Monday, August 29, 2011

The Key to Success in Ministry?

Proposition: Everything you need to know to succeed in ministry—everything you need to be excellent at preaching the gospel, planting churches, pastoring churches, or whatever—is contained fully in the Bible. If you were to read no other book, you would be at no disadvantage in any ministry enterprise.



Dave Miller said...

I will take it one step further. The more we rely on other books and ministry resources, perhaps the LESS effective we become in the things you mentioned.

The more we form our theology from reading theologians instead of scripture, the less biblical we become.

The more we turn to ministry experts instead of scriptures, the more we rely on history and tradition instead of exegesis, the less effective we become.

Bart Barber said...

Well, I didn't want to go quite that far, because I might want to write a book someday. ;-)

Dave Miller said...

I will buy it, or at least review an advance copy.

Hint. Hint.

Of course, I'm still working through Aaron's work on James Dunn.

Christiane said...

Hi Bart,

I think St. Ambrose might have agreed with you. The sacred Scriptures provide light for those who would call others to Christ:

“For he who endeavours to amend the faults of human weakness ought to bear this very weakness on his own shoulders, let it weigh upon himself, not cast it off.

For we read that the Shepherd in the Gospel Luke 15:5 carried the weary sheep, and did not cast it off.

And Solomon says: “Be not overmuch righteous;” Ecclesiastes 7:17 for restraint should temper righteousness.

For how shall he offer himself to you for healing whom you despise, who thinks that he will be an object of contempt, not of compassion, to his physician?

Therefore had the Lord Jesus compassion upon us in order to call us to Himself, not frighten us away.

He came in meekness, He came in humility, and so He said:
“Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Matthew 11:28

So, then, the Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off, and fitly chose such disciples as should be interpreters of the Lord’s will, as should gather together and not drive away the people of God.

Whence it is clear that they are not to be counted among the disciples of Christ, who think that harsh and proud opinions should be followed rather than such as are gentle and meek; persons who, while they themselves seek God’s mercy, deny it to others. . . "
(St. Ambrose)

David R. Brumbelow said...

The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant. It is our supreme rule of faith and practice. We should not believe or practice anything that goes against Scripture.

But Scripture does not go into all details. We gain greatly by reading the great pastors, missionaries, evangelists, theologians and considering their perspectives. Sometimes we need to read views of how the Bible should be applied in various situations.
David R. Brumbelow

Bart Barber said...

Indeed, this is a difficult and challenging proposition.

1. To deny it is, well, something that just feels wrong to do.

2. To affirm it is to wonder why I have spent so much (in money and in time) on all of these books in my office.

I find that other books are helpful inasmuch as (a) good books teach us how to read the Bible well, since we do not always begin our Christian walk very adept at this enterprise, (b) good books can cause us to read portions of the Bible that we might otherwise skip, and (c) good books might give us the insights of someone who reads the Bible and understands it better than I do.

In each of these cases, the value of reading the book is determined by the way that it makes me read the Bible more/better. I think there's some validity to that.

But occasionally I encounter people who say that such-and-such leadership book or principle is essential for good ministry. Some missiologists have developed entire vocabularies, inscrutable to the rest of the world, which seem to me sometimes to elevate to the level of necessity or indispensability strategies not discernible (at least not easily discernible) in the Bible.

I value reading and study, I really do. But deep within me (perhaps it is my rural, Arkansas roots) I wonder whether it all isn't pretty simple in nature and tied to one critical book.

Bart Barber said...

And so, there was a time a few years back when I was ready to punch in the nose the next person coming at me with a seminar on Who Moved My Cheese?.

Of course, I didn't, because the Bible teaches me that elders are not to be pugnacious. ;-)

David R. Brumbelow said...

You'll change your view when your book comes out :-).

By the way, when are you going to write the book on inerrancy I told you to write?

But I do see your point, and you have a valid one. Some preachers have not been to the right seminars and do not use the "right" terminology, yet God continues to use them.
David R. Brumbelow

Anonymous said...

To affirm this would, of course, raise the question of why we preach at all. If we need no other books to help us read the scriptures and if theologians offer is nothing, then do we need preachers to proclaim the word? If this proposition is correct, then we should, without saying a word, just place a Bible into the hands of every person that we meet and walk away.

I seriously doubt that St. Ambrose would have agreed with the proposition since he wrote many books to help others understand the scriptures and the God they declare.


Bart Barber said...

Jason, I think the proposition allows for the possibility that there might be something helpful to know that doesn't rise to the level of need. The "disadvantage" language might get into the way of that, however.

Bart Barber said...


I would also suggest that the subject of the verb "read" might as easily be "we" as it could be "I." When the congregation gathers and in the enterprise of good biblical preaching, we read the Bible together for comprehension.

Baptist Theologian said...

Yes, everything we need for success in ministry is found in Scripture, and we read Scripture best when we read it together, which is why I care to know how it has been interpreted throughout Christian history.

Christiane said...


At the time Ambrose wrote that piece, he was fighting against the Novatian heresy.

From what I have been able to understand so far, the Novatians objected to lapsed Christians being re-admitted to Communion . . .

apparently, during a time of fierce persecution of the Church, these 'lapsed Christians' had denied their faith and some had even turned other Christians in to the persecutors. At the end of the persecution (when all was safe), these 'lapsed' Christians were remorseful and sought to come back to Communion.

The Novatians did not want for them to be re-admitted, and Ambrose pointed towards the sacred Scriptures in his argument against the Novatians.

Sorry not to have given the background, which may help you to see how an appeal to sacred Scripture can focus ministers back on to the ways of Our Lord with sinners, when He was among us.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bart,

I'm not sure that the proposition does allow for your claim: 'I think the proposition allows for the possibility that there might be something helpful to know that doesn't rise to the level of need', (August 29, 2011 2:25 PM) when it states 'everything you need to know . . . .' This is a comprehensive claim.

However, I would agree with your criticism of those who identify certain books or methods as 'essential' (August 29, 2011 1:59 PM). Most of this is indeed helpful, but much of it also belongs to fads that come and go.

I'm not sure that substituting the 'we' for 'I' resolves the problem. This can easily result in the blind leading the blind.

The comment by Baptist Theologian captures the issue well.


Bart Barber said...

So, pushing the issue forward a bit here, Jason, in what was were, say, Paul, Peter, and Timothy at a disadvantage to be a successful minister as compared to Jason and Bart? Augustine as compared to BaptistTheologian?

Bart Barber said...

Indeed, somehow Tertullian became Tertullian without ever having read Tertullian. ;-)

Bart Barber said...

And perhaps it is fitting that I have mentioned Tertullian. Perhaps I am asking nothing more than what Athens has to do with Jerusalem. That seems to be the line of discussion that has ensued.

And yet, I am targeting less the THINKING of Christians than I am targeting the DOING of Christian ministers. The proposition references "success in ministry" rather than "intelligence." In order to be effective and successful as a minister, is everything I need present in the Bible? I suspect that it is.

Tim G said...

and the very Bible says we are to be "doers of the word..."
Nice post and great thought!

Anonymous said...

All those that you mentioned did read others. Paul has familiarity with Greco-Roman ideas, and knows how to construct arguments. He didn't learn this from the Bible. He learned this as a Pharisee and possibly in whatever form of education he received in Tarsus.

Peter learned from Jesus for three years. Scripture alone was not sufficent for his training; he needed someone to help him understand it and to explain to him what things like 'kingdom of God' mean.

Indeed, does not scripture itself recognise the need for others when it exhorts some to be teachers? If we view the books that we read as 'teachers', then they become an important part in the process of forming each of us into better ministers.

The moment we stop reading others, then we will simply use scripture to promote our own ideas and our own forms of ministry. This is evident in the many 'Christian' cults that exist.

But, perhaps, I have taken the proposition beyond what you initially intended. If I have done so, then it is partly in response to the ideas expressed in Dave Miller's first comment.


Anonymous said...

I agree, everything we need for life and ministry is contained in Scripture, all of which is God-breathed and without error.

With regard to life and ministry, I think we would do well to remember that Scripture compels us to both seek wise counsel from others (Proverbs) and to be wise counsel to others (Paul to Timothy, "teach these things"). Do we need "books," per se? No. Do we need other Christians? Yes. That is why I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Yarnell's sentiments.

Chris Bonts

Bart Barber said...


Whatever I have written that provides cover for reading the Bible WRONGLY, is a bit of prose that I humble retract. I do think that my proposition goes not quite so far. I'd stand behind this:

1. In all resources discovered from myriad sources (books, films, front-porch chats), the ultimate measure of their helpfulness or hurtfulness is their conformity to the message of scripture. We avoid cults by measuring truth claims against the Bible.

2. In church work one might certainly employ bits of information not found in the Bible (e.g., how to position microphones and loudspeakers so as to avoid feedback). There is nothing wrong with using such information, and it might certainly prove to be helpful.

3. And yet, one can successfully share the gospel with no loudspeakers or microphones at all (and many have done just that down through the years). This kind of information, therefore, is not essential to ministerial success. All things needed for ministerial success are in the Bible, because…

4. It is among the purposes of God in giving us the Bible to equip Christians for the ministry of the churches. This is a purpose that is accomplished in the Bible.

5. We, sinners that we are, do not always read the Bible well. The help of others (fellow church members, saints of ages past, etc.) is valuable frequently in prompting us to read and to read better what the Bible teaches about succeeding in ministry.

6. People can be saved just by reading the Bible, and many have been. Preaching and teaching are nevertheless important because (a) the Bible commands them and therefore among the things that the Bible teaches with regard to success in ministry is that we must have preaching—to separate these from my proposition is absurd (and I guess one might argue that this makes my proposition absurd and self-referentially inconsistent!), (b) many lost people and immature Christians will not read the Bible and must have their attention drawn to it through preaching, and (c) preaching is only good preaching to the degree that it brings people to the teachings of the Bible.

Bob Cleveland said...

To the extent that the Pastor is able to comprehend all of scripture fully, and all at one time, He'd need no other book. However, lacking that, I think it's wise to do as my Dad taught me: "Use all the brains you have ... and all you can borrow."

Anonymous said...

Bart, why don't you have your sermons online for everyone to benefit?

Anonymous said...

2 Timothy 4:13... "The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments."

Paul said especially bring the parchments... but also the books. I agree with your proposition, reading other books is not necessary for success in the ministry and one would not be at no disadvantage. However, I cannot make the leap that Dave Miller does and say that reading other books would perhaps make one LESS effective. I believe one would be hard pressed to make the case that reading other books cannot be both useful and helpful. As Gill notes concerning the above verse... "besides the Hebrew Pentateuch: the apostle was a great reader of books, of various sorts, both Gentile and Jewish, as appears by his citations out of the Heathen poets, and his acquaintance with Jewish records."

When reading other books we should, as my Pastor used to say... "Eat the chicken and spit out the bones." Of course, the Bible is all meat and it is the standard by which we should judge other books.

Bart Barber said...


1. It's not like there's overwhelming public demand in Tashkent to hear my sermon from Sunday. ;-)

2. Right now, the only part of our campus that isn't wired into our network backbone is our old building—the one in which I preach every Sunday. So, putting the sermons on the Internet would require carrying physical media from over there to a computer over here in the office complex and then doing the work of uploading it.

3. And we really don't have anyone to do the work of uploading it. So it falls on me. So I've done it a couple of times, but it's low-priority (see item #1).

4. I'm not doing anything with my preaching that you probably aren't getting in your home church. I'm not a "rock star" preacher; I'm just an undershepherd trying to feed this little flock.

5. What with FCC Petition 2493 hanging over all of our heads, why bother? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of the percentage of SBC church starts that do not have the word Baptist in their name?