Becoming Progressive and Adaptable Ministers
“I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.”—1 CORINTHIANS 9:22.
1, 2. (a) In what ways was the apostle Paul an effective minister? (b) How did Paul describe his own attitude toward his assignment?
HE WAS at ease with sophisticated intellectuals and with humble tentmakers. He was persuasive to Roman dignitaries and to Phrygian peasants. His writings were motivating to liberal Greeks and to conservative Jews. His logic was as unassailable as his emotional appeal was powerful. He tried to find common ground with everyone so that he might bring some to Christ.—Acts 20:21.
2 The man was the apostle Paul, without a doubt an effective and progressive minister. (1 Timothy 1:12) He received from Jesus the commission to “bear [Christ’s] name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) What was his attitude toward this assignment? He declared: “I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) What can we learn from Paul’s example that can help us to be more effective in our preaching and teaching?
A Changed Man Met the Challenge
3. What was Paul’s feeling toward Christians before his conversion?
3 Had Paul always been a long-suffering, considerate person, fit for the assignment he received? By no means! Religious fanaticism had made Saul (as Paul was formerly known) a violent persecutor of Christ’s followers. As a young man, he approved the murder of Stephen. Afterward, Paul ruthlessly hunted down Christians. (Acts 7:58; 8:1, 3; 1 Timothy 1:13) He continued to breathe “threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Not being content to pursue believers in Jerusalem only, he began spreading his hate campaign as far north as Damascus.—Acts 9:1, 2.
4. What adjustment did Paul have to make to fulfill his assignment?
4 At the root of Paul’s intense hatred of Christianity might well have been the conviction that the new faith would corrupt Judaism by mixing it with foreign, undesirable ideas. After all, Paul had been “a Pharisee,” the very name meaning “separated one.” (Acts 23:6) Imagine how shocked Paul must have been when he learned that God had chosen him to preach Christ to—of all people—the Gentiles! (Acts 22:14, 15; 26:16-18) Why, Pharisees refused even to eat with those whom they considered to be sinners! (Luke 7:36-39) No doubt it required great effort on his part to reevaluate his viewpoint and to bring it into harmony with God’s will that all sorts of people should be saved.—Galatians 1:13-17.
5. How can we imitate Paul in our ministry?
5 We might have to do the same. As we meet an increasing variety of people in our international, multilingual field, we need to make a conscious effort to check our attitude and rid ourselves of any prejudice. (Ephesians 4:22-24) Whether we realize it or not, we are shaped by our social and educational upbringing. This can instill in us views and attitudes that are biased, prejudiced, inflexible. We must overcome such sentiments if we are to have success in finding and helping sheeplike ones. (Romans 15:7) That is what Paul did. He accepted the challenge to expand his ministry. Motivated by love, he developed teaching skills that are worthy of imitation. Indeed, a study of the ministry of the “apostle to the nations” shows that he was attentive, flexible, and resourceful in preaching and teaching.a—Romans 11:13.
A Progressive Minister in Action
6. How was Paul attentive to the background of his listeners, and with what result?
6 Paul was attentive to the beliefs and background of his listeners. When addressing King Agrippa II, Paul acknowledged that the king was an “expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews.” Then Paul skillfully used his knowledge of Agrippa’s beliefs and discussed with him matters that the king understood very well. The clarity and conviction of Paul’s reasoning was such that Agrippa said: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.”—Acts 26:2, 3, 27, 28.
7. How did Paul show flexibility when preaching to a crowd in Lystra?
7 Paul was also flexible. Note how different his approach was when he tried to dissuade a crowd in the city of Lystra from worshipping him and Barnabas as gods. It has been said that these people, who spoke Lycaonian, were among the less educated and more superstitious of the population. According to Acts 14:14-18, Paul pointed to the creation and its natural bounties as evidence of the superiority of the true God. The argument was easy to follow, and it apparently “restrained the crowds from sacrificing” to Paul and Barnabas.
8. In what ways did Paul show that he was flexible in spite of his strong feelings at times?
8 Of course, Paul was not perfect, and at times, he had strong feelings about certain things. For example, on one occasion when he was attacked in a humiliating and unjust way, he lashed out against a Jew named Ananias. But when Paul was told that he had unknowingly insulted the high priest, he immediately apologized. (Acts 23:1-5) In Athens, he was at first “irritated at beholding that the city was full of idols.” Yet, in his speech on Mars’ Hill, Paul betrayed no such irritation. Instead, he addressed the Athenians at their forum, building on common ground by referring to their altar “To an Unknown God” and citing one of their poets.—Acts 17:16-28.
9. How did Paul demonstrate resourcefulness when dealing with different audiences?
9 In dealing with different audiences, Paul manifested remarkable resourcefulness. He took into account the culture and environment that shaped the thinking of his audience. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, he was well-aware that they lived in the capital of the greatest power of the day. A major point of Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome was that the power of Adam’s sin to corrupt is conquered by Christ’s power to redeem. He spoke to the Roman Christians and those around them in language that would appeal to their heart.—Romans 1:4; 5:14, 15.
10, 11. How did Paul tailor his illustrations to his listeners? (See also footnote.)
10 What did Paul do when he wanted to explain deep Bible truths to his listeners? The apostle was adept at using common, easily understood illustrations to clarify complex spiritual ideas. For example, Paul knew that the people in Rome were acquainted with the system of slavery throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, many of the people to whom he was writing were probably slaves. Paul therefore used slavery as an illustration to bolster his powerful argument about a person’s choice of submission either to sin or to righteousness.—Romans 6:16-20.
11 “Among the Romans,” says one reference work, “an owner could free a slave outright, or the slave could purchase his freedom by paying his owner. Freedom could also be arranged if ownership was transferred to a god.” A freed slave could continue to work for his master for wages. Paul evidently alluded to this practice when he wrote of the individual’s choice of which master to obey—sin or righteousness. Christians in Rome had been freed from sin and were now owned by God. They were free to serve God, yet they could still choose to serve sin—the former master—if they so desired. That simple but familiar illustration would prompt those Christians in Rome to ask themselves, ‘Which master am I serving?’b
Learning From Paul’s Example
12, 13. (a) What effort is needed today in order to reach the heart of our diverse audience? (b) What have you found to be effective when preaching to people from different backgrounds?
12 Like Paul, we must be attentive, flexible, and resourceful in order to reach the heart of our diverse audience. To help our listeners get the sense of the good news, we desire to do more than make superficial contact, deliver a prepared message, or leave some Bible literature. We endeavor to discern their needs and concerns, their likes and dislikes, and their fears and prejudices. Though this requires a great deal of thought and effort, Kingdom publishers around the world are eagerly doing so. For example, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hungary reports: “The brothers show respect for the customs and lifestyle of people of other nations and do not expect them to adapt to local customs.” Witnesses elsewhere endeavor to do the same.
13 In one country in the Far East, most people are concerned with health, child training, and education. Kingdom publishers there try to highlight these subjects instead of discussing such matters as deteriorating global conditions or complex social issues. Similarly, publishers in a large city in the United States noticed that people in a particular neighborhood in their territory are concerned with such matters as corruption, traffic congestion, and crime. The Witnesses successfully use these subjects to start Bible discussions. Effective Bible teachers make sure that regardless of the topic they choose, they remain positive and encouraging, stressing the practical value of applying Bible principles now and the bright prospects that God offers for the future.—Isaiah 48:17, 18; 52:7.
14. Describe ways in which we can adapt to people’s differing needs and circumstances.
14 It is also helpful to vary our approach in the ministry, since people have vastly different cultural, educational, and religious backgrounds. Our approach to people who believe in a Creator but not in the Bible will differ from that used to talk to those who believe that God does not exist. With someone who feels that all religious literature is an indoctrination tool, the presentation we use will be different from the one we use for a person who accepts what the Bible teaches. Flexibility is also needed in dealing with the wide variety of educational levels of the people we talk to. Skillful teachers will use reasoning and illustrations appropriate to the situation at hand.—1 John 5:20.
Help for New Ministers
15, 16. Why is there a need for training new ministers?
15 Paul was not concerned with improving only his own teaching methods. He saw the need for training and preparing those of a younger generation, such as Timothy and Titus, to become effective ministers. (2 Timothy 2:2; 3:10, 14; Titus 1:4) Similarly, a pressing need to provide and receive training exists today.
16 In 1914, there were approximately 5,000 Kingdom publishers earth wide; today, each week about 5,000 new ones are baptized! (Isaiah 54:2, 3; Acts 11:21) When new ones begin to associate with the Christian congregation and wish to share in the ministry, they need training and direction. (Galatians 6:6) It is vital that we use the methods of the Master, Jesus, in teaching and training disciples.c
17, 18. How can we help new ones gain confidence in the ministry?
17 Jesus did not just find a crowd and tell his apostles to start talking. He first emphasized the need for the preaching work and encouraged a prayerful attitude. Then he made three basic provisions: a partner, a territory assignment, and a message. (Matthew 9:35-38; 10:5-7; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:2, 6) We can do the same. Whether we are helping our own child, a new student, or someone who has not shared in the preaching activity for a while, it is appropriate to make an effort to provide training in this way.
18 New ones need considerable help to gain confidence in presenting the Kingdom message. Can you assist them to prepare and practice a simple, appealing presentation? In the field, let them learn from your example as you take the first few calls. You can follow the pattern of Gideon, who said to his fellow fighters: “You should learn from watching me, and that is how you should do.” (Judges 7:17) Then give the new one the opportunity to participate. Warmly commend new ones for their efforts, and when appropriate, offer brief suggestions for improvement.
19. What is your determination as you strive to ‘accomplish your ministry fully’?
19 In order to ‘accomplish our ministry fully,’ we are determined to become more flexible in our approach, and we want to train new ministers to do the same. When we consider the importance of our goal—to impart the very knowledge of God that leads to salvation—we are convinced that it is worth all the effort it takes to become “all things to people of all sorts, that [we] might by all means save some.”—2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Corinthians 9:22.
b Similarly, in explaining the new relationship between God and his spirit-anointed “sons,” Paul used a legal concept quite familiar to his readers in the Roman Empire. (Romans 8:14-17) “Adoption was essentially a Roman usage, and was closely connected with the Roman ideas of family,” says the book St. Paul at Rome.
c Currently, the Pioneers Assist Others program is available in all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The program utilizes the experience and training of full-time ministers in assisting less-experienced publishers.
Do You Remember?
• In what ways can we imitate Paul in our ministry?
• What changes in our thinking are likely needed?
• How can we keep our message positive?
• What do new ministers need in order to develop confidence?
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The apostle Paul was attentive, flexible, and resourceful in preaching and teaching
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Jesus made three basic provisions for his disciples: a partner, a territory assignment, and a message
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Paul succeeded in reaching different audiences by being adaptable
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Effective ministers consider the cultural background of their listeners
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Progressive ministers help new ones prepare for the ministry