The Billy Graham Library stands about 20 miles from the church I serve and the community I love. Built as a testament both to a man’s faithfulness in ministry and also the gospel he proclaimed, it draws thousands of visitors per month. One of the best parts is a guided tour of Graham’s life, which ends with a gospel presentation and invitation to put one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
But amid all of the memorabilia, my favorite item can be easily missed: a small plaque listing the names of the people God used to get the gospel to Billy Graham. There are recognizable names: F. B. Meyer, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and Mordecai Ham. But at the beginning is a name you’ve probably never heard: Edward Kimball.
Kimball was a Christian man who shared the gospel with a shoe clerk named D. L. Moody. Moody influenced Meyer, and on the story goes—until we come to Graham, who responded to the gospel preaching of Ham at a tent revival. We all know the ways that Graham went on to be used mightily by the Lord.
None of Billy Graham’s ministry would’ve happened apart from the faithfulness of a Sunday school teacher sharing his faith in a shoe store.
But here’s the thing: None of Graham’s ministry would’ve happened apart from the faithfulness of a Sunday school teacher sharing his faith in a shoe store. God used that man to change the world, and most of us don’t know his name. (Kimball’s legacy is similar to that of Charles Spurgeon’s boyhood cook, Mary King.)
Faithfulness to Follow
When I think of the church planters in the New Testament, there are many recognizable names: Paul, Silas, Timothy, Titus, even the unnamed guy famous for his preaching (2 Cor. 8:18). We’re familiar with these faithful men.
But there’s another name you may not have heard as often: Epaphras. He met Paul and was transformed by the gospel, and then returned to his hometown of Colossae to share the gospel. Disciples were made and a church was planted. Paul calls him “a faithful minister of Christ” (Col. 1:7).
When I read Paul calling another church planter ‘a faithful minister,’ my ears perk up. I want to know what that looks like.
Now as a church planter, when I read Paul calling another church planter “a faithful minister,” my ears perk up. I want to know what that looks like. Thankfully, Paul gives us four marks—evidenced in Epaphras—of a faithful church planter.
1. Disciple Maker
The gospel was “bearing fruit and growing in the people of Colossae” (Col. 1:6). Why? Because they had learned it from Epaphras (Col. 1:7). The word learned is closely connected to the word for disciple. Epaphras’s faithfulness was seen in his disciple-making.
2. Humble Servant
Epaphras is called a servant of Christ and of the church twice (Col. 1:7; 4:12). His humility was evident in his willingness to ask Paul for help. Faithfulness looks like serving Jesus and others in humility.
3. Praying Pastor
Paul tells us that Epaphras was a pastor who struggled on behalf of his people in prayer (Col. 4:12–13). Epaphras agonized in prayer for their spiritual maturity. Thus, we see that a faithful minister labors in prayer on behalf of his people.
4. Hardworking Leader
Epaphras “worked hard” for those in his care (Col. 4:12–13). Certainly this is seen in Epaphras’s discipleship, service, and prayer. But the Greek word also speaks of the emotional weight and toll of ministry.
Now, none of these four things is going to surprise anyone in ministry. No one will read this and think, I didn’t think prayer and faithfulness went together. And yet living these out amid the difficulties of church planting can be brutal. Here’s why.
When I honestly assess my own heart, the desire to be famous competes with the longing to be faithful. In my sin, I don’t want to be Epaphras in Colossae: an unknown guy planting a church in a small town. I want to be Paul in Rome or Timothy in Ephesus. I don’t want to be the guy sharing the gospel with a shoe clerk—I want to be the guy with the library.
When I honestly assess my own heart, the desire to be famous competes with the longing to be faithful.
And, when I’m driven to be famous more than I desire to be faithful, everything we see in Epaphras gets turned on its head.
- I want to make disciples, but I get busy with my agenda.
- I want to be a humble servant—until someone treats me as such.
- I want to be faithful in prayer, but I listen to the “I’ve got this” background noise in my soul.
- Then, when the emotional weight and toll of ministry hits, I’m primed to depend on me rather than on God.
And in that moment, I have to acknowledge my drive to be famous for the idolatry it is. And then repent and remember the gospel.
Repent and Remember
The only one truly worthy of fame is Jesus. Just look at these credentials:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col. 1:15–18)
Jesus is the head of the church and the only name worthy of remembrance. Faithfulness means pointing people to that name rather than hoping they remember mine.
Then I have to repent and remember the ongoing hope in the gospel that Epaphras brought to his hometown. I received Jesus in helpless dependence on him. I continue walking in helpless dependence on him. Faithfulness in ministry doesn’t look like “God, I’ve got this” but “God, I need you”—from the first day I met Jesus until I see him face to face.
Faithfulness means pointing people to that name rather than hoping they remember mine.
Edward Kimball and Epaphras were normal, redeemed, faithful men who played their part in God’s story. May we do the same.