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Help a pastor stay in ministry

An extract from John Benton’s new book Resilient: how 2 Timothy teaches us to bounce back in Christian leadership


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His name was Tony.

He was married, the father of five children and he worked as a civil servant. He was one of the most tenacious men I ever knew. He was a deacon and then an elder of the church of which I was pastor before he moved on to help lead a church replanting project in which we were involved. Now he is with the Lord.

Church in trouble

But in the mid-1960s – long before I arrived – the church went through a bad time. The congregation had dwindled to just a handful on Sunday evenings. There was often acrimony among members, especially at church meetings. The church building was old and not in a good state of repair. While other churches in the town were thriving, God seemed to have passed this one by. People weren’t up for serving in the church, some were leaving and much of what needed to be done by way of administration and practical jobs got left to Tony.

At the same time his wife, Mary, fell into quite serious depression. It was a difficult time. But this man had grit. While other people were jumping ship, Tony said to his wife, ‘the harder it gets the more determined I am to stay’. She loved him for it. With God’s enabling, he was true to his word. He and a few others carried the church through that very destructive and dark period and later God blessed it in a great way. But, humanly speaking, if it had not been for that resilient man Tony, I’m not sure there would have been a church left for God to bless.

Timothy’s friend

As Paul writes to Timothy, it seems clear that Timothy is wobbling as a Christian leader. He was not naturally made of the same stuff as my friend Tony. Yet he needed that same tenacity if he was to fulfill his ministry.

Paul has already made it plain that he looks upon Timothy as his ‘dear son’ in the faith. Timothy was from Lystra and it was there that Paul had faced stoning, and was thought dead, though he later recovered. It is this kind of resilience which Christian workers need. We get knocked down, but we get up again.

Timothy had earned a good reputation as a keen Christian among the churches, and acceded to Paul’s wisdom that he be circumcised so as not to cause any misunderstanding that might divert Jewish folk from listening to the gospel. This showed a commitment and a willingness in Timothy to do whatever was necessary to help the cause of the Lord Jesus.

So an affectionate bond grew up between Paul and Timothy which is very obviously expressed in 1.3-4 of 2 Timothy. Paul prays urgently and repeatedly for Timothy and he longs to see him so that I may be filled with joy.

It is Paul’s deep concern and love for Timothy that becomes the proper platform from which to address Timothy’s need to be resilient. Paul’s affection for Timothy, expressed in the letter, no doubt encouraged and steadied Timothy. But, more crucially, it is that affection which enabled Timothy to receive what Paul had to say to help him. John Stott writes, ‘Such a Christian friendship, including the companionship, the letters and the prayers through which it was expressed, did not fail to have a powerful moulding effect on young Timothy, strengthening and sustaining him in his Christian life and service’.1

Why some young pastors give up

Some young men set out in the ministry but do not last long. Sometimes that is due to the fact that they do not have the kind of support from an older, wiser friend (or trusted group of mature Christian friends) that Timothy enjoyed.

What tends to happen with some young men new to Christian leadership is something like the following scenario.

They are part of an established local church when they feel the call to ministry. Though they have no place for them on the home team, their church recognises that they have a gift and feels it is right to support them prayerfully and perhaps financially through seminary.

But, having done that, the church believes that basically it has fulfilled its obligations. Also, at the conclusion of their training, the seminary too, which has been very glad to teach the young man and benefit from the fees which he has paid them, looses the ties with him. Having seen him through to graduation, they too might think they have done all that is required.

No-one to open his heart to

The young seminary graduate then launches forth into the marketplace of churches seeking pastors and eventually lands a position. It is likely that it will be in a location geographically distant from his home town and, anyway, it is now three or four years since he (and his young family?) was really part of their home church. The seminary is now focused on a new batch of students and, apart from a few emails advertising further courses, takes little or no personal interest in him.

Besides a few friends of his own age he met at seminary (equally lacking in pastoral experience) with whom he keeps in contact, our young man is cut adrift in a new church he hardly knows and which, although hopefully enthusiastic towards the new man, hardly knows him. The people of the church and their elders are as yet only slightly more than acquaintances. They are not friends to whom he can easily open his heart. What’s more, there may even be an element in the congregation that says: ‘We pay his salary and having been trained at Bible college, he should know the answers and not have to ask us’.

Furthermore, the local pastors’ fraternal turns out to be a competitive gathering as men ask one another ‘How’s your church doing?’ Sometimes, it is little more than a stage on which the more successful pastors can smugly display how marvellous their own ministries are, while everyone else feels useless and inept. The rest keep quiet about their real troubles and lack of progress.

Another one bites the dust

And so it is that, when the road of pastoral ministry gets tough, the young man whom we have been considering is on his own. He is out on a limb. He has no one to turn to – except perhaps his wife. And they fret together and feel so inadequate. Without outside help, they lack perspective and things get out of proportion. They tear their hair out alone. And they talk together amid the tears. And eventually another young ministry couple decides they can’t take it any longer and resign. They have to do it to save their sanity and their family life. It’s a tragedy for them and for the cause of Christ.

If only...

If only there had been an older friend who had been through the mill in ministry and to whom the young man had felt confident in turning to amid his troubles, the situation might have been saved. Perhaps it could have been the pastor or a kind elder from his old home church? Perhaps it could have been a humble, gentle and respected senior pastor from the fraternal? If only…

Fortunately for Timothy, as he faced his time of crisis, he had Paul who loved him and looked out for him. So it is that Paul writes to Timothy. And it is very clear from the text that Paul is not on his own ego trip to be a ‘mentor’ of distinction. He is not out to throw his weight around and show Timothy how great an apostle he is. He writes out of genuine affection and he makes sure that Timothy knows it. It will be Paul’s obvious love for Timothy that will open the door of Timothy’s heart, so he hears what the apostle has to say to him.

In these verses, Paul begins to intervene and encourage Timothy to stay true. He is aiming to build Timothy’s resilience. How does Paul go about that?

Resilient: How 2 Timothy Teaches us to Bounce Back in Christian Leadership. Published by Christian Focus, 153 pages, ISBN 978 1 527 102 101, £6.99

1. John R.W. Stott, Guard the Gospel (IVP, 1973), page 29