Debauchery, perversity, promiscuity, prostitution—Corinth was a place filled with wealth, luxury, depravity, idolatry and wickedness. Aphrodite’s temple, which overlooked the city, had nearly 1,000 temple prostitutes who plied their trade with sailors and other commercial travelers. Corinth was not an easy place to minister. Yet Paul deeply loved this church. He spent 18 months there, wrote at least two letters to them and likely visited them more than once.
Paul’s ministry at Corinth, highlighted in Acts 18 and further described in his letters to the church relate a church full of theological tension and moral quandary. It is likely that we have not served in a city as vile or even a church as morally and theologically contentious as Corinth. Nevertheless if we are to be effective in serving where God has placed us, we need the same essentials Paul experienced during his ministry in Corinth. Dr. Luke’s account of Paul’s Corinthian ministry is found in Acts 18.
1. We need the encouragement of a team.
When Paul arrived in Corinth, he was by himself. But it wasn’t long before Paul met Priscilla and Aquila or before Timothy and Silas joined him. In fact, Paul is rarely alone in the book of Acts. He is always serving with someone else. Effective long-term ministry requires the encouragement of a team. That could be staff, key lay leaders or ministry friends. But we need others to share the burden and hold us accountable. Being alone and unaccountable in ministry is a recipe for ministry or personal failure.
2. We need to share the gospel message clearly.
Paul’s ministry strategy led him to the synagogues first and then to the marketplaces preaching Jesus as the Messiah. It is likely that Paul adapted his messages to his location, but the content of his preaching never changed, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Effective ministry is built on the supernatural power of the gospel. Our preaching should not become bogged down in personal opinion or theological minutia. Of all the things we must do, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly is our primary task.
3. We need the tenacity to overcome adversaries.
Over and over again Paul faced difficulty, persecution, imprisonment and discord. Corinth was no different. The Jews opposed him and tried to get the local authorities to punish him. But Paul overcame. He didn’t give up. Effective ministry necessitates tenacity, perseverance and the will to overcome difficulties and adversarial opposition.
4. We need the confidence found only in a word from God.
We don’t always know from the book of Acts what Paul was thinking or feeling. But there must have been times of discouragement. I can imagine Corinth was one of those times for Paul. We do have record that God spoke to Paul in the night, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). God gave Paul a word of confidence. Notice that God’s word to Paul closed with a sovereign claim on the people of Corinth. It is good for us to hear that God has people whom he is using us to reach who have not come to faith in him yet. Knowing God’s will and affirming his plan in our ministries is essential for ministry effectiveness.
5. We need the patience to help people mature in their faith.
Corinth was not an easy place to serve or an easy church to pastor. Church people did vile and divisive things. None of us will reach spiritual maturity until we are made new in the presence of God. As pastors and church leaders, it is essential that we have patience, long-suffering and grace for the congregants that we lead and the unbelievers in our communities. Spiritual enlightenment and spiritual growth often take longer than we would like.
These ministry essentials are not exhaustive, but I hope they’ve been encouraging. What other essentials for ministry effectiveness have you discovered in Scripture?