Book Review: Workers for Your Joy, by David Mathis
David Mathis, Workers for Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders. Crossway, 2022. 352 pages.
We don’t pay attention to sound, hard-working tires until a nail pierces the rubber and we’re left stranded on the side of the road. In other words, we take good tires for granted until they become bad tires.
So it is with pastors! We take them for granted until we can’t. Our eyes are drawn to stories of their failures. However, we ought to be spending much more time devoted to the topic of pastoral faithfulness.
David Mathis has written a book designed to curb this problem. In Workers for Your Joy, he promotes faithfulness in the lives of the men called to shepherd the flock of God. His book is for church members—that they would know what to expect from their pastors—and for elders themselves—that they would better understand Christ’s expectations for them.
Mathis leans into Hebrews 13:17 for the title of his book, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” He makes the wonderful observation that the work pastors do and the way they do it are connected: “The church, for its part, wants its leaders to work not only hard, but happily, without groaning, because the pastor’s joy in leading will lead to the church’s own benefit” (14).
Elders rejoice when congregations are eager to support and encourage them. However, healthy congregations are more eager to support and encourage men who genuinely meet the biblical qualifications of elders, qualifications Mathis divides into three categories: humbled, whole, and honorable. By “humbled,” he refers to the devotional life of the pastor—a man who knows his God intimately, deeply. By “whole,” he means the private life of the pastor—a man who is the same inside and outside of the pulpit. By “honorable,” he focuses on the public life of the pastor—a man whose reputation before the church and world is unblemished.
WHY WE NEED THIS BOOK TODAY
It’s easy to assume good leadership is the natural fruit of orthodox theology. This is not the case. My generation has experienced—by God’s grace—a revival of sound teaching. We should all praise God for this; churches all over the world are benefiting from faithful preaching and a rediscovery of the doctrines of grace. However, it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that God cares both about the integrity of the pastor’s teaching and the holiness of the pastor’s character.
Every generation has a responsibility to re-learn what the Bible says about what we ought to believe and how we ought to live. This includes paying special attention to the qualifications of pastors who must be exemplary models of Christian living for the churches they serve, lead, and love.
Mathis knows the kinds of questions asked about leadership in the church. How do I know if God would have me serve as an elder? Is ordination biblical? Must a pastor’s kids be believers? How should leaders address conflict in the church?
The answers Mathis offers are sound. For example, it’s not enough to desire pastoral ministry: “Until God, through a specific local church, makes a man an overseer (Acts 20:28), gives him to the church (Eph. 4:11–12), sends him as a laborer (Matt. 9:37–38), and sets him over his household (Luke 12:42), he is not yet fully called” (50). Regarding ordination, practices vary from church to church but “ordination,” strictly speaking, is not mandated by Scripture (59). On the question of whether the children of elders must be Christians, the Bible does demand the children of elders be “believers,” but this simply means they must be faithful—demonstrating the kind of behavior “that good fathering can, in fact, secure” (171). Finally, there will be conflict in the church and elders will not run away from it but, like Christ, will “learn increasingly to follow in his steps, empowered by his Spirit, to move toward conflict, toward need, toward pain, toward tension, looking past the imposing awkwardness and difficulty that lies before us to the promise of joy on the other side” (239).
This is a taste of the kind of practical wisdom you’ll find in Workers for Joy. Think of it like a textbook you’ll want to reference again and again to better understand how to think through the qualifications of elders and the essential aspects of their ministry.
PASTORS, YOU ARE NOT CELEBRITIES!
The conclusion of Workers for Joy deserves special attention. When I cut my teeth in ministry over twenty-five years ago, no one was talking about a preacher’s “platform” or “brand.” Sure, we all knew about pastors who longed for a large church or prominent name. In that sense, there is nothing new under the sun.
However, the advent of social media has changed the way congregations engage with (and think about) their pastors—and the way pastors often think about themselves. Being well-known, or even well-respected, online does not qualify a man to be an elder.
In a warm treatment of Acts 20, Mathis encourages the pastor to live among the people, tell the whole truth, lean into hardship, and—most importantly—trust God and his gospel (252–56). To be a pastor requires so much more than competency; it requires a love for the church, a commitment to preach the Bible, a willingness to carry your cross, and an abiding sense that God’s gospel will build his church.
It's far too easy to wait for a crisis to pay attention to your pastor. Mathis shows us a better way. Heed the Bible’s instructions about elders and pray these qualifications would be fully met by the elders keeping watch over your soul. If you are a church elder, this book will be a helpful addition to your library as you seek to keep a close watch on your life and doctrine.