I was ordained to pastoral ministry more than a decade ago, and I’ll never forget my ordination council because it was more or less a survival of the fittest. For more than four hours, the council—made up of veteran pastors and theology professors who’d invested in me—battered me with theological and practical questions.

At times, the questions felt like the winds from a Category 5 hurricane seeking to conquer the walls of a quaint cottage. How did I reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? If young earth creationism were true, why does the earth look so old? How was there light if God didn’t create the sun until day four? How would I handle conflict between church members or between warring spouses? How would I work for necessary changes in the church I was about to pastor? The covenants, the Trinity, baptism, the meaning of the Lord’s supper—I was asked to explain those things and much more.

The final question was the most penetrating and perhaps toughest one: “The qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 have mainly to do with a man’s character, not his giftedness as a preacher, teacher, or leader. Using the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, tell me why you think you’re morally qualified to be a pastor.”

Whoa. The inquisitor had my full attention.

He followed it up with the brass tacks: “Because if you seriously lack those things or are not at least pursuing those things regularly, I doubt you even understand what it means to be called to ministry, and you’re probably not called to be a pastor.”

No doubt, he was right. God calls his people to be holy and that calling lies at the heart of the qualifications for every pastor. No pursuit of holiness, no pastoral calling. Surely, Hebrews 12:14 is one of the most frightening verses in all of Scripture:

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

For most pastors, James 3:1 is probably a close second: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” As Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously put it, “The greatest need of my people (congregation) is my personal holiness.”

Indeed.

In his new book, Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit (Moody), two-time SBTS graduate Aaron Menikoff encourages pastors to pursue godliness as a central part of their ministry. Menikoff serves as pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

The author devotes one chapter to each of the fruits of the Spirit. The book is both instructive and convicting; instructive in helping pastors seek God’s grace in bearing godly fruit and convicting in helping pastors examine their heart for blind spots where such fruit may be sorely lacking.

One of the best chapters in the book is on patience, where Menikoff exhorts pastors to endure in waiting while God works—over time—in the church. He writes:

“Our temptation is to want fast and furious growth. Sometimes this happens. God’s hand of revival has fallen more than once. In eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America, revival hit many cities, greatly multiplying the number of genuine believers. . . . But the desire for numerical growth should never eclipse one’s willingness to be patient. . . . God tends to move slowly and quietly.”

Throughout the book, Menikoff tells his own story of coming to pastor a traditional Southern Baptist church in metro Atlanta, a congregation in need of revitalization. He’s learned how important spiritual fruit is in the life of the pastor who would see his church growing in the same graces.

“Nothing can prepare a man for the weight of pastoral ministry. My early years had their share of challenges. Around the two-year mark, a discouraging thought marched into my mind, ‘I know where the church should go—I’m just not sure I’m the man to take it there.’ I began to doubt the effectiveness of God’s Word.”

Menikoff stayed the course, and all these years later he is a veteran pastor who has seen God produce fruit in his life and in the church he serves. Some pertinent quotes from each chapter:

  • Love. “Love is the first and best evidence we are Christians. Not splashy websites. Not expanding churches. Not growing budgets. Not a vast social media presence. Not even good sermons.”
  • Joy. “Optimism fades when the forecast is bleak, but nothing can shake the ground of our joy, because the ground of our joy is a holy, loving, faithful, and immovable God.”
  • Peace. “The secret (to peace) is to remember that those in Christ are redeemed and secure, safe and accepted Those who have been justified by Christ are forever free to find their identity in Christ. It doesn’t matter how bad the speech goes, how unkind your friend has become, or how uncertain your future plans are. The granite truth is you have been justified. If this is true, the mountains in your life that once seemed impassible are not pebbles you can barely see.”
  • Patience. “Working for reformation in a local church isn’t easy. I felt like a lightweight boxer going up against the heavyweight champion of the world. Could I wait it out? Maybe. I realized I couldn’t wave my wand and make change happen. God would have to work. I would have to be patient.”
  • Kindness. “Pastors must have both tender hearts and firm spines. . . . A humble pastor will listen eagerly and carefully to every word of correction from another brother or sister. A wise pastor will not be allergic to correction.”
  • Goodness. “It’s ultimately God’s good work, not ours. He’s the carpenter, we’re the wood. He’s the mason, we’re the bricks.”
  • Faithfulness. “It’s all too easy to say you’re attempting great things for God when you’re really attempting great things for yourself. Before you know it, a hunger for personal fame elbows out a zeal for God’s glory. . . . Our value isn’t found in what we do, but in the perfect love of a Savior condemned in our place. That’s why ‘success’ is never listed as a piece of the fruit of the Spirit, but faithfulness is.”
  • Gentleness. “Being thick-skinned is fine. Lacking a tender, gentle heart is not. . . . The pastor who feels the need to power his church to greatness through the exercise of his own gifts underestimates the power of the gospel.”
  • Self-control. “Self-control, simply put, is the ability to look at a piece of chocolate cake and not eat it; to accidentally click on an explicit link and immediately close the window; to hear a tidbit of salacious gossip and end the conversation. Self-control is speaking with kindness and love when you want to scream.”

Review

Reviewers too often write, “This is a book you should read every year.” I do my best to write that only of books that sincerely leave me with that sentiment. There are so many new books already that bear reading and precious little time. But Aaron’s book is one of those rare books that bears revisiting. Why? Because as a pastor—as a Christian—I need to be reminded that fruit-bearing is not optional; it’s at the heart of maturity and growth as a minister of the gospel.

If I’m not making headway, at least in baby steps, of being more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and governed by self-control, then I probably need to rethink my calling. As Peter put it, we are forgetful and need to be reminded, and Aaron’s book is a much-needed reminder of what makes me (and keeps me) a faithful pastor:

“A ministry not marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is like a ticking time bomb—it’s set to explode.”



Aaron Menikoff (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) serves as senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to the 9Marks Journal and blog and is author of the new book Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit (Moody, 2020).