My dear brother and son, “Timothy:”
One of the greatest joys in ministry are men like you. It’s amazing that God would call a sinner like me to salvation. It’s also a grace when you realize God wants to use a redeemed sinner like myself to serve and present this glorious gospel to others. A threefold blessing is a man like you. God is not required to grant fruit for our service. Men like Jeremiah and Isaiah did not get the privilege I have. I don’t deserve a brother like you. I don’t deserve to enjoy the bond we have, and I pray you feel just as grateful for the overwhelming grace that God’s calling is.
My friend, it begins in the gospel, it’s sustained in the gospel and it all ends in the rejoicing in the culmination of the gospel. I want to encourage you that every element of your personal walk and your ministry finds it root in the gospel. This does not mean just a “simple call to salvation” but requires plunging the great depths of the love of God in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and all that it accomplished for His Saints.
Allow me to illustrate with some truths from 2 Timothy.
There is a temptation to place people on pedestals as the years go by. I have been blessed to be trained and poured into by many faithful men. Yet none of those men would want me to revere them in a way that defies the gospel. They were not used by God because they were more gifted than others. They did not see fruit because they were smarter, more creative or even more organized. They were called. They were called as an undeserved gift from God and all fruit they observed came from him. If you think fondly of me, Timothy, please know that is God’s doing. I simply sought to obey that which God had called me to, and was regularly aware that I was beyond “my paygrade.” As you serve others, please keep this gospel focus. Do not force or require them to follow you because of your position. Do not Lord over them with your skills, your experience, or even testimony to your fruit. Lead faithfully because of your calling.
Understanding how God has called you will allow you to lead with boldness. But understanding “calling” also allows you to find freedom in your weakness. The pressure is off for perfection. Christ alone is your perfection. Lead, knowing you’ll make mistakes. And when you do, own those mistakes. For owning those mistakes serves in revealing the power and glory of Christ.
Also recognize that the gospel call was not to a life of isolation. Timothy, understand I only played a small part in your growth. There is a countless host of witnesses who have played into your understanding of the gospel and it’s application to your life. When Jesus called each of us to salvation, He called us into a community of faith. You have not (and do not continue) to grow in isolation of other believers, but in community. Don’t lead in isolation either. Embrace the fact that Christ alone is Our perfect Prophet, Priest and King. You are an undershepherd, and God’s desire for His church is for there to be many undershepherds. Pour into others, while you also allow them to shepherd your life. Christ Jesus is our Good Shepherd, but He is also the Lamb of God. You likewise, need to lead, and develop leaders, yet understand that you need the church in your life as well.
These fellow undershepherds do not just “grow on trees.” You will need to be intentional about the way that you pour into others. Just as men poured into my life to, I’ve sought to pour into yours, and you will need to pour into others. How does this process not become diluted over the years? Can’t such training be a bit like “telephone” where part of the message gets lost with each generation? Not if everything is taken back to the Apostles’ Teaching. Not if everything is drawn back to the Word.
Timothy, you’ve got to be devoted to the Scriptures. Now, we’ve all met the “angry Bible guy.” That’s not what I’m talking about. But in our age of pluralism, pragmatism and “tolerance’ the answer is not “anything goes,” either. You must take everything back to the Scriptures. But always make the gospel message the central drive of your Biblical study. Seek to avoid empty and pointless Bible debates by examining how the Scriptures address a topic in such a way that our Redeemer Jesus Christ is made much of. This must be the drive for your own heart, for your teaching to the church, and even for your development of future leaders.
Timothy, there are moments and people like you that make such service incredibly fruitful and delightful. But this is not always the case.
Persecution will come. You will get hammered at times for being faithful to the Word. Sometimes, you will be able to anticipate these attacks as you see your surrounding resisting Biblical teaching. Other times, and I think these are the most painful, the attack comes where you least expected it. When this happens, use it as a grace from God to examine where you might be able to repent of sin in your own life. But also rejoice in the sharing of the suffering of Christ. You will never suffer to the degree that your Savior did, but such moments of suffering do remind you that the cross always comes before glory.
Some of your leaders will fail, and maybe even make divisions. Not everyone seeks to shepherd out of pure motive. Leading others can be intoxicating. It can be a very subtle shift toward serving Christ, to serving self. You must always be aware of your own temptation toward this and seek for the community of faith to apply the gospel to your own heart, to remind you that Jesus Christ came to serve, not be served and give His life a ransom for many. Also be aware that you must help others fight the temptation to serve self.
However, some will fail to fight this fight, and even some may prove themselves to have never submitted to Christ at all. Do not be shocked by this. It is harmful, both personally, and to the church. However, remember that our Lord and Savior Himself had disciples who denied Him and hid, and even one who betrayed Him and denied Him altogether. When these situations arise, you must respond consistent with the gospel.
Do not be afraid to call out such sin. God’s Word makes clear distinctions between believers and unbelievers. If a person who was leading shows himself to be an unbeliever, do not be terrified to state it. However, do this with grace and mercy, always with the goal of restoration. Perhaps God will grant that man repentance! And lead your church in interacting with the man with boldness, yet charity.
And don’t quit leading other leaders. You will be tempted to pull back and protect yourself from such harm in the future. But this is not how our Lord treats us. Continue to seek to pass the gospel on to future generations and future leaders because God has called us to this. He knows who are His. Some will fall away, but by His grace, some will not.
Love those you pass the gospel on to until it hurts. It will hurt as some reject it or even persecute you. You will feel a sting as some leave you for good reasons. Some you train will go out from your congregation to plant and pastor other flocks. Rejoice that they are not “yours” but are the Lords, and though you’ll miss this presence, know that it is another grace of the Lord that He allows us to be a part of the spread of the gospel. And know that it will hurt some day to look at a future leader of your church and to know your own personal days of service are drawing to an end.
That’s where I am now, Timothy. It’s been a delight as you’ve served along with me. It’s been a joy to see that service progress to a side by side partnership. I’d love nothing more than to step back, and now sit under your ministry and the ministry of those you trained. However, my race has come to an end.
I look forward to rejoicing with you, before the presence of our Chief Shepherd, as we’ll rejoice forever in His grace He has lavished upon us!