Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.  Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.—1 Timothy 4:11-16

In a few weeks, I have the privilege of preaching at a special service where a church is officially installing its new Lead Pastor.  The church is in Silverton, Oregon, and the pastor is one of my former staff members.  This means I get to talk to an entire church about how God’s Word instructs them to treat their new pastor, who happens to be my good friend, and at the same time speak to him about what God expects of him in his new role.  The outgoing pastor, who is retiring, is also a friend of mine, so it’s going to be an especially sweet time.

The timing, however, is not ideal.  It’s Easter season, when I don’t have a lot of time to put together an extra sermon.  It’s also a season where we have visiting missionaries, and some other extra things that require advance preparation.  So, since my time is a little squeezed this week, for my Thursday Thoughts I’m just going to give you the highlights of what I’ll be sharing in Oregon.  My sermon that day will be based on the above passage in 1 Timothy, where Paul is instructing Timothy, a younger pastor, on how to lead his church:

First: Age doesn’t matter:  Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he is young, but to set an example for the believers in the church, many of whom will be older than he is.  My friend JD is in his forties.  He has more than a decade of ministry experience.  He has five children, some of whom are entering the college years.  But I can guarantee you that many people in his church will think of him as a “young man.”  People were telling me how young I was when I was a 25-year-old youth pastor, and 23 years later it’s still happening!

You’re always young to somebody.  But it doesn’t matter.  I have pastored people more than twice my age, and I have pastored many people who were undoubtedly closer to Jesus than I was.  That’s okay, because God sometimes uses the weak to lead the strong.  Pastors are still called to set an example in their speech, their conduct, their love, their faith, and their purity.  And people are still called to respect their pastor, regardless of age differences.

Next: Teaching is a pastor’s primary responsibility: Paul tells Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching and to teaching, and then he tells him to watch his doctrine closely.  He doesn’t tell him to devote himself to running programs, or raising money, or attracting more people to make his church bigger.  We live in an age when a pastor is expected to be skilled at a wide variety of things.  To some extent this is necessary, because of the way we do church, and to some extent it is appropriate: when we are paying someone a full-time salary, it’s reasonable that they would be doing certain things for the church beyond preaching and teaching.  But the ministry of the Word should always be primary, and when there is not enough time, it’s not the thing that should suffer.

Furthermore, the ministry of the Word requires someone to be spiritually healthy, to be walking closely with God, which also takes time.  You can’t teach God’s Word to God’s people week in and week out if you are exhausted or distracted.  It’s a constant challenge for pastors to discipline themselves and make the teaching of the Word a priority over all the lesser ministry tasks.  And it’s important for the church not to pile too many other responsibilities on their pastor, so that the ministry of the Word gets his best and fullest attention.

And finally: Character is the primary qualification for ministry:  Paul tells Timothy to set an example in his speech, his conduct, his love, his faith, and his purity.  These are not things Timothy will teach in a sermon from the pulpit, but in the way he lives.  Later Paul tells him to watch his life, not just his doctrine, closely.  Ministry is unlike most other jobs, in that pastors are paid not just for what they do, but for who they are.  The position requires certain skills, but it also requires you to be a certain type of person.

It’s not just Bible knowledge and the ability to preach and lead people that qualifies you for ministry.  It’s how you treat those people while you’re leading them.  It’s what you do with your private time when no one is watching.  It’s how healthy your marriage is.  If a doctor or a teacher or a correctional officer gets divorced, they usually don’t also lose their job.  But a pastor does, and rightly so, because his position requires him to be not just a skilled teacher and leader, but a spiritually healthy example to the flock.

For this reason, pastors have to take extra care to safeguard their walk with God.  All believers should spend quiet time with God, but a pastor absolutely must do this.  No believer should neglect their marriage or their children, but a pastor absolutely cannot.  This means that churches must understand the unique demands and pressures of ministry, and encourage the pastor to do whatever he needs to do to care for the needs of his soul and his family.

I’m aware of a number of people who faithfully pray for me, for our staff, and for our families, and I’m very grateful for this.  It’s an awesome task to lead God’s people, and the older I get, the more I understand how unworthy I am to do it.  Praise God for His grace!  Have a great week.

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