Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Helping your pastor keep going in ministry: 2 Timothy 4v1-8

I recently was asked to speak at the induction of a minister into the pastorate at another church.  Here are the notes of my sermon drawn from 2 Timothy 4:1-8:

A survey of pastors asked; ‘what the best thing about their job was?’ What do you think was number 1? It wasn’t only working one day a week. It was seeing people change. Pastors love to see people trust Jesus, then seeing people go on and grow as they’re changed by the gospel.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy we see Paul facing death for his faith calling Timothy to share his convictions and passion and continue in ministry. These are convictions we need in ministry and which churches need their ministers to have. Things you should be praying for your leaders and ministers and encouraging them in, as well as things they need to routinely return to, especially when ministry is tough.

Minister aware your Kingdom Context

Paul, as he writes to Timothy, is in a Roman prison. It wasn’t like our prisons. Roman prisons were dirty, dark, and damp, there were no rights, there was often torture and mistreatment, little food or water, and little hope.

But how does Paul describe where he is(1)? “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus...” Paul is not just a prisoner in a Roman jail awaiting his trial and death. That’s not his defining reality. Paul is in the presence of God and of Jesus. Isn’t that a different take on his reality? Paul lives out his life in the presence of God and exhorts Timothy to remember that he too lives and ministers in the presence of God. Does that change how we think of our reality? We live and minister in the presence of God and of Jesus.

The kingdom of God is now, but it is also coming. This section is bookended by a focus on the coming of the kingdom when Jesus returns as judge, it’s here in(1) as he gives Timothy this solemn charge but also in(8) as Paul anticipates Christ’s coming and his reward.

The most important thing Timothy must realise is that this world is not the most important thing, it’s not the enduring reality, it is not even what determines how you live. Don’t live life for now live life in the light of Christ’s coming kingdom.

Don’t let visible circumstances determine how you serve Christ but serve in light of his kingdom, which is now and not yet. We have a glorious future when Christ will judge the living and the dead. That’s the reality which must determine how you live.

Timothy needs to know this because he’s labouring in a church infected by false teaching, where people don’t want bible teaching, preaching the truth is unwelcome, results are slow growing, or look insignificant, and where he experiences opposition. But that isn’t the only reality, if you focus on that reality you will give up. Serve your saviour, live out your kingdom context.

We must keep our kingdom context in focus as we engage in gospel ministry. Often church looks unimpressive, our evangelism looks insignificant, we feel weak, sometimes congregations shrink before they grow, and we’re tempted to despair as we look around. But remember your kingdom context, we minister in the presence of God and Jesus and his kingdom and victory are certain.

Fulfil your Kingdom Commission

What is the thing Paul tells Timothy to do? “preach the word”. His dying charge to Timothy is keep on preaching the bible, don’t give up on it; it’s the most important thing you can do, give your life to it, die for it. And Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy what to do but how to do it;

a. Urgently – Timothy is to preach the bible when and wherever opportunity arises, when you feel like it and when you don’t, on duty and off duty, when people want to listen and when they don’t. There’s an urgency to preaching the bible because (3:16-17)it is God’s word, it alone brings us salvation and produces change.

b. Relevantly – Paul uses three words to describe different uses of God’s word; “Correct, rebuke, encourage...” Some of those we naturally don’t like to hear or give? In our society we don’t like correcting or rebuking but we like encouragement. But preaching the bible exposes our sin both before we trust in Jesus and afterwards, it warns us of its consequences, and it comforts us not by saying a therapeutic ‘there, there’ but by pointing us to Jesus. Timothy must preach the bible in a way that is relevant to his hearers as he points to Jesus. He must correct, rebuke and encourage in Christ as and when necessary.

c. Faithfully – Timothy needs two characteristics in his preaching, “great patience and careful instruction”. There’s a danger in preaching the bible – it is that you get frustrated when people don’t get it, or don’t change, or their hearts aren’t lit up by it. If it is the best thing about being a pastor, then the most frustrating thing is when it isn’t happening. But Timothy is called to preach the bible with great patience, in other words keep on preaching. Don’t give up and go somewhere else keep on preaching the bible. But he is also to preach carefully in terms of content, this is about what he teaches - teach sound doctrine, preach the bible.

The thing this church needs is to hear the bible taught, applied to them as it is; God’s word. It reveals salvation, points to Jesus, convicts, and changes us. Preach it and keep preaching it, be patient and careful in your teaching.

Understand the threat to Preaching the Word(3-5)

Why does Timothy need this exhortation to preach? Because there is a time coming when people won’t want to hear the truth, they won’t want to hear sound teaching, but instead will find teachers willing to teach what they want to hear. No correction, no rebuke, no real comfort just teaching that suits their desires. The truth of the bible substituted for myths.

How might we see that today?

a. A desire to be entertained –One church in America tried to stop dwindling numbers by having church staff wrestling as part of their service! But it doesn’t have to be that extreme, it can simply be that jokes, anecdotes or stories or self can dominate instead of the bible.

b. A desire not be challenged – It can be not wanting to hear the bibles correction or rebuke. Wanting false comfort not biblical comfort that shows us our sin, warns us of its consequences and comforts us by pointing to our salvation in Christ as the answer and calling us to live out our new identity in Christ. False comfort is powerless.

c. A desire not to be stretched – The bible taught properly will stretch us, it will require us to engage, to think about it, to weigh our hearts, thinking and motives. It is not like watching TV; it requires participation.

d. A pressure to be short – How long will you commit to listening to the bible for in a week? The pressure is on to be short, 20mins is thought to be a long time – our attention spans to some extent are moulded by TV. But teaching the bible takes time, to explain the text, to work it into our lives and to apply it well.

How is Timothy, and how are we, to respond to this? (5)"But you...” Be countercultural, fight against the prevailing trends and desires. People won’t want to listen to the truth so what is Timothy to do? Keep on preaching. He is to think clearly about these trends and keep teaching the bible, as he experiences opposition he is to keep teaching the bible, as people reject and confront him he is to do the work of an evangelist. That isn’t going door to door, or doing open air but proclaiming the truth of Jesus – in other words teach the bible, he is to complete the task – preach the bible.

Pass on the baton

Paul gives one final reason for Timothy to preach the word, to fulfil this commission. Paul has done it(6-7), he has laboured, sweated and endured in gospel ministry committed to his saviour and now is excited about going home.

Notice how he speaks of his death(6), it is his departure not the end, simply time to leave this sphere of service and hear his masters well done! Paul has lived for the kingdom, preached the truth, fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith and he considers it worth it. All of those words contain the idea of contending, striving, battling towards a goal.

Timothy preach the word, pick up the baton I’m passing to you because it is worth it. And Timothy is to pass this on to others(2:2), pass on what, a conviction and passion for teaching God’s word.

We must share those convictions; teach the truth and encourage others to teach the truth. These must remain our convictions.

But as a church how do you encourage your pastor to do that?

1. Pray for his preparation and preaching. In 2 Tim 2v15 Paul tells Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." Pray that for your pastor.

2. Come ready. Nothing encourages a pastor like teaching people who are keen to learn, read the passage before you come, engage during the talk, and ask questions of him and one another. Don’t want entertaining, don’t want easy listening, don’t settle for less than the gospel.

3. Resource your pastor. Encourage him to work hard and preach well by providing him with the means to study well, to buy commentaries, to be taught and trained. Resource him time wise, not crowding out preparation time with expectations to be at or doing other things (Acts 6 - provides a good model).

4. Question your pastor. If the pastor’s greatest joy is seeing people change, then show him you are by asking questions about the passage, or challenging something that was said, or simply telling him when something has changed you or made you think. Because it’s thrilling to be part of someone grappling with and seeking to understand and apply more of the character, plan and power of God through his word.

5. Treat your pastor as a person. Don’t put your pastor on a pedestal, none of us are infallible and it doesn’t help us to be treated as such. Treat him and his family as people you trust and love in Christ.

6. Remember ministry is not about the minister. Pastors prepare people to engage in ministry. The fruit of teaching the bible is changed lives among the congregation, it is the congregation increasingly teaching one another and becoming ministers themselves.

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