Workers for your Joy (WFYJ) is about what Christ calls leaders in his church to be and do, particularly the teaching office in the church (i.e. pastor or elder). It presents a biblical vision of leadership by going through the fifteen qualifications of elders listed 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The central question Mathis is basically asking is – how should we pastor or lead the church in light of these qualifications?
The target audience of the book seems to be those who are in the early stages of pastoral ministry. The book was part of the seminary syllabus at Bethlehem. However, the author does explicitly state that the book is also meant to be of use to church members in considering what Christ expects of leadership in the local church.
Mathis has written this book because he believes leadership has fallen on hard times. The church in the west and the society around us has become increasingly discontent with being led due to the high-profile cases that have sprung about leadership. These failures of leadership have amplified our natural (fallen) anti-authority streak and love for self by distorting our understanding of what leadership is and fuelling aversion to authority structures.
The problem is that this sceptical approach to leadership stands against what we see in the Bible, where God has created us people to be led by Him and exercises his leadership of us through human leaders. We see this especially in the local church, where Christ has given us leaders, as a “gracious inequality” for our good. God has given us leaders for our joy and the leaders are meant to do this work with joy. This equilibrium of joy exists where leaders find joy in the Lord as they labour for others, and are being treated by those they lead in such a way that their joy is growing as they labour in the Lord for joy of the church.
So how do we realise this biblical vision of leadership? Matthis believes the key is to have leaders who serve in line with the qualifications. Elder qualifications are not just “moral hoops to jump through to then be qualified to do the work of pastoring”. Rather, Christ requires these traits, “because they are the precise virtues pastor-elders need for the day in, day-out work of their calling”. The qualifications are the “graces we need to be good pastors”. Without them, “leaders will not prove, in the long haul, to be genuine workers for the joy of their church”.
Matthis examine the qualifications in three categories to give us a fresh appreciation of the qualifications. The first category looks at those qualification that presses our humbleness before God. The second category focuses on the qualifications that helps us to live privately and in our homes for the Lord. The final section looks at public facing qualifications. Mathis reminds us that pastor and elders are meant to be honourable men before a watching world. This does not mean to be respected by everyone. But it means we live in the way that honours Christ as his ambassadors.
I found Matthis’ teaching on humility quite helpful, particularly his observation that humility in leadership starts by ensuring that we have truly been called by God into ministry and confirmed by the church, and not simply appointed ourselves into the office. Many men today seem to force their way into ministry, and therefore it comes as no surprise when pride leads to implosion of their ministries. Matthis is also right when, he notes that humility also means that that men should assume office at a spiritually mature age. A key part of this spiritual maturity is being level-headed. Pastors are meant to be sober thinkers in a world that is on fire. Soberminded means not being diverted from central things of the Gospel, things of first importance. Not driven or chasing things on the margins or the agendas of the time. The sober-minded leaders drink from the living water of the Gospel, not the polluted fountains of the world.
The best chapter in the book is probably Chapter 14 . It discusses the importance of pastors or elders not being quarrelsome. Matthis rightly observes that pastors need to be peacemakers like our Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of the gospel. This practice of peace-making begins with recognizing ways in which we may be failing to promote peace and undertake appropriate course correction. For example, many chuch conflicts arise out of ignorance, which in turn stem from the failure to teach clearly and soberly the truth of God. In unavoidable moments of conflict, it is important that pastors see these as opportunity for Grace. The real battle is always spiritual, and therefore elders and pastors should focus on ensuring they win people away from the ways of Satan, rather simply trying to get rid of them, which is always a strong temptation. Growing in peace-making requires pastors and elders to be hardest on themselves. Here is how Matthis puts it:
The heart of Christian leadership is not taking up privileges but laying them down; not gravitating toward the easy work, but gladly crucifying personal comfort and ease to do the hard work to serve others; not domineering over those in their charge but being examples of Christlike self-sacrifice for them (1 Pet. 5:3). A pastor learns to contend well, without being contentious, "by seriously applying the word of God to himself before he applies it to others". When trying to discern between silly controversies to avoid and conflicts to engage with courage, pastors might ask: is this conflict about me - my ego, my preferences, my threatened illusion of control- or about my Lord, his gospel, and his church? In other words, is this for my glory or Christ's? Am I remembering that my greatest enemy is not others, or even Satan, but my own indwelling sin?
There are areas of the book that could do with improvement. A key one for me is that the emphasis of the book seems to be more on drawing joy from God. That is as it should be of course, except Hebrews 13:17, which is quoted early on as part of the rationale for the book, is about the joy that leaders enjoy from being better treated by those they serve. If you are planning to read this book because you expect directions on how the church can grow in treating pastors or elders better, this will not be the book for you. This book, as the strapline says, is ‘the call of Christ on Christian leaders’ not on the church.
Now, I don’t know why Matthis did not explore the other part of the joy equilibrium, especially having borrowed the title from Hebrews 13:17. My guess, based on the impressions from the book, is that Matthis probably believes that as pastors live self-sacrificially, the people will recognise that and therefore will be more willing to submit to them. Sadly, the evidence for this is not cogent. Many leaders sacrifice much with little in return. It is often common for a leader to suffer for the people, and they do not appreciate it at all. This is the case with our Lord Jesus Christ! It was also the case with Paul. We only need to read his letters to the Corinthians and 2 Timothy.
It seems to me that this is an important point that was not sufficiently emphasised. People entering pastoral ministry need to remember that sometimes the more sacrificial you are the less those you are serving will appreciate your efforts. Those who enter church ministry should not expect their joy to come from being better treated by those they serve, but from our resting on Christ and the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that one of the reason Hebrews 13:17 is in the Bible is precisely to help future leaders be aware that in a fallen word, many do not submit their leaders and submit to them. If such submission was easy, the Holy Spirit would not have inspired and preserved it for our exhortation.
In terms of style, the book could have been a lot shorter. There is a lot of good stuff added to chapters which seem to be more book filling and leads to loss of cohesion. For example in Chapter 1, there is a discussion on disciplining elders and ordination, which are helpful but adds little to the main point of the chapter which is how Christ appoints people. Perhaps the most disappointing was Chapter 4. After explaining what it means to being sober-minded it did not go on to flesh out living or biblical role models. Nor does it explain how we can grow in being sober-minded. Instead space is taken up with the head scratching discussion of the general struggle between old and young people.
None of that means that the book is not worth reading. Quite the contrary, I think in some ways it is a very helpful addition to any pastoral library. Ironically, it is not simply because it will be helpful next time you teach on 1 Timothy or Titus 1, but also because of its ‘book filling’ material, of which the material in appendix materials is particularly interesting. And of course, there is the little gem of Chapter 14 on peace-making, which alone is worth the whole book.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2023