I remember a road trip my family took to Pike’s Peak in Colorado when I was a teenager. As our van made its way up the windy roads to the 14,000 ft. summit, I noticed how vast stretches of road were sandwiched between a mountain face on one side and a steep cliff on the other. It was easy to see how a car—with one wrong move—could tumble down the side of the mountain to its destruction.
Ministry sometimes feels like that, doesn’t it? If you’re a leader, you know you have a holy calling to lead others. God has placed you in an important role for your small group, Sunday school class, church, or para-church ministry. As we move forward on the path of life, the dangers of sin inside of us and pressures outside tempt us to swerve off the road toward destruction.
The constant barrage of reports of the failures of prominent ministry leaders may make us think we’re doomed to failure, but we’re not! God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has also given us a key command in 1 Timothy 4:16 NIV that serves as a guardrail for our ministry journey: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”
We are to watch our lives and our doctrine, and we are to do it closely. But how exactly do we do that?
Watch Your Life
In 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Paul shares over a dozen qualifications for overseers of the church, and only one is a ministry skill: being able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). All the other qualifications deal with the character of a gospel minister. Character matters, and it matters big time. Godly character reflects the character of our holy God and His saving purposes for us (Titus 2:14).
What should we watch in our lives? Let me suggest three key areas:
1. Watch your pursuit of God.
We bear fruit when we abide in Christ, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:4–5). A love for God should motivate our seeking Him through Bible reading and prayer.
Ministry leader, that means you desperately need to read the Bible for personal nourishment and not just to prepare for your next lesson. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
And since the pursuit of God is a community endeavor, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22, emphasis mine).
2. Watch your personal holiness.
Training ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7) means fighting against sin. While any sin (pride, laziness, self-righteousness, lack of forgiveness, worldliness, gluttony, anger, unbelief) has the power to distance us from God and lead to other sins, some sins are especially dangerous.
When sexual sin, alcohol abuse, financial impropriety, physical or verbal abuse overtake a leader, there’s no telling the damage that can be done in a leader’s life, church, and wider community. Watching your personal holiness means battling temptation, confessing sin, and asking for help when needed.
3. Watch your family life.
Paul’s list of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 lists being “husband of one wife” (v2) and being able to “manage his own household well” (v4). This doesn’t mean elders need to be married, after all, that would disqualify the apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus from leadership in our churches! Rather, this qualification reminds us that leadership at church starts at the home for a logical reason: “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (v6).
I’ve heard some Christian leaders rationalize neglecting their family by saying “God will take care of my family while I take care of His.” But this thought assumes a false (and unbiblical) dichotomy that we must choose between serving God and leading our family well. By God’s grace, we can do both.
How are we to watch our lives in these three areas? Closely. This might mean regularly talking to your spouse, a close friend, or a ministry partner about your soul and your pursuit of God. It might mean adding more accountability in your life and church structures. Whatever steps you take, know this: you won’t regret any effort made in watching your life closely!
Free Course: Watch Your Life with Pastor Colin Smith
Watch Your Doctrine
“Doctrine” is simply another word for teaching. Scripture shares three sources of doctrine: demons (1 Timothy 4:1), men (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7), and God Himself (Titus 2:10). God-honoring Christian leaders labor to pass on God’s doctrine found in His Word. They hold fast to truth and “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Watching our doctrine clings to the Scriptures even when strong cultural forces pressure us to abandon them. It means handling God’s word correctly in explanation and application (2 Timothy 2:15), fighting false teaching that arises from and leads to warped views of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and identifying counterfeit teachings like legalism, liberalism, prosperity theology, and any other distortion of God’s message.
Free Course: Watch Your Doctrine with Pastor Colin Smith
Paul writes of “teaching that accords with godliness” in 1 Timothy 6:3. If that’s true, then there is a teaching that doesn’t accord with godliness. The good soil of sound doctrine produces healthy spiritual lives and pure worship.
A.W. Pink understood this, “It is by doctrine (through the power of the Spirit) that believers are nourished and edified, and where doctrine is neglected, growth in grace and effective witnessing for Christ necessarily cease. How sad then that doctrine is now decried as ‘unpractical’ when, in fact, doctrine is the very base of the practical life.”
A Glorious Destination
The drive up Pike’s Peak has high stakes and so does ministry. But if we persevere in watching our lives and doctrine closely, we “will save both [ourselves] and [our] hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV). No, we don’t do the saving, but our lives and teaching can adorn the glorious gospel and help others taste the amazing grace of our Savior.
Even though the road of ministry is dangerous, the ultimate destination—like the top of a great mountain peak—is glorious. We have the privilege of ministering God’s life-changing Word into the lives of others and see God glorified as His church is built. He is our gracious Savior and Sustainer, able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 23–24) and willing to provide transforming grace for when we do stumble (Titus 2:11–14).
Ask Him for help, strength, and grace to persevere in faithfulness. Keep a close watch on what you do and what you teach, for in doing so, you will point others to our gracious God who saves and transforms sinners.
Open the Bible Courses wants to help you watch your life and doctrine closely. Browse our course library or sample the session titled, “Growing in Godliness” below: