Humility: prerequisite for ministry
by Paul Byabu Masereka
If I asked what the qualifications for ministry are, I would probably get answers such as competence, commitment, and a strong academic background. However, when I read the Bible carefully, I find that most prophets whom God summoned to His service did not ascribe their fitness for ministry to their competence, their academics, or any specialized training. They demonstrated that their most vital qualification for ministry was humility.
Ministry is a call to work with God in His business of restoring fallen humanity. God requires certain qualities to fit a person for the sacred task of serving in ministry. When God called Gideon, the “man said to him, ‘Oh, Lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house’ ” (Judges 6:15, WEB). King Saul told God, “ ‘Am I not a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me after this manner?’ ” (1 Sam. 9:21, WEB). Even though Paul had strong academic training, he boasted only in God’s power, not his own ability.
How to be fitted in ministry
During the 27 years I have served the church as pastor and ministerial director, I have seen ministers elevate their academic credentials. I have known those with a promising start to their ministry, end up disappointed in their careers. Some who thought they would assume high positions of leadership, ultimately failed in ministry— largely because they lacked humility. Such examples have confirmed to me that only the humble can lead God’s people, as did Moses, from the bondage of this world’s sin to the heavenly Canaan. How Moses became qualified for service is instructive for how we should be fitted for ministry.
When God appointed Moses to lead His people from bondage in Egypt, Moses had a thorough Egyptian education, was militarily trained, and had had experience in taking care of his father-in-law Jethro’s flock. But he did not deem himself prepared for such a divine call. “And Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ ” (Exod. 3:11, WEB). Ellen White comments, “The divine command given to Moses found him self-distrustful, slow of speech, and timid. He was overwhelmed with a sense of his incapacity to be a mouthpiece for God to Israel. But having once accepted the work, he entered upon it with his whole heart, putting all his trust in the Lord.”1
Despite his military training and extensive education, Moses still felt helpless to serve God in such a capacity. Moses depended on God’s power and strength for his success. Ellen White stated, “Had Moses relied upon his own strength and wisdom, and eagerly accepted the great charge, he would have evinced his entire unfitness for such a work. The fact that a man feels his weakness is at least some evidence that he realizes the magnitude of the work appointed him, and that he will make God his counselor and his strength.”2
I have noticed that working with God forces me to recognize my own limitations. Those really called by God find themselves brought to a deep acknowledgment of their own ignorance and weakness. While humans look at power, wisdom, competence, and self-confidence when selecting leaders, God does not choose the strong and the mighty to serve Him. He chooses those who sense their weakness, a quality that some ministers sadly lack.
Ellen White states, “Before honor is humility. To fill a high place before men, Heaven chooses the worker who, like John the Baptist, takes a lowly place before God. The most childlike disciple is the most efficient in labor for God. The heavenly intelligences can co-operate with him who is seeking, not to exalt self, but to save souls. He who feels most deeply his need of divine aid will plead for it; and the Holy Spirit will give unto him glimpses of Jesus that will strengthen and uplift the soul. From communion with Christ he will go forth to work for those who are perishing in their sins. He is anointed for his mission; and he succeeds where many of the learned and intellectually wise would fail.”3
Humility has proved to be the most important qualification that fits a person for God’s ministry. Experience has shown me that only the humble uplift Jesus in their ministry instead of themselves.
Unfitting in the work of ministry
I have observed that, sometimes, God does not tolerate those who exalt themselves instead of Him. Any success we achieve in ministry we should attribute solely to the Lord because “when men exalt themselves, feeling that they are a necessity for the success of God’s great plan, the Lord causes them to be set aside. It is made evident that the Lord is not dependent upon them. The work does not stop because of their removal from it, but goes forward with greater power.”4
The success of every minister depends on divine aid. Without it, every effort we make will be futile. “All the shepherds who work under the Chief Shepherd will possess His characteristics; they will be meek and lowly of heart. Childlike faith brings rest to the soul and also works by love and is ever interested for others. If the Spirit of Christ dwells in them, they will be Christlike and do the works of Christ. Many who profess to be the ministers of Christ have mistaken their master.”5
Ministry is all about possessing the characteristics of our Master Jesus Christ. Without humility, we are not fitted to serve Him. Clergy who continually minister without the Master’s character may assume that they are serving Him, but in a real sense, they are working for a different master. Such individuals “are not aware that it is Satan’s banner under which they are rallying. They may be worldly wise and eager for strife and vainglory, making a show of doing a great work; but God has no use for them. The motives which prompt to action give character to the work. Although men may not discern the deficiency, God marks it.”6
Because the ministry we are in belongs to Jesus Christ, we are just privileged to labor with Him in this noble mission. The Owner of the work marks every action and the motive that led to each and every decision or action we make.
Trained for ministry
When I started to serve in the church, I did not have a ministerial degree. But seeing the nature of the work and the church I was serving led me to get such training. I do not remember sitting under any lecturer who did not advise us to be humble if we were to survive in ministry. Never did even one of those leaders who visited us at the university advise me not to study to prepare for high positions in the church. Yes, ministers need to be trained so they can serve well. But the knowledge acquired in colleges, seminaries, or universities should humble any minister who is willing to work under the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ. Any training that does not humble them is not real education.
As one wise minister has observed, “Many people have been educated but have not learned.” When I am really trained in ministry, I have to know the church I am serving in, how it operates, and the characteristics of its Owner. Humble and lowly, He does not exalt Himself. In His ministry on earth, He exhibited humility throughout His life, leaving us an eternal example.
Not my will
Too often, once clergy have reached a certain educational level, they assume they are ready to be elected into various offices. Some campaign for positions. Do the degrees we get in seminaries qualify us to be fit in ministry without humility? Are we not mistaken if we go to schools in order to be appointed to high positions?
People may look at how competent and self-confident someone is when they elect leaders, but God does not choose the strong and the mighty to serve Him but, rather, those who acknowledge their weakness and nothingness. To be fit for ministry does not depend on education, competence, or self-confidence, but on humility. The work of soul-winning and restoration still requires it.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1890), 255.
- White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 255.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), 436.
- White, The Desire of Ages 436.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1875), 377.
- White, 377.