In Colossians 1:24-29, the apostle Paul reveals his unceasing commitment to work toward the spiritual development, i.e. maturity, of believers. Paul was not content to simply lead people to saving faith in Christ and then leave them to fend for themselves. But he walked through life with them, suffering alongside them, and speaking the truth of Scripture into their lives and situations, which always includes suffering to some degree.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (v. 24). Paul believed that the price of authentic ministry is a willingness to endure suffering on behalf of others. This requires attachment to people. It demands that pastors be involved in others’ lives far beyond preaching to them each Sunday. It discourages us from keeping a distance from our people, especially from those we may consider to be “special-needs” disciples who require a large investment of time and energy. In Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, Lance Quinn makes a case for this to his fellow ministers:
Our role as pastors also demands that we be disciplemakers. We cannot be pulpiteers who preach at our people but have no involvement in their lives. The process only begins with the proclamation of Scripture. It finds its real fruition across the entire spectrum of the shepherd’s work—feeding, leading, cleaning, bandaging, protecting, nurturing, and every other aspect of a tender shepherd’s loving care. This is the process of discipling.
This vital connection to the lives of people is often birthed out of the common grounds of pain and suffering. In Paul’s case, he was writing from a prison in Rome. Epaphras had traveled there to visit him and to report on the progress of the believers in Asia Minor. No doubt Paul was encouraged to learn of the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit” (1:8), but he was also concerned to hear how the heresies of Gnosticism were drawing these Christians away from the reality of the fullness of their new life in Christ (2:1–3). Therefore, he wrote this letter and sent it to them by his “fellow bond-servant in the Lord,” Tychicus (4:7). But in spite of “the daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (of which he testified in 2 Cor. 11:28), Paul rejoiced in his suffering because he knew that it stimulated growth in others.
Paul would not have been able to say these things if he did not believe the ministry of the Word consists of more than preaching. To be a faithful minister of the gospel, a man must also be committed to the personal ministry of the Word–a ministry we simply refer to as counseling.
[This post is adapted from an excerpt from Counsel Your Flock: Fulfilling your role as a teaching shepherd.]