Paul Clarke, Bishop's Stortford, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
This third article in this series on stewardship and accountability now considers the spiritual principles and specific accountabilities that apply in the service of God, in respect of relationships with others.
Although purely pioneer work may at times require a more individualistic approach, service for God, whether locally or overseas, inevitably means working alongside others. This may be in co-operation with, and under the guidance of the elders of a local church, as well as in partnership with other believers. Such service brings a responsibility to submit to God-given authority, to display Christ-like humility and grace towards fellow workers and to commend the unity of the gospel to unbelievers among whom we serve.
In exercising God-given gifts, our accountability is first and foremost to the Lord Jesus who equips and directs. However, it is important that the reality of our ultimate accountability to Him is not used as an excuse for self-assertion, independence of action, or pride, in an unwillingness to submit to others who may have a different view of our calling!
Working relationships in the service of God, should be characterized by:
- Co-operation – There is little scriptural evidence for 'solo' activity, as we are normally called to serve God with others, whether in the context of a local church or as part of a missionary team. W. E. Vine made a penetrating comment when he wrote 'there is a benefit in the exercise of submitting to another's judgement, and not being in a position where one has it all one's own way. The discipline derived from being subject one to another provides an antidote to self-assertiveness. It is a counter-active against the domineering spirit, against lording it over those entrusted to us. To such a tendency a missionary (gospel worker) labouring alone is especially liable'.1
- Complementation – No one person has all of God's gifts, however talented. Our service should therefore complement the work of others and their service should complement ours.
- Mutual respect – Pride, self-will or plain stubbornness are not characteristics that enhance relationships at any level. We must respect another's conscience and be careful that insensitivity on our part does not wound another believer or fellow worker, 1 Cor. 8. 12.
- Mutual responsibility – All service takes place under the direction of the 'Lord of the Harvest' and it is 'His harvest'. To quote the apostle Paul, we are 'workers together with God' and should 'strive together for the faith of the gospel’.2
Principles that apply in respect of working with others can be illustrated from the following examples:
The Body of Christ – In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of a human body to show we are interdependent with other believers, and that effective functioning of the body demands that all parts work together harmoniously. None of us exists in isolation and we should not work in glorious isolation or independence. We all have a responsibility to serve God and it is to mutual profit.
The Disciples – Although there have been those servants of God who have laboured alone and been blessed, the prototype for missionary activity was established when the Lord Jesus commissioned His disciples and sent them out in pairs.3 The intention was to encourage and support one another, each one's ministry complementing the other.
The Apostles – There is little support in the New Testament for the ‘lone ranger missionary’ and no support at all for anyone being a law unto themselves. Paul, in his missionary endeavours, worked in company and fellowship with others. It should be noted that:
- his calling from God was confirmed by others who knew him well.4
- the church at Antioch publicly recognized his calling and commended him and Barnabas to the work of God.
- having completed the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to report on what God had done and then spent some time with the commending church at Antioch.5 A commended worker is not a 'free agent' with no responsibility or accountability to the com-mending church. The missionary or gospel worker works in partnership with the commending church, which should pray for and support them. They have therefore a responsibility to give account as appropriate.
- Paul's activities involved other workers and this emphasizes the need for co-operation and unity. In addition to Barnabas, Timothy and Silas, Paul's letters acknowledge the work of many others who also travelled with him. The number has been estimated in excess of twenty people.
CHALLENGE Are my relationships with other believers and workers marked by harmony, peace and love? Do I work effectively with others for the glory of God, or am I pursuing my own agenda?
Specific Accountabilities – Serving God is an essential activity for all believers.6 This will require us to harmonize the two biblical principles of autonomy and accountability by living in obedience to the authority of Christ and in harmony and love with fellow believers. This may mean submitting our plans to the spiritual insight of godly elders, as well as consulting and communicating with fellow workers and supporters so that tensions and conflicts do not mar the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Although our primary accounta-bility is to Christ, important secondary accountabilities include:
The commending church – It is vital that those considering serving God in a wider context in this country or overseas receive the wholehearted commendation and support of their local church. This will not only confirm an individual's own calling but also ensure the prayers and support of the believers at home while they are away. Commended workers will be keenly aware of their accountability to their com-mending churches and should from time to time review their work, talk through their difficulties and share their continuing vision and aspirations. This would be a private and confidential meeting with the elders of the commending church and should take place in addition to publicly reporting back to the church about their work.7
Elders of the commending church – These must be a spiritual resource for help, counsel and support. Even the apostle Paul took counsel and advice in the delicate matter of the gospel going to the Gentiles; the outcome of this discussion and prayer being harmony and unity in the work of God.8
Those who support – Diligence must be given to communicating with those who support the work of God with their prayers and gifts. Paul's letter to the Philippians is a letter written to thank believers for their support of him. Gifts should be acknowledged promptly. Those who pray and give should be informed intelligently about the work of the Lord.
Sometimes workers may be in receipt of special, and perhaps substantial gifts, to meet particular needs, e.g., special projects or local disasters. Service groups, such as Echoes of Service, may often be in a position to send gifts for special purposes, e.g., Bibles, literature production, medical work, etc., and will be entitled to an account as to how the monies have been used. In many instances, details of how designated funds have been used are required for Charity Commission reporting.
It is most important that in the matter of finance, the utmost diligence and care are shown so that the testimony of God is in no way dishonoured.
Colleagues in the work of God – Personal relationships between workers is always a sensitive issue and evangelists and missionaries are not immune from difficulties in this area. Wherever possible, it is important to know that the workers resident in the country of intended service are willing to extend a welcome to those joining them. Harmony and unity in the work of God are essential to blessing and therefore both current and new workers have a responsibility to work together in a way that glorifies God. Tact, patience and understanding will always be needed and all parties should work hard at encouraging and supporting each other. Any breakdown in relationships needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Senior workers should set a good example and not be overbearing or authoritarian. They should encourage younger workers and make every effort to delegate responsibilities to allow new workers to develop. Younger or new workers should respect those who have laboured for many years and, even where it may be difficult, work with, and not against, those who may have spent years building up a work. Humility, grace and love are essential qualities for all to develop and a sensitive recognition of gifts and abilities that God has given will further enhance the relationship.
Where we are working closely with colleagues in the work of the gospel, there should be a spirit of accountability to each other, with a willingness to learn from the counsel and example of others.
The local church in the country of service - How workers respond to local leaders or elders will often determine the character of the work that is being built up. In addition to being servants of Jesus Christ, missionaries are also servants of the church. The character of their lives and the quality of their service should therefore commend the testimony of the local church.
Working in conjunction with the local church may at times be difficult, particularly when the missionary may have planted the church. Nevertheless, humility and a ‘servant’ attitude will usually enable the most difficult of circumstances to be borne, and, hopefully, resolved.
Governments, home and overseas – As citizens of both the home and host country, good relations need to be maintained with both. The law must be obeyed, taxes paid and involve-ment in politics with criticism of the country of service avoided. Confession of Christ demands a high sense of responsibility to the country of service, and nothing should be done which would dishonour the name of Christ, hinder the work of God, or make things difficult for national believers.
CHALLENGE Do I reflect in my service Christ-like submission? Does my local church agree with my exercise and service activity? Does my relationship with my fellow workers, national believers and supporting agencies enhance the testimony of Jesus Christ?
To accept the authority and service of the Lord Jesus Christ is to accept responsibilities that will one day be reviewed at the judgement seat of Christ. Our lives are no longer our own to be lived for our own ends and pleasures; the glory of God should now be our passion and goal. If we recognize that God has entrusted our lives, abilities and possessions to us as to stewards or trustees, then we will give ourselves wholeheartedly to God and His service.
In His infinite wisdom, God has also placed us in spheres of service where we can demonstrate Christ-like graces. We recognize that our primary allegiance is to God, but we also hold His gifts and blessings as stewards to further His work in harmony, unity and fellowship with others. The character of such service will be rewarded in a coming day.
In all our service, activity and work with others, the words of the apostle should ring in our ears – 'whatever you do, do all to the glory of God'.9
This series of three articles examining the principles of Stewardship and Accountability is available in a booklet form from Echoes of Service, 1 Widcombe Crescent, Bath BA2 6AQ, England.
1. W E Vine. Divine Plan of Missions.
2. 2 Cor. 6. 1; Phil. 1. 27.
3. Mark 6. 7.
4. Acts 13. 1-4.
5. Acts 15. 27-28.
6. 1 Cor. 12. 4-7.
7. Acts 14. 26-27.
8. Acts 15.
9. 1 Cor. 10. 31.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Clarke Following senior executive roles within the Lloyds TSB Group, Paul took early retairement in 1998 to devote more time to teaching and pastoral responsibilies within his local church. He has been an Editor of Service since 1998.