by Terry MacCabe
Ministry in the local church can be hard. Every Monday morning in America thousands of heavy hearted, worn out ministers draft resignation letters. Some of these letters get delivered, some get shelved, and thankfully many are discarded.
Young preachers are leaving the ministry at an alarming rate. Having graduated from Bible college less than 20 years ago, I find a small number of those who graduated in my day still in the pulpit. Many who remain are among the walking wounded, ready to “pack it in” at any time. The 24/7 grind of ministry coupled with the less-than-stellar pay packages many churches offer can squelch the vigor and idealism of youth.
Some blame the colleges, others blame the church, and still others lay the blame on the ministers themselves. I doubt any one group is entirely responsible, but I am confident that if we recognize and address the issue in our colleges and churches the situation can improve.
The apostle Paul worked closely with two young preachers. Timothy and Titus are names you and I recognize today partly because of Paul’s influence and care. What can we learn from his relationship with them that might help diminish the current level of ministerial dropout? How did he relate to them in a way that helped sustain them through the droughts of daily ministry?
An unmistakable cornerstone of Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus is his role of paternal mentor. He often referred to Timothy as his child in the faith (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2). He called Titus “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4). This may indicate that Paul was instrumental in their conversions. It may simply mean he was assuming the role of father figure in their lives, at least in a spiritual sense.
If any generation should know about the importance of paternal mentoring, it is ours. How many potential young ministers are growing up in homes with absent fathers? What hope is there for them to endure the crushing blows of ministry if no older brother comes alongside and builds a relationship with them?
Some churches struggle with generational conflict. This can be exacerbated when the minister is young; his thoughts and methods can frustrate the older crew. In response, instead of drawing him into a relationship where they can help him understand the older generation’s thoughts and feelings, they might drive him away. Paul may have driven some people away, but never over superficial issues. I wonder if we would know about Titus and Timothy today if he had?
Paul understood the vital role older men can play in the lives of younger men. The educational system he grew up in was built on the concept of older men mentoring younger men. Through these relationships young men advanced as their mentor recognized their ability to handle more responsibility.
Timothy’s mother and grandmother appear to have been responsible for his spiritual development, leading to the assumption that his father was absent or at least distant. Of Titus’ father we know nothing. These were two young men whose incredible impact on the church may have been extinguished if not for the fatherly leadership of Paul.
An example of Paul’s mentoring in Scripture can be found in Titus 3:9, 10: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” These are the words of a caring father giving sound instruction to a beloved son he wants to see succeed and grow in the Lord.
Another vital layer of Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus is that of instructor in sound doctrine. Paul knew how important it was that these two young men understand and teach doctrinal truth. They were literally the second generation of the church. If the baton of sound doctrine were not passed on to succeeding generations, the church would certainly suffer.
Consider Paul’s instruction given in Titus 3:5-7: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” In these brief verses Paul sheds light on the doctrinal issues of salvation, works, baptism, lordship, justification, grace, adoption, redemption, and eschatology.
To Timothy Paul says, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3, 4). The chapter (and much of Paul’s instruction to Timothy) is filled with doctrinal details and instruction.
Early in my ministry I was shocked to learn how many people in the church simply wanted to avoid the issue of doctrine; they saw it only as a divisive subject that causes strife. Or worse, they just didn’t care! More than a handful of times I’ve been floored by churchgoers who have said, “I really don’t care about doctrinal issues.” Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:16 just how important doctrine is: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Some people today are afraid to raise the issue of doctrine; I suggest we ought to be afraid not to raise the issue. Paul passed this philosophy on to Timothy and Titus with no reservation.
Paul knew that any healthy long-term relationship between him and the up-and-coming leaders in the church must not just be one of authority and power. Undoubtedly he was aware of Jesus’ teaching that church leaders must not lord their power over others in the church, but rather they must become servants. He also would have realized that Titus and Timothy couldn’t always be followers; they must become the leaders of the next generation. Here we see a side of Paul that gets little attention in our day—that of a peer and fellow worker in the kingdom.
We see Paul calling his young coworkers alongside in ministry, giving them significant responsibility. Not only did he consider them peers, he referred to them as such in front of others. In his letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul held up Timothy as “our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ.” To the Corinthians, Paul referred to Titus as “my brother.” Today’s young leaders must sense the endorsement of today’s elders, a fact not lost on Paul.
Paul told Timothy and Titus not to let others look down on them. He admonished Timothy not to allow others to despise his youth (1 Timothy 4:12), while telling Titus, “Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15, New American Standard). Paul said this because he knew some people would treat them with contempt for various reasons. Paul’s words of encouragement no doubt helped sustain these two young men through difficult times.
Finally, consider the humility displayed by Paul in his words to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15,16, NIV). If Paul had wanted to establish and maintain a relationship of subservience from Timothy he would not have made himself so vulnerable. He regarded Timothy as a trusted peer.
None of us today carries the credentials and credibility that enabled Paul to develop the intimate relationships he did with Timothy and Titus. Each of us, however, can and should capitalize on every opportunity to build relationships with the young ministers God brings into our lives. Many of these young men need someone who will, to the best of his ability, demonstrate the characteristics Paul employed with Timothy and Titus. I believe doing so will greatly diminish the dropout rate among young ministers and benefit both ministers and those who come alongside them.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
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