receive requests from people who want to be a missionary in some foreign land, yet they have not been involved in an equivalent ministry here at home.
For example, I remember a request by a couple that wanted to go to a European country to plant a church, but they had never been involved in a church plant before, and even worse, they had not and were not involved with the outreach programs of their home church. They had been to a Bible institute and thought that was enough. It is not. Perhaps they had learned some basics about the Bible and some good principles for church planting, but they had not been part of putting those principles into practice. Would you let someone build a house for you who had taken some classes on the theories of construction but had never swung a hammer? Of course not. Neither should the church send people to do ministries for which they have no experience. They need to spend some time gaining experience under a mentor that can help them put their head knowledge into practical action.
Related to this is that they also need to have the appropriate skills needed for the work. A person may be spiritually gifted but has not yet developed their skills in the area enough to be effective in the ministry they want to do. For example, a person who is spiritually gifted to teach will need to develop both a breadth and depth of Bible knowledge in order to teach well without falling into theological error. They will also need to have done enough teaching to be able to handle the ministry situation they will be going into. In addition, there may be other skills needed in order to carry out the ministry in the place they are going. You may have to develop skills in another language in order to communicate to the people to whom you will be ministering. You may need particular physical abilities or work and life skills. A person seeking to reach out to a primitive tribe will need to be physically fit and know some camping skills. Some ministries will require some basic construction or repair skills just to be able to live in the area.
A fifth area we assess is their social maturity to be able to work with others. In a sense this is just a particular aspect of spiritual maturity. Do they have the ability to work well enough with other people so that they will be an asset to the ministry instead of a detriment? Conflicts in interpersonal relationships is one of the largest problems for missionaries on the field and a major reason that many will leave a ministry. This often is not conflict with the people they are trying to reach, but conflicts with those that make up their ministry team. Again, the maturity needed in this area will vary with the particular ministry that will be done, but it is an important area to look at.
A sixth area is the particular ministry. It would be interesting to see the percentage of people that believe the Lord has called them to minister in some nice place among middle class people as opposed to those called to third world countries among the poor. That is not to say that the Lord does not call people to nice places in economically vibrant communities, but that calling something the Lord’s will can often mask selfish desires. We would like to discern between the two if possible.
A final issue is the group they will be associated with in doing their ministry. There are times when we might agree that the Lord has called an individual to particular ministry, yet also believe that the particular group they had intended to work with would not be within the Lord’s will. There are a whole host of Missions agencies and ministries that we will not work with because of doctrinal differences with them that we believe either compromise the message of the gospel, or would be the source of continual conflict. That discernment might also be based philosophy of ministry or even the integrity of the agency involved. There are some agencies we will not work with because we believe that their philosophy of ministry and practices places the missionary at unnecessary risk without the proper support.
The discernment of the leading of the Holy Spirit is not something that is left to mystical feelings for He will operate consistent with the Scriptures. For that reason we not only pray diligently, but we also ask many questions, check out references and seek as much personal interaction as possible before approving and supporting someone for ministry. Again, these are issues you also need to take to heart in dealing with requests you receive to support someone in some ministry. Are they really pursuing a ministry God has called them to? Are they really gifted, qualified and prepared for that ministry? What are the beliefs, philosophy of ministry and integrity of the group they will associated with?
Barnabas and Saul had already gained the experience and passed the tests in these areas so that the church leaders could be confident that it was the Holy Spirit’s leading to set them apart for a new ministry. Both men had solid testimonies of faith and lives that reflected their beliefs, so much so they had been persecuted for them. Both men had demonstrated their spiritual gifts for a long time. Both men had proven their ability to go to new areas to minister. Both men had proven themselves capable of working as a team and getting along with others. It was obvious by both the present divine revelation and the gifts, skills and experiences these men had already had that they were well prepared for a new ministry of taking the gospel to the Gentile lands.
To go back to the questions at the beginning of the sermon. Who can tell others the gospel? The only qualification is to be true disciple of Jesus Christ. Who can be a take on the responsibilities of leadership within the church? They must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Who can be involved in ministry full time? They must also be called by the Holy Spirit and have that confirmed by godly leaders.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “Spirit” is mentioned. Talk with your parents about the importance of following the Holy Spirit.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What are the qualifications for a person to tell the gospel to someone else? What are the qualifications for someone to become a vocational minister or missionary? What had Barnabas and Saul been doing in Jerusalem (Acts 12:25)? To where were they returning? Who are the men listed in Acts 13 that are prophets and teachers? The Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul for a work to which He had called them – when was Saul first called in Acts? When does Paul say he was first called? What is the significance that they “laid hands on them”? What did they do first? What do these verses teach us about the qualifications for being a missionary? How can you know if someone is a true or false teacher? How can you know if a leader is godly or not? What are the marks of someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit? How should you respond to someone that is self-promoting? What things do you consider before you will give to a missionary? How can you know if someone’s profession of faith in genuine? What characteristics would define spiritual maturity to you? What is the relationship between spiritual gifts and being called to a ministry in missions? What other skills and abilities might a missionary need on the field? Why is it important that missionaries be socially mature? How important is the Missions Agency?
Sermon Notes – February 26, 2006
Qualifications for Ministry – Acts 12:25-13:3
Barnabas & Saul Commissioned (12:25-13:3)
Return to Jerusalem
Set Apart by the Holy Spirit
Ordained and Sent Out
Qualifications for Ministry
Qualifications for GBC Missionaries
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