Paul’s friendship with Timothy offers a model of discipleship. Rick Warren qualifies their relationship and the message to us in three points: (1) act as a father figure; (2) set the pace for expectation and disciplines; (3) and partner together to do the work. Author Keri Kent says, “We as leaders need to remind those we lead to develop their gifts, to lean into the power and love that God gives them, and then to move forward” (Christianity Today). Both offer sage advice, but how do we practically have Timothys in our ministry?
Do You Have Any Timothys In Your Ministry?
Let’s first review some points from Scripture. Paul wrote to at least three individuals: Philemon, Titus, and Timothy. The other letters of Paul are addressed to the church or churches in a particular city or region. Timothy meets Paul in Lystra (modern day Turkey) where Timothy grows up. We don’t know whether Timothy is already a believer at the time or comes to faith through Paul’s teaching, but Acts does tell us that he begins to work with Paul and travels with both he and Silas. How much traveling they do together is unclear, but likely not very much. The reason is that Paul continues to be thrown into prison. Many of the letters we have, including 1 and 2 Timothy, are instructions to his ministry team because his circumstances make it impossible to be present with them.
We know Timothy is young and feels discouraged (1 Tim. 4: 9-16). Nevertheless, he is a leader who needs to oppose false teachers (1 Tim. 1) and build up and create order in the church, from how to worship, to who should be a pastor, and what constitutes effective ministry (1 Tim. 2-5). Paul understands, especially by the second letter, that Timothy will outlive him. He explains two lasting principles we shouldn’t skip over.
The first is that the Gospel is never chained up and sacrificed by our circumstances. Paul says, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:8-10).
The second is that the Word of God breathes long after we will. Yes, there will come a time when it’s fulfilled and the narrative we know of God and his Son’s blood will be shown in eternity’s light, but until then, his Word is our guide and the way God equips us. Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In light of this eternal view, we need Timothys in our ministry. Much like fatherhood, mentoring those who are beginning their ministry allows us to see the work of God as bigger and bolder than our own person and our own strength. We see the work of God extending past our fleeting days and we are humbled, as Moses was humbled on Mount Nebo, looking into the Promised Land where he couldn’t go. God’s plans don’t begin or end with us.
So how do we cultivate Timothys in our ministry? Here are several ways, primarily adopted from what I see my own church doing through its 20+ year Timothy Program.
1. Be Organized
It’s one thing to have coffee with someone who you’re discipling (do that, too; it’s good and wise to have regular, yet casual, meetings), but consider working with your deacons/elders to develop ways to teach and give opportunity to young people in a deliberate, accountable, organized, programmatic way.
2. Finance It
How do you church plant? Well, for a few thousand years, church planting was organic. A church would raise up and equip (think seminary) young people to learn how to preach and care for the congregation, and then go and plant new churches. Simulcast church services do not equip anyone, but rather display a cult of personality at worst and a perceived neglect to disciple other preachers at best. So, put some dollars behind people who will work, go to school, learn, go out and…well, work out the Great Commission we are called to do.
3. Celebrate and Trust
Celebrate the Timothys in your church and your soon-to-be daughter churches. Trust them to preach and give testimony to what God is doing in and through them. I couldn’t believe it, but I was so impressed when our pastor allowed one of the ministers who was going out to plant a church in reasonable driving distance to “plug” the new church! Sure, it was a daughter church, but the action saw to God’s eternal cause and realized the temporal leadership we all share. Let God do his work and find yourself in such a work.
Network is a silly, corporate word that has an essence of dishonesty. If we apply it to ministry, we need to be careful to apply it generously and without any pretense. What I mean here by network is just that – a growing group of ministers and churches who are seeking God’s kingdom purposes. This includes building leaders who seek him and want to be counseled and discipled by a body of like-leaders. This is especially true when a young Timothy plants a church well away from his home congregation and outside the presbytery or diocesan model. Network can create accountability and help prevent fatigue and lonesomeness (like Elijah at the broom tree escaping Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:1-18).
As a kid, I remember a gigantic dirt mountain in our developing neighborhood. My brothers and I were among the first kids to climb up and claim ourselves kings of the mountain. Other new neighborhood kids came along. We learned their names and distracted them just long enough to make sure our claim was not compromised. We had to make it to the top before they did. Inevitably, our reign was short-lived. The bigger kids won out and the dirt was ultimately used to fill in new properties, making our mountain quickly (and literally) become a mole hill. Yes, I learned that other things besides prayer can move mountains, but I also learned the temporal stock that life really does bring. Friendship (and, in the case of the article here, discipleship) is much more inviting than kingship. We know the work is not our own, that some sow and some reap the harvest. It’s difficult to surrender to that kind of humility. When we do, we find, perhaps surprisingly, a renewed sense of purpose. It’s not about us. God does the work and it is ours to fall into that work and not push everyone aside to be king of a mountain that he has made and that he will some day send crashing into the sea.
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.