How do you evaluate Christian ministers? People use all kinds of criteria to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective. I once saw an article called “The 50 Most Influential Christians.” There were some faithful ministers and wonderful Christians on the list; but the list also included some of the premier peddlers of the church growth philosophy, some extreme charismatics, and two high-level Roman Catholics. In fact, an anti-trinitarian modalist was at the top of the list.

The people who published that article based their selections on the “meaningful” input of “Christians across America and around the world.” That's disturbing on a number of levels, but especially because it represents a growing confusion about Christianity and Christian leadership. When people who turn the church into a mall, confuse the nature of Jesus and the Godhead, and anathematize the true gospel are voted onto a list of influential Christians, evangelicalism is in trouble. Hard times are ahead because so few are able to discern the difference between true and false servants of Christ.

If we return to the Word of God, we can find our way out of the cultural confusion and into the clarity of the mind of God. First Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the nature and marks of God's true ministers. It's a look at how God evaluates His ministers. You won't find Paul talking about popularity, personality, degrees, and numbers playing a role in the Lord's perspective-they should therefore play no role in ours. What you will find is radically different from much of what we see in the visible church today.

The Identity of the Minister


Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God (v. 1).

Servants of Christ
Paul thought of himself, first of all, as a “servant of Christ”-Jesus Christ, not men, was his Lord. In everything he was subordinate and subject to Christ, and that Master set the parameters of his obedience. Paul understood that God did not call him to be creative but obedient, not innovative but faithful. For Paul, success in ministry depended upon pleasing Christ. “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

Stewards of God's Mysteries
Paul also understood that his work in service to Christ was that of a steward of divine mysteries. A mystery in the New Testament is not something mysterious or mystical; it's a truth that was previously hidden but is now widely known by divine revelation and apostolic proclamation. Paul and the other apostles and prophets of the early church openly declared the mysteries that the Holy Spirit later canonized in the New Testament. Like household stewards or managers, they administered freely the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Some years ago I read a magazine interview of a certain well-known pastor. The gist of his statement was:

I decided that the pulpit was no longer to be a teaching platform but an instrument of spiritual therapy. I no longer preach sermons; I create experiences. I don't have time to write a systematic theology to give a solid theological basis for what I intuitively know. What I intuitively believe is right. Every sermon has to begin with the heart. If you ever hear me preaching a sermon against adultery, you'll know what my problem is. If you ever hear me preaching a sermon about the coming of Jesus Christ, you'll know that's where I am heartwise. It so happens I'm not hung up on either of those areas so I've never preached a sermon on either one. I could not in print or in public deny the virgin birth of Christ or the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ or the return of Christ. But when I have something I can't comprehend, I just don't deal with it.