When Training Pastors, Aim for Joy – J. A. Medders

Every Christian is called to be part of a local community of believers where they together hear the Scriptures preached, partake in the Lord’s Supper, and continue their spiritual formation. And every local church needs godly, eager, qualified, competent, courageous, gentle, steely, and humble men to shepherd her members toward Christ and his vision for the Christian life. As the Chief Shepherd, Jesus calls, equips, and leads his undershepherds to love and lead his people.

Pastors are a precious gift to the church, and while there are shelves of leadership books designed to help them fulfill their calling, there are few like David Mathis’s Workers for Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders. Mathis is executive editor for Desiring God, pastor at Cities Church, and adjunct instructor at Bethlehem College and Seminary.

A few of the standout books on eldership like Bob Thune’s Gospel Eldership or Dave Harvey’s The Plurality Principle are stellar supplements to the sweeping, nose-to-tail work of Mathis. Workers for Your Joy is more akin to Alexander Strauch’s well-known Biblical Eldership. Both works are brilliant introductions and clarifying deep dives into pastors and elders.

If I had to pick between using Strauch or Mathis, I’d pick both; leaders are readers. OK, perhaps it’s a case of chronological snobbery, but I’m leaning toward Workers for Your Joy because of the keystone vision he presents of pastoral work. Mathis adjusts our understanding of the pastoral vocation as being for the joy of the Christians in a pastor’s care. 

Circle of Joy

Paul’s words to the Corinthians set this pastoral vision: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24). For Mathis, the posture, aim, and motivation in pastoral ministry is the flock’s joy in Christ.  

The posture, aim, and motivation in pastoral ministry is the flock’s joy in Christ.

Pastors preach faithful sermons, counsel the hurting, and pray with the struggling—for their joy. Mathis reminds us that the various angles and aspects of the pastoral vocation aren’t cul-de-sacs terminating on themselves. They’re roundabouts, situated in a circle around and existing for the joy of God’s people.

Pastoral ministry is designed to remind, revive, redirect, and renew church members’ joy in God. Mathis says, “Christian leadership exists for the joy of the church. Such a vision may turn some of our churches upside down, first for the pastors and then for the people” (16). This simple observation may rewire how pastors approach everyone and everything in ministry. Pastors must remember their people aren’t in the way of the ministry; the people are the ministry. Their joy is the ministry. 

Character, Competency, and Ministry 

Joy-bringing ministry requires qualified candidates, and Mathis approaches the pastoral office, qualifications, and calling in a refreshing way. Rather than taking the biblical qualifications one at a time as they’re listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Mathis bundles them into three categories—giving his readers a sense of a qualified pastor’s character, competency, and ministry. 

Part 1 begins with who men are before their God. This is the right place to begin. Personal spirituality sets the trajectory for a pastor’s ministry. Mathis clarifies the often-confused concept of “calling.” Some say that if you’re truly humble, you won’t desire the office of pastor, and as Mathis points out, that contradicts Paul’s first words on the matter. It’s good for men to desire the office of elder. Mathis points out three aspects of a joyful call:

Aspiration: he desires it
Affirmation: others confirm it.

Opportunity: God opens a door. 

Part 2 looks at men where they’re known best—in their homes, families, and personal lives. Mathis provides wise and helpful counsel on topics like self-control, marriage and singleness, alcohol and leadership, and why being an engaged father matters for Christian leadership.

Far too often, churches have prized a pastoral work ethic that puts pastors’ families on edge. Mathis makes a laser-precise observation on this matter: just because God calls a married pastor to be a one-woman man doesn’t mean he’s to act like he is a “zero-woman man, living as if he isn’t married, neglecting to care adequately for his family” (129). Married pastors must treasure, serve, and love their wives well.  

Part 3 is all about men and the watching world. Mathis unpacks the way men carry themselves among others, their propensity to start unnecessary fights (or run from necessary conflict), and why a man’s reputation among unbelievers matters. 

Guide for Joy

A strength of Workers for Your Joy is its refusal to let go of God’s Word. The Bible is Mathis’s continual reference point. Observations of the text set his understanding of pastoral ministry.

For example, Mathis argues a certain level of leadership acumen is necessary for pastors, and he roots this clearly in the text. When discussing Paul’s statement that a pastor “must manage his own household well” (1 Tim. 3:4), Mathis shows how the word “manage” is connected to leadership. Such leadership is responsive, not negligent. It thinks about the present and the future: “Leadership requires initiative and proactivity. . . . Leadership entails ‘being out ahead’ mentally and emotionally: thinking ahead, planning ahead, taking initiative to draw others into shared life together” (165–66). 

Married pastors must treasure, serve, and love their wives well.

I was also thrilled to see how Mathis addressed the qualification of hospitality. Too often this command is twisted to mean pastors and their families must be part-time party planners, running socials and events out of their homes. Sure, pastors ought to be warm and relational with their flock, but Mathis argues “hospitable” means demonstrating love and good works for strangers, outsiders, and unbelievers. Pastors are also meant to be evangelistic. I agree with Mathis that hospitality is a powerful note struck in the qualifications that “will lead our churches into the kinds of hospitable hearts that will birth evangelism and disciple-making and church planting and world missions” (213). 

Throughout the book, Mathis addresses areas a new generation of pastors needs to face head on: pornography, social media, and a cultural climate that fights against authority. He includes five appendices that help readers understand important ecclesiological matters like the titles of pastor, elder, and overseer referencing the same office; the role of deacons; and the importance of chemistry and trust among the elders who must work as a team. There’s also a study guide with questions and assignments for groups or personal study. 

If you plan to take a group of men through elder training, put Workers for Your Joy in the stack of required reading. Pastors exist for the glory of God and the joy of their people. May that vision be true of pastors in this generation and the next. 

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