Brothers, the Ministry Is Supernatural

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It’s been ten years since the publication of the book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Nothing has happened in the last ten years to make me think this book is less needed. In fact, instead of going away, the pressure to “professionalize” the pastorate has morphed and strengthened.

Among younger pastors, the talk is less about therapeutic and managerial professionalization, and more about communication or contextualization. The language of “professionalization” is seldom used in these regards, but there is quiet pressure felt by many pastors: Be as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians.

The New Professionalism

This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the power offices of the upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA, but by being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.

If this can be called professionalism, what does it have in common with the older version? Everything that matters. The way I tried to get at the problem ten years ago was to ask some questions. Let me expand that list. Only this time think old and new professionalism.

  • Is there professional praying?
  • Professional trusting in God’s promises?
  • Professional weeping over souls?
  • Professional musing on the depths of revelation?
  • Professional rejoicing in the truth?
  • Professional praising God’s name?
  • Professional treasuring the riches of Christ?
  • Professional walking by the Spirit?
  • Professional exercise of spiritual gifts?
  • Professional dealing with demons?
  • Professional pleading with backsliders?
  • Professional perseverance in a hard marriage?
  • Professional playing with children?
  • Professional courage in the face of persecution?
  • Professional patience with everyone?

These are not marginal activities in the pastoral life. They are vital.

The Heart of Ministry

Why do we choke on the word “professional” in these connections? Because professionalization carries the connotation of an education, a set of skills, and a set of guild-defined standards which are possible without faith in Jesus or the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Professionalism does not usually carry the connotation of being supernatural. But the heart of ministry is supernatural.

There is a professional way to crucify. But there is no professional way to be crucified. There were professionals on Golgotha. They were experts in torture. But Jesus was not one of them. For Paul, the ministry was more like being crucified than crucifying.

“I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31). “For the sake of Christ I am content with weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:10). “He was crucified in weakness . . . we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4). “We are the aroma of Christ . . . a fragrance from death to death . . . a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Pastors say, “Who is sufficient for these things!” And then they look to God. Professionals say, “Education and training and savvy are sufficient.” And then they look to experts.

Leaning on God for Effect

Pastors do not look to their eloquence for the supernatural fruit they long for. “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5). Whatever gifts and eloquence a pastor may have, whatever preparations he makes, he looks away from them all to God for every spiritual effect.

He knows what he is after. And he knows that no human effort and no human excellence can bring it about. He wants people to be raised from the dead (Ephesians 2:5). He wants people to be set free from lifelong bondage (2 Timothy 2:25–26). He wants camels to pass through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:25–27). Therefore, at every turn, he seeks to “serve by the strength that God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11). 

The goals are supernatural, and the means are supernatural. Conversions and conformity to Christ are the supernatural fruit of serving in the supernatural strength of Christ. Only Christ can do this. Ministry is discovering how to live happily in the all-accomplishing hands of the risen Christ.

This is a plea for pastors to put the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the power of Christ-exalting truth, and the purity of holy living above the pragmatic considerations of organization, and above our concern with compelling style. And if this sounds like a prescription for careless, sloppy, distracting ministry, tune in next time for “Brothers, Supernatural Does Not Mean Stupid.”

Brothers, the ministry is supernatural.

John Piper is author of the newly revised and expanded Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.

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