6 Principles for Loyalty in the Ministry

Lessons from Paul’s Ministry

“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” 2 Timothy 4:9–10a

Some of the final words written by the Apostle Paul under divine inspiration dealt with the subject of loyalty and particularly the loyalty or disloyalty of certain preachers to himself. Second Timothy chapter four speaks of Demas as having forsaken Paul, of Luke as remaining with him in his last days, and of the fact that at his trial, “No man stood with me, but all men forsook me.” Standing with Paul or forsaking him certainly appears as a theme in his final epistle. In the first chapter, he admonished Timothy with these words:“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner.”

His son in the ministry was to stay loyal, not only to the Gospel, but also to his mentor. With sadness, later in chapter one, Paul says, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.”

Their misdeed was turning away from Paul. In the following verses he commends Onesiphorus for coming to him in his prison cell, and for not being, “Ashamed of my chain.” He prays that the Lord will, “grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day,” as a reward for staying loyal to Paul. The chapter concludes with the apostle reminding Timothy (about Onesiphorus), “How many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.”

Timothy is again reminded of the connection between his relationship with Paul and his relationship with the truth the apostle taught. “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” says Second Timothy 3:14.

One of Paul’s last requests before his death was for Timothy to bring his cloak and books and try hard to come before winter. There was a friendship between Paul and Timothy, as well as the loyalty appropriate in a real friendship.

Somewhere along the way, the friendship and appreciation that ought to accompany relationships in the ministry have been lost to many now serving together. Deference, love, and loyalty are surprisingly absent among the members of the church “staff.”

This serious flaw has come upon us with the breakdown of the family and is unquestionably caused by how little those who train Christian workers understand the value of basic loyalty. But loyalty in the ministry should be learned, even if it is learned late.

Here are principles of loyalty that ought to be followed by people in the work of God.

1. When a man has been invited by a pastor to join the paid staff of the church as his assistant, his primary loyalty (other than to the Lord) is to that pastor.

He works for the preacher and only indirectly for the church or any church board. Timothy had a subservient relationship to the man who had invited him to join his evangelistic team. “Him would Paul have to go forth with him,” says Acts 16:3 about Paul’s recruitment of Timothy. This leader/assistant relationship continued to the end of the apostle’s life. There are several examples in First Timothy of Paul telling Timothy what to do. Some of these statements are exhortations that could be applied to anyone, admonishing someone to do the right thing. Others are clearly direct orders to Timothy.

 The whole Bible puts forward the follow-the-leader arrangement as usually ideal, and as how God works among men. The godly submit themselves to individuals. Godly wives are subject to their husbands. The godly child honors and obeys his father and his mother.

One who works for a preacher should seek to please him and meet his needs and expectations. Follow the exhortation to servants given in Titus concerning their dealings with their superiors: “Please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity” (Titus 2:9–10).

You were hired to help the preacher. That’s why you are where you are. Some day you may be the leader, but now you are the follower. God may promote you if you do well as someone’s assistant (remember the stories of Joseph, Joshua, and Timothy).

2. An assistant pastor (or associate evangelist) should support the position, person, and policies of his superior before other people.

Remember that your calling, under God, is to assist the pastor. It is not your calling to criticize him, undermine his leadership, or upstage him. You may know a better way to do things; and when you pastor your own church, you may get a chance to show us your better way, but now your role is subsidiary.

The ideal situation would be for the pastor to open opportunities for the assistant to express his ideas to his overseer. If pastors hold regular meetings with the staff during which co-workers can respectfully present ideas and suggestions for even serious changes, it is a good thing. But these discussions will happen behind closed doors. The idea is to improve the ministry, to put it on the right track according to the leading of the Lord.

A helper doesn’t help by expressing to others his disagreements with the leader. When the Lord let me serve as an assistant to a pastor, I decided that I would publicly support everything he wanted done. The word support does not necessarily mean agree in every case. I hoped that the preacher would let me privately point out mistakes we might be making, but he could count on me to back publicly what he favored.

Every successful assistant pastor follows this policy. If my pastor were to follow a course I could not conscientiously support, I would be honest with him and take steps to leave my post quietly. Of course, there can be exceptions to this policy of leaving quietly. The assistant must not be part of the cover-up of serious wickedness. However the normal stance of a co-laborer is that of a supporter as well as a helper.

A young preacher who has been trained to take a stand for the right should learn to consider humbly whether or not he is in a position ethically to take a particular stand. Is it your place to question openly what kind of toothpaste the pastor uses or whether you think his tie goes with his suit?

You may be discerning enough to have a right opinion on such matters, but you have no right to go public with it. Of course, I am speaking in jest about toothpaste and ties, but the principle applies to more serious issues, too. Don’t stab the preacher in the back.

3. Loyalty is a positive quality and not simply a negative one.

Notice that Paul’s friends are commended for refreshing him, for seeking him out, for ministering to him, and for staying with him or for coming to him in a time of trouble. Being loyal is more than not being disloyal. Of Timothy, Paul wrote in another epistle, “Ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22). Of Titus, Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 9:23 that, “He is my partner and fellowhelper.”

One is not a loyal assistant or a loyal friend simply because he has not acted or spoken disloyally. Loyalty calls for positive support and effort.

4. All preachers should give every other preacher the benefit of the doubt.

In First Timothy chapter five, the ministerial “son” of Paul is told not to receive an accusation against an elder unless the accusation can be proven. Elders were what we usually call pastors in our time. It is amazing how often the grape-vine carries unsubstantiated accusations against preachers. Don’t we know that the Devil has aimed his guns at the men who represent God and the Bible? Why are we so gullible about believing the scuttlebutt when it targets a fellow preacher?

A wise policy is to express doubt and dismay when we first hear some gossip against a pastor or evangelist. Most of the time, if the accusation does not come from an eyewitness or someone else with clear knowledge of the facts, the tale is at least partly false. But in the few cases where the bad news turns out to be at least partly true, you will have acted as one who follows the golden rule, and as one with charity that, “Thinketh no evil” (First Corinthians 13:5).

Preachers should be loyal to their calling. There are crooks, whoremongers, liars, and dictators among the clergy, but a far smaller number by percentage of preachers is guilty of this kind of hypocrisy than of other professions. Stand by your preacher friends unless it becomes apparent that they have fallen, and then stand by them to bring them back to God.

5. Any preacher should show grateful respect for every preacher who helped and trained him in his early years.

We owe people a great deal. We should be very grateful to our parents, our teachers, our friends, and to many others who have contributed to our lives.

Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow.” The preacher that led us to Christ and that led us by word and example to follow Christ in full dedication ought to have our loyal gratitude. How much we owe to the preachers who mentored us and counseled us and taught us the Bible!

It is righteous gratitude that gives a preacher loyalty to the older preachers God has used in his life. The time may come when we disagree with those who trained us on some important matter, and it may occur that we have to take a stand on the other side of an issue in opposition to a man who nurtured us in the ministry, but we should maintain a degree of loyalty to him.

There are things others may say about the man, but not the one who is his son in the ministry. There ought to be obvious pain in the heart of a preacher when he has to express disagreement with the direction his spiritual father has taken. The latter years of preachers who have invested their lives in the ministries of younger men should be blessed with repeated expressions of gratitude even from those who think they strayed in some way.

Loyalty is not just for the time when you draw a salary from his church. It lasts throughout life in the bosom of the man who loves God and loves God’s man.

6. Healthy fellowship between preachers is always based upon the truth.

First and Second Timothy teach ministerial loyalty. It is not only the Lord of which Timothy ought not be ashamed, but also of His prisoner, the apostle with whom he had been associated for so long (2 Timothy 1:8). It was not only loving this present world of which Demas was guilty, but also of forsaking Paul (2 Timothy 4:10).

The spiritual man is loyal in the proper sense of loyalty. But there is also an inappropriate, perverted kind of loyalty that is unspiritual. When the Corinthian Christians divided the church with such slogans as, “I am of Paul” and “I am Apollos” they were being carnal.

Carnal loyalty is purely human, based on old friendships, similar tastes and style, mutual college or seminary experiences, or personal appreciation. The right kind of loyalty is based on the same thing that enables healthy Christian cooperation: agreement on the truth.

When fellowship calls for somebody to give up or back up on some conviction in the interest of maintaining harmony in the group, this sort of fellowship tends to corrupt the men involved in it.

Healthy cooperation is based on mutually received truths. When organizations of preachers suffer from doctrinal disagreement, sometimes it would be better for the thing to split and for the preachers to work more closely and more often with men who agree with them. Of course, believers need to learn how to receive those who disagree with them (according to the wonderful teaching in Romans 14), but the healthiest interaction we have with other preachers is based on and not in spite of the truth.

This principle shapes all aspects of correct loyalty. I may find myself loyal to some brother because of his investment in my life, but at the same time careful not to endorse where he is clearly wrong. I will be loyal to those over me in the ministry, while still faithful to the truth I see in God’s Word. But I may not be able to stay in a position if being faithful to the truth while serving there becomes increasingly difficult. Yet before and after I leave, I will not harm the good being done by hurting that predominantly scriptural ministry.

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