Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

The Authentic Preacher-Leader

1 Corinthians 4:1-6

Teaching t05398


Do you want a recipe for disaster at the workplace? Make sure people are confused about the role of a key worker—his job description, who he reports to, and whose evaluation matters most. You'll have a mess on your hands in no time!

One of the biggest reasons for disaster in a church is confusion about the role of the preacher-leader. Unless those who play this role and the others in the church both have a biblical understanding about what their role should be and how they should be evaluated, there will be disorder, disunity and ineffectiveness.

The Corinthians were confused about the role of the preacher-leaders that worked among them (including Paul and Apollos), and this confusion was causing serious problems in the church. Using himself as the example, Paul in this passage explains the role of the authentic preacher-leader—his job-description, whose job-evaluation matters most to them, and how they can benefit from his ministry.

Their job description (vs 1-2)

Read vs 1-2. Paul uses two metaphors which were familiar to the Corinthians to describe the job of the preacher-leader.

SERVANT ("under-rower"): galley-slave of Roman war-ships who must watch the captain and instantly obey [1] >> SPARTACUS

This metaphor emphasizes the fact that Christian leader-preachers are under the direct authority of Jesus Christ in their work. They are to follow his orders and his orders only.

STEWARD ("housekeeper"): the manager-slave of a wealthy person's estate who distributes needed care to the owner's other slaves. [2] Airline stewards or stewardesses serve the passengers according to the directions of the pilot. They have been entrusted with valuable information and commodities which they are responsible to dispense.

This metaphor repeats the idea of being directly and solely under the authority of Christ, but emphasizes their primary role as dispensing something valuable from Christ to his people.

What do they distribute? The "mysteries of God"—the truths of God revealed in his written Word and nowhere else (especially the New Testament): what God is really like, what our real dilemma with him is, who Jesus is, how his death and resurrection provide forgiveness when we humbly put our trust in him, and how his indwelling through the Holy Spirit enables those who receive Christ to know God personally and provides them with power to live life as he designed it. This is the great deposit of truth revealed to us (GOSPEL HERE).

Of course, every Christian has the privilege and responsibility to communicate God's mystery to others (1 Pet. 2:9; 3:15). But God has gifted and called some to do this in a leadership role and as their primary ministry. And they are required by him to be faithful/trustworthy in carrying out this responsibility.

This is what God has called me (and others in this church) to do. Through these meetings, through classes, through what I write, and through other means, my primary responsibility is to consistently communicate the riches of the gospel according to my understanding of how Christ wants me to do this.

And because this is my job-description, I do not fit into the traditional role of the "pastor." This is why I usually say "no" to people who ask me to do hospital visitations. This is why I do very few weddings and funerals. This is why I am usually not available for pastoral counsel (spontaneous or scheduled). It's not that we view these matters as unimportant. We have trained and deployed many people in the church to fulfill these ministries, but I don't feel responsible to do them because I must be faithful to what Christ has called me to do—preach and teach his Word. Through the years, many have expressed surprise and disappointment that we refuse to play this role, but we won't do it because then we couldn't fulfill this ministry.

Having explained the preacher-leader's job description, Paul now explains their job evaluation . . . 

Their job evaluation (vs 3-5)

Paul, like every preacher/leader, faced several actual sources of evaluation. But Paul which evaluation mattered and which ones to ignore. He mentions four such job-evaluations in vs 3-5.

CHURCH MEMBERS (vs 3a): Preacher-leaders are always being evaluated by the people who receive their ministry. While this can be a valuable source of feed-back, how a preacher-leader views and responds to their evaluation has huge implications for the health of the church.

In many churches, the church or the church board views the pastor as their employee and their evaluation of his job as the most important. Some are very up front about this (STEDMAN'S STORY OF YOUNG PASTOR: "This is our church and we expect you to do and teach what we want you to, not what you think you ought to do.") Others are more devious (PASTOR'S "LOCUS OF HOSTILE POWER:" "I want you out, I'm trying to get you out—and I'll deny I ever had this conversation with you.")

Paul emphatically rejects this arrangement (read vs 3a). His language is amazing blunt: "I know you're evaluating me and I know what your evaluation is—and I want you to know I don't think it's very significant." He does not say this because he is arrogant, or because he is a tyrant. He says it humbly but he means every word of it.

The preacher-leader is not the property of the congregation! They do not set the agenda for him! His role is not to serve the congregation, but to fulfill his role as a servant/steward of Christ by teaching them the mysteries of God. You cannot be an effective preacher-leader unless you serve Christ rather than the people you're leading.

Those who view the church as their employer usually leave because they wear out, or become what Paul calls "ear-ticklers"—those who are adept at telling people what they want to hear instead of what God says. This is a betrayal of the preacher-leader's responsibility to Christ as a steward.

SOCIETY (vs 3b): " . . . or any other human court" refers to society's job evaluation. This is another powerful voice with which the preacher-leader must reckon.

On the one hand, he must understand society and how to communicate to people in that society. Paul was acutely sensitive to the societies in which he worked, and he was a master at communicating the gospel to that culture (more on this in chapter 9). On the other hand, he never looked to society's response to determine his success or effectiveness, or he will betray his master.

Today we hear much of the "market-driven" church and "market-driven" preaching and leadership. The idea is not just that the preacher-leader should study those in his community so he can learn to effectively communicate the gospel to them. In many cases, it is that he should tailor his product (the content of his communication) to what the consumer wants. But if we accept society's identification of their deepest problems, if we try to dress society's answers up in Christian and biblical language, we have sold out our responsibility to Christ in order to curry the fickle favor of our culture.

For example, many in our society have erroneously bought into the idea that material wealth rather than material sacrifice and generosity, and positive self-esteem rather than humility before God is the key to a healthy life, that people are more victims and addicts who need compensation and therapy more than responsible sinners against God who need his forgiveness. And how do many preacher-teachers respond? By dishing this ideology up in sermons and books. Book marketers tell us that "anything with `pain' or `addiction' or `inner healing' or `self-esteem' sells." So what do Christian spokesmen write??

Christ's stewards are responsible to help his people to maturity as per Eph. 4:14, which means teaching the "whole counsel of God" and evaluating and critiquing society by God's Word, not changing God's message to fit the culture!!! This is why we stick with a NORMAL DIET OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING (w/ occasional topical—some of which expose the culture like Den's series).

SELF (vs 3c,4a): All preacher-teachers analyze their own performance. It is impossible not to do this. But Paul says (read vs 3c). What does he mean by this?

Paul prized a "good conscience"—the knowledge that he was not in revolt against Christ's authority in his life. That's why he says vs 4a. We should all do this (see 2 Cor. 13:5 for salvation; 1 Cor. 11:28,31 for sanctification). But he realizes that his own verdict on the success of his ministry is not the one that ultimately counts. Why is this?

Because I can't see the big picture/long view or what's happening in people's hearts, I sometimes think I'm succeeding when I'm not, and I sometimes think I'm failing when I'm succeeding. My emotions also fluctuate and affect my evaluation. I can't help but evaluate how I'm doing, but my main focus should be to keep communicating Christ's message to the best of my ability and trusting him for the results.

CHRIST'S (read vs 4b-5b): Here is the job evaluation that counts. Paul speaks of two ways Christ evaluates the preacher-leader.

THIS LIFE (vs 4b): conviction, correction, affirmation through Word, prayerful reflection, through others, etc.

NEXT LIFE (vs 5b): Christ will walk me through my whole ministry for him and give his full evaluation of it. I'm sure I'll be surprised to some extent (BOTH WAYS). This is sobering, but not frightening if you understand grace and stay responsive to his present evaluation.

How to benefit from their ministry (vs 5,6)

Paul doesn't say this to "put them in their place" as a power-trip. He says it "for your sakes." You will profit most from preacher-leaders when you understand these things and allow them to play their roles freely (cf. Heb. 13:17b). To that end, Paul gives them two warnings.

Judge their behavior and doctrine, but don't judge their motives.

You should judge morality and doctrine. You have been given God's Word for this purpose, and you are commanded to evaluate the moral behavior and doctrinal content of all people, but especially those who claim to speak for Christ (Matt. 7; 1 Jn. 4:1ff.; 1 Tim. 5:19,20; Titus 1:9). Failure to do this is inexcusable (SWAGGART; HINN).

But, given that the preacher-leader conforms to the biblical requirements in morality and doctrine, you should not judge his motives. To do this is to "go beyond what is written." They must make difficult decisions about what and when and how to communicate. Give them the benefit of the doubt in these decisions, and you will benefit from their ministry.

Promote unity instead of rivalry between them. Churches are split all the time over this issue. Members choose their favorite and flatter him and subtly vilify the other leader(s). Often the leaders get puffed up by such flattery and wax suspicious of their fellow-workers.

Satan works through this kind of attitude to try to divide leaders who should work together. Countless people have done this with Dennis and me, and also to other leaders in this church.

Instead, be grateful you have such a provision. Listen to each as God's steward and receive from them what God wants to give you.


[1] " . . . the lowest deck of a war galley was made of single rows of benches on both sides of the ship where the rowers sat. Then on a little deck raised up above them all so that each rower could see him was the captain of the ship. It was the rowers task to do what he said. If he wanted the ship to move then they were row; if he wanted them to stop they had to stop instantly. Their whole business was to obey his orders." Ray Stedman, Expository Studies in 1 Corinthians: The Deep Things of God (Waco: Word Books, 1981), p. 88.

[2] "The steward (oikonomos) was the major domo. He was in charge of the whole administration or the estate; he controlled the household staff; he issued the supplies; but, however much he controlled the household staff, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned." William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 36.