MIND THE GAP: Raising up the next generation of gospel workers
A significant omission?
Not so long go, a couple of churches in our region were looking for new ministers. One was Anglican and so had prepared their ‘parish profile’. The other was Independent and had prepared a minister’s job description. I was sent both in the hope that I might be able to encourage good men to apply for the posts. Both churches are classically evangelical. Both were looking for men who were theologically orthodox. Both wanted men who would rightly handle the word of truth in the pulpit. Both churches wanted men of prayer. Indeed there was much that was truly encouraging in what they were looking for in their new pastor.
One thing, however, was significantly absent in both cases. Neither church made any mention of training! Neither mentioned training leaders to serve within their own congregations; neither indicated that raising up men to be leaders of other churches was part of the minister’s work. It doesn’t take a genious to work out that if we don’t prioritise raising up the next generation of ministers, our existing churches will flounder and we will have no capacity to plant new churches for the future.
2 Timothy 2:2 is well known: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”. We know the verse, perhaps by heart, but how often does it become part of the heartbeat of our local churches? Without exhausting all that could be said from the verse, let me mention three things.
Ministers must themselves continue in Bible-centred ministry
Sometimes this verse can become detached from its immediate context as well as the context of the letter in which it is written, Paul’s final letter as he passes on the baton to Timothy.
One of the surprises in this letter, and Paul’s previous letter to Timothy, is the apparent concern that Timothy might give up on ministry. The call for Timothy to “fight the good fight” comes as Paul recalls Hymenaeus and Alexander who have shipwrecked their faith (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Timothy is reminded to “guard what has been entrusted to his care” and to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” in the context of not being ashamed of Paul (2 Timothy 1:7-8; cf. 1 Timothy 6:20). The concern that Timothy keeps going runs all the way through the Pastoral Epistles.
The call of 2 Timothy 2:2, to entrust the apostolic word to reliable men, also comes immediately within the context of encouraging Timothy to keep going (2 Timothy 1:15-2:7). Chapter 1 closes with Paul describing how, when in Rome, all those from Asia deserted him. That included people who must have been well known to Timothy, like Phygelus and Hermogenes. The single exception was Onesiphorus. It is the desertion of these people that leads directly to 2:1: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. Here is the exhortation to Timothy to keep going.
The verses following 2 Timothy 2:2 are similarly a call to keep going. Paul uses three illustrations, from the army, from athletics and from agriculture. They urge Timothy to endure the hardships, the discipline and the hard work of ministry.
The tone of the whole letter and the immediate context of 2 Timothy 2:2, therefore, show that Timothy’s work of ‘entrusting’ ministry to others is done as he himself continues in that ministry. It is obvious but the point must be made. We will only have ministers for the future, and more ministers than we have at present, if those who are currently in ministry keep going.
Timothy, unlike the false teachers who have swerved from the truth in his day, must persevere in faithful ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-9). We learn later in 2 Timothy that it is the “God-breathed” Scriptures that are able fully to equip the man of God for such perseverance (1 Timothy 3:14-17). The links in the chain can, therefore, be followed. If Timothy is going to equip others for ministry, then he must continue in Bible-centred ministry himself (cf. Acts 20:28). The way he will continue in ministry is to continue in the Scriptures that are able to thoroughly equip him to do so. The implications for those of us who are presently in Word ministry are obvious. We need to continue in the Scriptures. We need to be those who are still learning from them, and not just regurgitating stuff we learned in the past. We need to be those who are still allowing the Scriptures to equip us for our ministry.
The first responsability of those who are in church leadership is towards themselves. It is only if we continue in ministry that ministry will multiply. The apostle Paul said exactly the same when he met with the Ephesians elders at Miletus (this comes at an important moment in the book of Acts. ‘All the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ – Acts 19:10. This meant that Paul could move from there to take the gospel to other unreached places. As a result, Paul knew he would never go to Ephesus again and, therefore, not see the elders of that church again). In Acts 20:18-27 Paul reminded the elders of his ministry while he was among them. His ministry was a model of how they were to continue in theirs but Paul’s first charge to them, in verse 28, is “keep watch over yourselves”.
If gospel ministry is going to be preserved for the future and if we are to multiply gospel ministry in the present, existing ministers need to continue in Bible-centred ministry.
Entrusting ministry to others is part of the minister’s job
This seems to be the clear meaning of 2 Timothy 2:2. A quick journey through the Pastoral Epistles gives us a good idea of what Paul expected Timothy and Titus to do in their ministries. They are expected to teach and preach, which is why being “able to teach” is the only gift included in the qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3. Their ministry involves teaching sound doctrine as well as rebuking error. It may involve speaking directly to those who teach false doctrine and calling them to silence (Titus 1:11). Finally, whether Timothy was ‘an evangelist’ or not, the charge in 2 Timothy 4:5 is to “do the work of an evangelist” (We can’t be too precise in exactly what ‘evangelist’ means. The word only occurs here and two other places in the NT. Philip was an evangelist – Acts 21:8 – and the evangelist is one of the word gifts that the victorious Christ gives to his church – Ephesians 4:11. It seems obvious, though, that the evangelist is someone who speaks the evangel, probably to those who are not Christians).
Thus, the job description of the church leader is not long: teaching, preaching, evangelism and entrusting to others. Acts 6:4 would add prayer to the church leader’s job description. In my thirty years of full-time ministry, I have observed that many church leaders find one or more of these tasks easier to engage in. I think of a pastor of a church near me; he always seems to be engaged in sharing the gospel with non-Christians. Every time I go to his church I meet people he has recently led to Christ.
My observation, however, is that many church leaders are weakest in the area of training others in ministry. The immediate demand of preaching on Sundays gets done, but training the next generation does not! Further, I have often observed (in myself too!) an ability to do all kinds of other things in church life that are not really at the heart of what the Scriptures expect church leaders to do. We can end up putting out chairs, acting as amateur psychologists, overseeing all the rosters, photocopying the service sheets and a million and one other things, and yet neglect the essential parts of our job!
If we want ministers for the next generation, and if we want more ministers (another implication 2 Timothy 2:2), then those of us who are church leaders must make this entrusting task a priority in terms of our time, energy and church programmes.
This part of our job is both intentional and modelled
Paul writes, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task”. The implication is that there will be some people who want to do the job. They may ‘offer’ themselves for the role but that does not mean they should be automatically accepted, hence Paul’s list of qualifications and qualities. Timothy is to assess any candidate for the role of overseer against these sort of qualities (cf. a similar list in Titus 1).
Nonetheless, in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul’s instruction carries intentionality. Timothy is not simply to sit back in Ephesus and wait for people to knock at the manse or vicarage door asking to do the job. Timothy is to be proactive. First, he is to identify “reliable men”. This can be translated ‘faithful’ and connotes ideas of loyalty and dependability. Sometimes, when we look for future ministers, we look for ‘star qualities’ that impress the world: high achievers in the workplace, those most able socially, and those who are born administrators. However, we first need to identify those who are reliable and dependable, those who, when they say they will do something, do it.
In the immediate context of the desertion of Phygelus and Hermogenes, ‘reliability’ may suggest something more. It may mean that Timothy must identify people with backbone! Church leaders must be people who will not wither under the hardships of ministry. They must be people whose loyalty to the gospel means that they have a robustness that stops them buckling under pressure.
The call of this verse means that those of us who are church leaders will regularly look around our congregations for men like this. They may not be the most prominent in the congregation but are, nonetheless, reliable. This verse certainly means that we ought to encourage men in our churches to be dependable.
Second, church leaders need to identify those who are qualified to teach others. Alongside integrity of character, there must be an ability to teach so that they pass on to others the things that Timothy entrusts to them. This means, the people Timothy chooses should have shown signs of ability to teach others.
There are a variety of ways that someone may demonstrate such ability. For those who are married with children, we will see it in family life (the role of all Christians fathers is to train and instruct ther children – Ephesians 6:4. When Paul gives the qualities for the overseer he specifically mentions the leadership or management of ones family – 1 Timothy 3:4-5). Part of the way I can discover those who are able to teach is to see the growth in knowledge of the Lord in their children. If someone can’t teach their children God’s word, it is unlikely they will be able to teach the church. Not all, however, are married or have children. My own view is that we will look for other spheres in which they demonstrate an ability to teach. That may be through leading a small group at church, working with the Sunday school or in the youth work.
Timothy is to be proactive in looking for reliable men who have an ability to teach and then he is to do with them what Paul has done with him, instructing, equipping and modelling gospel ministry to them. Timothy had been equipped for his ministry through hearing and being with the apostle Paul; he has been well instructed in the apostolic word (and in the Old Testament Scriptures from infancy); he has seen the way in which Paul has done ministry. What Timothy has heard from and observed in Paul, he must now pass on, or entrust, to the men he has identified.
Over the last thirty years I have been thrilled at how training opportunities have developed in the UK. When I started theological college in the early 1980s, most people arrived at college pretty clueless about the content of, and knowing how to handle, the Scriptures. Those who had received training in ministry obtained it largely through ‘camp’ networks. I am thrilled that, since then, we have stronger theological colleges, that the Cornhill Training Course has started and expanded, and that many of the Gospel Partnerships are offering training in preaching and teaching the Bible.
I have, moreover, noticed two other things, one exciting and another concerning. Excitingly, I have observed that many of the people starting out on the Ministry Training Course I teach know more about the Bible than those who started theological college with me in the early 1980s. Many of them know how the Bible fits together and are better able to handle the Old Testament. They have received better training from their home churches before embarking on further training.
Of concern is that others still come having had little equipping or training from their home churches or church leaders. There seems to be the expectation by some that training isn’t the concern of the local church or its leaders, but is best left to a theological college or a training course. This may mean that the leaders of those churches have not done much by way of intentional equipping, or that ministry has not been modelled in such a way that it can be copied.
In the first century there were no theological colleges or training courses to which Timothy could send those people he had identified as reliable and able to teach. If such people were going to teach others, it was vital for Timothy to do the ‘entrusting’ part of his ministry. We are privileged in the UK to have theological educators to whom we can send people for training but that must never be an excuse for ministers of local churches to avoid training suitably qualified men for gospel ministry.
In short, when we seek to appoint ministers to a local church we must be clear that we expect them to engage in training people for ministry so that gospel ministry is guarded for the next generation, and so that we will have more ministers able to engage is gospel ministry in the present. The future of our churches and the growth of the gospel demand that we ministers make identifying the right men, and entrusting gospel ministry to them, an urgent priority.
Justin Mote is the Chairman of the North West Gospel Partnership and has been the Director of Training since the Partnership began. He spends his week teaching on the Ministry Training Course and working to develop partnership between churches in the North West of England.
Article reproduced with kind permission, having originally been published by ninethirtyeight, (www.ninethirtyeight.org).