Book Review: Remaining Faithful in Ministry, by John MacArthur
John MacArthur, Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor. Crossway, 2019. 80 pages.
I was introduced to the preaching ministry of John MacArthur when I was in college and was immediately hooked. Like many others, his life and preaching has helped shape my understanding of Christian ministry. After 50 years of pastoring in one church, he has more stories, anecdotes, examples, and life experience than most anyone else we we might meet. But, don’t expect to hear any of those personal stories in this book. True to form, this book is not about John MacArthur, Grace Community Church, or The Master’s Seminary. Instead this book is organized around nine biblical convictions for ministry that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 4. That really isn’t surprising is it? After all, if we are going to be faithful in ministry, it is ultimately going to be fueled by God’s Spirit using God’s Word in and through us.
ANGUISH AND MINISTRY
The vast majority of the introduction is an excellent explanation of the occasion and setting of 2 Corinthians. As MacArthur notes, 2 Corinthians often highlights Paul’s anguish and difficulties in ministry. Insightfully, he comments:
The false teachers were doing their best to destroy Paul’s reputation. They were aggressively trying to undermine his influence in that church. Because the teaching of these men was a corruption of the gospel, it posed a serious threat to the spiritual health and testimony of the Corinthian church. The false apostles had focused their attack on Paul personally. Both his character as well as the content of his teaching were under relentless assault. So he was forced to defend himself. He does so in an interesting way—never boasting of his own accomplishments or otherwise trying to elevate himself, but by exalting Christ in a way that exposed the hypocrisy and self-serving falsehoods of the false teachers (14–15).
The message is clear. If you are going to be faithful in ministry you have to preach the gospel clearly. If you preach the gospel clearly, you will be attacked. When you are attacked, you have to resist making ministry about yourself, getting discouraged, giving into bitterness, and throwing in the towel. Instead point people back to Christ because he is is all that matters. So, how does a minister of the gospel do that? 2 Corinthians 4 answers that question, showing that if a pastor is to remain faithful in ministry, he must be: “(1) convinced of the superiority of the New Covenant; (2) convinced that ministry is a mercy; (3) convinced of the need for a pure heart; (4) convinced of the need to preach the Word faithfully; (5) convinced that the results belong to God; (6) convinced of his own insignificance; (7) convinced of the benefit of suffering; (8) convinced of the need for courage; (9) convinced that future glory is better than anything this world could offer.”
EXPOSITIONAL, CONVICTING, AND SUCCINCT
MacArthur’s exploration of faithfulness in ministry is helpful for at least three reasons.
First, it’s expositional. MacArthur sets forth the clarity and authority of the Word clearly. The nine convictions that kept Paul faithful emerge right from the text. Each of the nine convictions is explained and supported by other Scripture. In fact, as I highlighted the words of Scripture on several of the pages I noticed that roughly 25% of the book consists of MacArthur using the Word to explain or illustrate the Word.
Second, it’s convicting. Self-pity pretends to be a close friend to most pastors and many of us are all too willing to listen to her lies. Here is some fresh fuel for your perseverance engine and a bit of perspective as well.
Finally, it’s succinct. MacArthur doesn’t waste a word in this book. The book is less than 70 pages including the introduction. Each chapter would be a wonderful addition to your quiet time and could be read and re-read easily and with much profit.
DON’T LOSE HEART
I was a visitor in a church one Sunday when the pastor told his flock that a few years ago he had come there as a wide-eyed mercenary for Jesus, but that on this day he was wounded soldier who had nothing left for the fight. He was done. This was his last sermon. This could easily be the story of every pastor. Yet, while Paul had many reasons and opportunities to pack it in, his words and example are compelling. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).