Successful Ministry

Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls is a classic on pastoral ministry — packed with great, thoughtful, convicting and encouraging reminders not just for ministers, but for general Christian effectiveness in glorifying God and loving neighbors and family. In reflecting on great ministries in church history Bonar (here in updated English) reminds us of the need for more than solid theology:

“To the men even more than to their doctrine we should direct the attention of the person who asks, where did their success come from? Why can’t the same success be ours? We could take the sermons of Whitefield or Berridge or Edwards, study and emulate them, but it is the individuals themselves that we should primarily consider; we need to know the spirit of these men, not merely what they did, if we are going to emulate a ministry as powerful, as victorious as theirs. They were spiritual men, and walked with God. It is living fellowship with a living Savior which, transforming us into His image, equips us to be able and successful ministers of the gospel.

Without this nothing else will do. Orthodoxy, intellect, eloquence, logic, zeal, passion, none of these will accomplish anything without this. It is this that gives power to our words and persuasiveness to our arguments, making them either as the “balm of Gilead” to the wounded spirit or as sharp arrows of the mighty to the conscience of the hardhearted rebel. For those who walk with God in holy, happy communion, virtue shines from them, a sweetness surrounds them wherever they go. Nearness to God, intimacy with Him, being conformed to His character–these are the elements of a ministry of power.

When we can tell people, “We have seen His glory, and this is why we are telling you about it; this is not second-hand, but we have seen the King in His beauty” –what a great place we are in! Our power in bringing people to Christ flows primarily from the fullness of our personal joy in Him, and the closeness of our personal communion with Him. The person that reflects most of Christ, and shines most with His love and grace, is best equipped to attract the attention of a careless, giddy world, and win restless souls from the fascinations of creature-love and creature-beauty. A ministry of power must be the fruit of a holy, peaceful, loving intimacy with the Lord.”

Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls, c.1860.