1 & 2 Timothy; Paul’s Legacy for Leaders
I suspect that like me you are wary, maybe ever weary, of 'business and management speak’. But be honest, it is not all bad. As American writer Tom Peters put it, “Leaders do not create followers they create more leaders.” It’s worth thinking about because the topic of leadership is very much alive. The importance of Paul’s two letters to Timothy for Christian leadership and ministry cannot be overstated. (We could add the letter to Titus, but space forbids my doing so). These two letters offer a unique and instructive insight into the early Church during the apostolic era. Much is at stake, as Paul’s warnings indicate and subsequent church history amply demonstrates.
God and the Gospel
The letters make great statements about God and the Gospel. This is the God the Christian leader serves, and this is the Gospel upon which the leader depends and to which he is utterly committed. This God is our Saviour Christ Jesus, who is the believer’s hope. The task of the leader is to “advance God’s work” (1:4), by both exercising faith and promoting the faith. The ESV helpfully indicates we are but ‘stewards’ of this gospel from God. Indeed, the gospel is that which conforms to the glory of the blessed God. Every true Christian leader knows that he is a recipient and beneficiary of the grace of God poured out on him, and that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the worst (1 Tim 1:15)! It is little wonder that Paul declares, ‘Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen!’ (1:17). And this is only the first chapter! Such God-thankful leaders will pass on and press the gospel of this God, passionately, carefully and urgently, to those who follow.
Paul - Mentor and Model
The true mentor is a model not merely a mouth. Although these letters speak to the whole church at Ephesus, they are deeply personal in many aspects, and this is particularly true of 2 Timothy. Here Paul speaks freely, appealing to Timothy’s own observations, knowledge and experience acquired in serving with Paul. It was Paul who saw Timothy’s potential and brought him into the sphere of ministry. There are thus many personal touches to Paul’s counsel to Timothy, and those who mentor others today need to adopt the same warm-hearted approach.
A particular example of this kind of mentoring is the way the Apostle reminds Timothy of his (Paul’s) own life and labours, turning these experiences to Timothy’s instruction and writing; ‘You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings - what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.’ Tomorrow’s leaders need exemplary inspirational, leaders today. Timothy, whilst he was still learning, was now out of training and into the work.
To Teach Others Also
Paul is nearing the end of his race, his fight, his service (2 Tim 4:6-8). Timothy will have to labour in Paul’s place, and he in turn will need others to follow him! Carefully, Paul sets out for Timothy detailed instruction on how to encourage the life and health of the church, present and future, in the face of false teaching, spiritual shipwrecks, blasphemers, and the increasingly anti-Christian authorities of his day.
Timothy will need strength for all aspects of his ministry,including the training of others (2 Tim 2:2); ‘You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.’ Timothy is told, in effect, to trigger a chain reaction that will lead to leaders for the church for years to come. If you want to know the kind of things Paul said ‘in the presence of many witnesses’ read these and indeed all Paul’s letters carefully.
Conviction! Commitment! Character!
You cannot read these letters without feeling the passion and commitment of Paul and how he urges the same upon Timothy. There is a vital theology of suffering in service in these two short letters. Paul’s convictions ring out, his commitment is undeniable, and his own character was under scrutiny day and night. The emphasis on godly character in these letters, too often neglected in today’s pastoral training, which tends to favour ‘gifts’ and ‘skills’, must serve as a corrective to our understanding of the way we should approach the training and preparation for service of those who must follow us.
How, then, can we summarize Paul’s legacy to leaders?
His high views of God and God-inspired scripture. His grasp of the gospel. His courage in the face of danger and even death. The warmth of his father/son affection for Timothy. The sheer weight and substance of doctrine in two short letters of only 4500 words combined. The urgency of his call and counsel to Timothy.
Also note the understanding Paul displays of Timothy’s personal make up, character and his realism regarding the task facing Timothy. Leadership and ministry can be very hard.
If you are considering Christian leadership, why not prayerfully immerse yourself in these two short letters? Before the Lord, ask yourself the hard questions. Existing leaders would do well to examine and re-examine their own hearts, ministries, including efforts to train others, in the light of this invaluable legacy to leaders. These letters are theologically rich, biographically inspiring, and timelessly urgent; as someone has said, 2 Timothy was written in the ‘shadow of the scaffold’. There is a gospel to be a guarded, a gift to be nurtured and a Church still to be led after we ourselves have finished our race!