Why train for gospel ministry now? During the Covid crisis?
By Tom Day, 18 Dec 2020
In my first article I outlined the importance of training for gospel ministry. Training for gospel ministry is so important because it is:
- the pattern of the Christian life,
- an important task with high stakes consequences,
- and good for growth of both the Christian and the church.
But why train now in the Covid crisis? In the face of all the disruption of this year, with social distancing, lockdowns, and the like, it is certainly a challenging time to be training for anything, let alone ministry. However, there are some fundamental and foundational truths to the Christian life which I think challenge our assumptions and which make training for gospel ministry in a time like this just as good as any!
I want to persuade you that now is a great time for training. Certainly, in my own reflections on these it was encouraging and helpful to myself and I trust that you will find them an encouragement as your church continues to seek to train and raise up leaders in the church for the present and future.
- Why wouldn’t you train now?
Yes, the global Coronavirus pandemic is a particular and acute crisis that our world is facing at the moment. To us the pandemic seems world shaking, unique and an interruption of ‘normal’ life, but as C.S. Lewis rightly points out: ‘Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.’ The truth is the world is always full of problems. So why should another thing to add to that list cause us to postpone or cancel training for gospel ministry?
In fact, God uses trials to grow us. In James 1 we are told to ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4). We are to consider trials joy because they test our faith, develop perseverance, and ultimately work to make us mature. This makes it, in some respects, an especially good time to be training for gospel ministry!
Training for ministry is not just about knowing stuff – although knowing stuff is important - it is as much about growth in godliness and character. In Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy – the letters which particularly address Timothy’s leadership as a pastor – godliness and character are at the forefront when considering which people are suitable for ministry. There are large sections devoted, not to the skills and knowledge of the person, but the character and life of the person being considered for a leadership role in the ministry of the local church. Gifting is still a necessary requirement, but it seems that Paul would much rather take an averagely gifted godly pastor than a very talented speaker whose life does not reflect goldy characteristics. So, in many ways, training in a crisis is a great way to grow in godliness as faith is tested and perseverance grows.
2. More equipped leaders and servants of the gospel is exactly what we need now!
If this time of pandemic has shown us anything, it is that the world is more broken than we realised. For many of us this pandemic has been a wake-up to the frustration of creation because of the sinful fallenness of the world. The Bible is clear that sickness, disaster, and brokenness have come into the world because of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. The rejection of God as our Lord has brought his just condemnation and judgement on the world which now lives on as a fractured imitation of the glorious creation it was made to be, as it groans for the day when God restores it (see Romans 8:19-23).
Things like the pandemic reveal to us the problem lurking beneath the surface of our broken world, that the world's biggest problem is not the physical problem, but the spiritual. People are lost in their sinful rebellion against their creator and are destined for destruction without the Lord Jesus’ rescue. Countless souls are sleep-walking on a path to their destruction and needing the hope and message of the gospel to save them. Their only hope of salvation is to hear that message. Therefore, what we need at this time more than anything else, is for people to be trained and sent out into ministry to equip the church to reach the countless millions lost in the darkness without the light of life, the Lord Jesus. More trained and equipped men and women for gospel ministry is exactly what our world needs to bring it the gospel medicine that it so desperately requires.
3. The kingdom is not on pause
God’s mission and plan to build his kingdom is not suspended until the pandemic passes. No! The start of Marks gospel says; ‘Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”’ (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus’ announcement of the arrival of the kingdom meant that there was urgency for people to repent and believe. With the arrival of the Lord Jesus, the kingdom-building project has begun and will be fully completed when he returns to gather his people and restore a new creation. From that point until Jesus returns the kingdom project continues. And since God is sovereign over all of creation, the time of the coronavirus pandemic is not an unexpected intrusion to that plan. In fact, it is part of God’s very kingdom-building plan, perhaps to draw some into that kingdom.
And if the kingdom is not on pause, then the kingdom mission to make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:19-20) is also not on pause. There is still a need for people to hear the gospel, to repent and believe. And the only way that gospel message goes out is as the church shares the message. Again, what an opportunity to be training other leaders to be able to help equip the church to do that. If the kingdom mission is not on pause, neither should kingdom mission training be!
I hope you can see my reasons for continuing to train for gospel ministry, especially in the Covid crisis. The cause of Christ and the gospel means the church needs to train people for ministry, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be able to continue that in my current role as ‘Minister-in-Training’ at Church by the Bay.
I also hope that you find these truths personally encouraging in your Christian life as you see the incredible sovereignty and care of a heavenly Father who holds all situations and trials in his hands. A heavenly Father who promises that even the gates of hell will not prevail against his church and the work of his kingdom (Matthew 16:18). Know that if you are a believer you are part of an amazing kingdom-building project of Christ’s church so please get stuck in and involved in the task of helping train future ministers in the church. This is one of the most important tasks of the church!
 C.S. Lewis, ‘Learning in Wartime’ in The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 49-50.