Thoughts for Young Men in Ministry
Ministry Wisdom taken from the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)
In your ministry…
- Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). Remember your charge from the Lord Almighty, when you enter that pulpit. You’re not an entertainer, so don’t entertain. You’re not a performer, so don’t perform. You’re not a debater, so don’t debate. You’re not a story-teller, so don’t tell stories. You’re not a lecturer, so don’t lecture. You’re not a president, so don’t dictate. You’re not a testimonial, so don’t talk about yourself. You are, first and foremost, a preacher – called to proclaim the truth of the Almighty God and Savior to His people. So get up there, open up that Bible, and preach it, brother!
- Point to the gospel (1 Timothy 1:15, 2:5-7, 2 Timothy 1:8, 10, Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-5 ). You were appointed for the proclamation for the gospel. You suffer for the sake of the gospel. You bring the message of salvation through the gospel. As you preach and teach the Word, you have one primary purpose: to expose the fullness of the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, so that those who hear may come to a saving knowledge of the truth and gain eternal life. The day you stop doing this is the day you transform from Jesus’ minister to the world’s employee.
- Value orthodoxy more than originality (2 Timothy 2:2, 3:14-16). Look, I know you want to be original. I know you want to be innovative. And no, the church doesn’t need more parrots and robots. But what sets champion athletes apart from the competition isn’t originality, but by the mastery of classic throwback textbook technique that their sport requires. When it comes to doctrine and ministry philosophy, God isn’t looking for your input. He wrote the textbook; it’s called the Scriptures. Follow it and lead with timeless truth, not in contemporary trendiness.
- Study the Word, and do so diligently (2 Timothy 2:15). Do so, more than you do any other book. Sure, read your commentaries. Yes, be well-read, and be sharpened by solid, biblical Christian literature. But your primary duty is to accurately and unashamedly handle the Word of truth, not the perspectives of men. Be aware, of knowing more about Calvin than Christ.
- Be purposeful and practical in your teaching (1 Timothy 1:4-7, Titus 2:1). The Bible is never pointless, but it is possible to teach from it pointlessly. Here’s the litmus test. If your teaching and instruction isn’t enabling people to love God and others with purity and sincerity, or pushing them to good deeds fitting with sound doctrine, then it isn’t furthering the administration of God and is next to fruitless. Keep this in mind, the next time you’re tempted to wow your people with your recent mastery of –ologies and –tions.
- Don’t hide behind other pastors (1 Timothy 4:11-13, Titus 2:15). No, you don’t know it all. And no, don’t pretend like you do. But at the same time, remember that you’re in ministry ultimately not because your “Paul” asked you to assist him. You’re in ministry because Almighty God called you to the ministry, and because He equipped you specifically for it. Your gifts and abilities are your gifts and abilities, entrusted by God to you – not ones that were passed down to you by your predecessors. Take ownership of your teaching, your actions, your decisions…with authority. God expects it, and His Word says it.
- Keep a wise, older minister close by (2 Timothy 2:10). Don’t hide behind older pastors, but don’t distance yourself from them, either. The only thirty-year old who had it all figured out in ministry was Jesus Himself. As for you, the need to keep growing demands the continued presence of a mentor somewhere in your vicinity. Not all older men are wise and worth following. But the ones who are, well, they’re the ones who deserve your time, listening ear, and imitation, and respect.
- Surround yourself with good people (2 Timothy 2:22, 3:5). Had I not neglected this the way I had, perhaps I would’ve spared myself from some of my most painful heartaches. Most young men are concerned about being in the ideal ministry position. Truth be told, it’s equally – if not more – important to be in the right ministry team. No, there are no perfect people. But there are upright ones, who pursue God’s heart with pure hearts. And there are those who claim to be godly, but aren’t. Using your discernment, surround yourself with the former, and disassociate yourself from the latter.
- Disciple men for the work of ministry (2 Timothy 2:2). You’re a trainer of men as much as you are a preacher to them. And you’re a trainer of men before you are an administrator of them. If you’re too busy to invest in men to equip them to teach and lead, then it’s time to question how faithful you really are to the Lord’s commission. So train up the men in your church – especially the young men – and unleash the ministry that God has already placed in them. Dare you not rob God of the glory that He will receive when other men in the church carry out to completion the ministry that He has entrusted to them. He’s given you the keys. Do something about it.
- Be aware of the needs of the congregants outside of your age and/or affinity group (1 Timothy 5:1-16). The last thing that was likely on the young and single Timothy’s ministry to-do-list was to figure out what to do with widows. But there’s an entire chapter devoted to it. Remember, young man, that your congregation is filled with older men, older women, younger women, children, married folks, single adults, widows, divorced people, children, toddlers, infants, expecting mothers, and people from all walks of life. All have been sanctified by God for His ministry. All have particular needs. Your job isn’t to please everyone, nor is it to be able to relate to everyone. You do have the duty, however, to serve the entirety of your congregation with honor, respect, and without favoritism. Be mindful to interact with and know the needs of those folks outside of your affinity group.
- Don’t allow yourself to be bullied (Titus 2:15, 2 Timothy 2:25). Inevitably, you’ll cross paths with who Marshall Shelly calls “well-intentioned dragons.” Do show humility, when criticized or attacked unjustly. Do not show timidity or tolerance. Withstanding unjust criticism and power trips is not synonymous to submitting to them. Granted, certain battles just aren’t worth fighting. But certain ones are, particularly when dealing with God’s honor and those certain truths and principles that can’t be compromised. Wisdom is learning to pick the right ones. In such circumstances, with gentleness but godly firmness, refuse to be bullied. Instead, with gentleness but assurance, hold your ground and correct those who are opposition.
- Keep progressing, learning, and growing (1 Timothy 4:15). You’re a work in progress. That you don’t have it all together is no cause for concern. It’s just a dose of reality, that both you and the people in your midst ought to accept. Rest assured – you’ll be better when you’re fifty than when you are at thirty. There is absolutely no need to pretend that you know more than you do. Be honest, therefore, with where you’re at in your life and ministry…and keep moving forward.
In your conduct…
- Strive to be an example, rather than stress about your lack of experience (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7). You can’t fake your age or add years to it. But even the older saints can, and will, learn things from their younger counterparts who prove themselves exemplary in character. Focus on honoring God fervently – in your speech, conduct, love, faith, purity – and allow your life to speak for itself. For a man in serious pursuit of holiness, young or old, is worth emulating.
- Guard your personal life…with integrity (1 Timothy 4:7, 16, 2 Timothy 2:21-22). Pay close attention not only to your teaching, but also to your life. The strength of a man’s public ministry stems from the sanctity of his private life. Let there be utmost integrity between the who you are on the pulpit and who you are off of it. Let the Bible that you regularly teach be the Bible that regularly teaches you.
- Guard your family life…with ferocity (1 Timothy 3:5). It’s tempting for a lot of young (and old) men, to invest their lives and efforts into their church ministry at the expense of their family. And so has arisen the age-old question: “Why do so many men care more for the church more than their families?” I have no answer to this, mainly because the question is inherently nonsense. Such men don’t exist. For according to Scripture, the man who doesn’t love his family doesn’t love the church. Habitually neglect your family, and you have no place in ministry.
- Be disciplined in your pursuit of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:3-4). I say, be disciplined, not legalistic. Don’t confuse the two, lest you end up with arrogant self-righteousness rather than true godliness. But let not your fear of confusion create a sense of unhelpful “Christian liberty.” Be purposeful, just as Olympic athletes are purposeful, in the things that you allow your body and spirit to absorb. Be purposeful, focused, and disciplined in the choices and practices you undertake. No Olympic gold medalist has gained his prize through recreational liberties, and no minister of God has attained godliness through a life filled with spiritual liberties.
- Be careful around the young women (1 Timothy 5:1). No, most of them are not evil. In fact, most of them are genuinely sweet and kind, and are more than willing to assist you in your ministry. But let’s be real. When it comes to physical attraction, the young women are the ones who can make you take a second look, and the ones who will give you a second look. Don’t avoid them, and don’t neglect them. But do be pure, and do be careful. Love them, by protecting their purity. Better for them to deem you as socially aloof than romantically attractive. Satan works much more effectively in the case of the latter.
- Pick your battles wisely (2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9). Certain battles are worth fighting. But others aren’t. There are certain disputes and controversies that, quite honestly, aren’t worth your time (though those who bring them up may insist that they are). Save your energy for those battles that God did call you to engage in. As for the other ones, humbly but firmly decline to participate. Ask the Lord to give you the ability to spiritually discern the former from the latter.
- Watch your mouth (Titus 2:8). I’m not suggesting mastering the reformed Christianese dialect. I am exhorting you to watch what you say. It’s not so much about being scholarly in your speech, than it is about being sound in it. Watch out for crude joking, sarcasm, and boasting. Watch out for unnecessarily criticizing or speaking out against other pastors and their ministries. Watch out for talking too much. Watch out for unearthing your thoughts, ideals, and opinions too early in the game. Watch out for excessive talking and story-telling. Remember Paul’s words to Titus; sound speech makes it awfully difficult for critics to justify themselves before you.
- Watch your health (1 Timothy 5:23). As one pastor writes, being sanctified by God for His ministry doesn’t exempt you from the laws of bio-physiology. Ministry is hard enough as it is. The last thing you want to do is add to it by being careless regarding your physical health. I’m not prescribing a nutritional program for pastors, but there’s wisdom in being mindful of both the quality and quantity of what you put into your body and what you put your body through. Eating, exercising, and sleeping – do them well, and your ministry will benefit from it.
In your character…
- Be patient when wronged (2 Timothy 2:24, 4:2). There’s a difference between tolerance toward sin, and patience toward sinners. Tolerance contradicts godliness, whereas patience proves it. Don’t forget that you signed up to pastor and lead a church. Thus, by definition of your job description, you signed up to shepherd sinners. And sinners, by definition, do wrong things. They will to you, and you will to them. Be humble when you wrong then, and be patient when they wrong you – regardless of how much it hurts. Be neither shocked nor reactive when you’re treated or criticized unjustly. Instead, absorb it and withstand the pain. God will make you stronger through it.
- Be sober-minded (2 Timothy 3:12, 4:5). As bad as an arrogant minister is a naïve one. As bad as one who thinks he can overcome everything by himself is the one who believes that there will be nothing to overcome. Optimism regarding victory must be tempered with realism regarding opposition. The man who fails to consider the reality of suffering that comes with ministry is the man who will be most negatively affected by it. Conversely, the man who prepares himself for suffering is the man who will most likely overcome it. Be sober-minded, about yourself and your ministry.
- Be faithful, not flashy (2 Timothy 4:5). Since when was it a part of your job description to impress people with flashy innovation? It is your sole duty to obey Jesus Christ with faithful stewardship. Whether people like you or hate you, God has given you a commission. Your duty: get it done.
- Be focused (2 Timothy 2:4). Life and ministry get a lot simpler when you walk around with this ambition in mind: to please Christ in all that you do, and to please Him alone. Don’t be distracted by worldly affairs and pleasures. Life every moment of life, down to the minute, for the honor of Jesus Christ alone. Ministry may have multiple duties, but it is to be done single-mindedly.
- Be a courageous fighter. (1 Timothy 1:18, 6:12, 2 Timothy 1:7, 2:3-4, 4:7). A lot of young men are debaters. A lot are quarrelers and brawlers. But when it comes to the realities of the hardships that can really knock ministers off of their feet, the warriors are hard to find. Most of the swaggerers have, truth be told, no fight in them. It’s why the average life-expectancy of a pastor’s career isn’t on the high end. But there’s a resilience that accompanies the righteous minister, who falls seven times and rises again each time. Living and ministering by faith will bring about opposition and persecution – from the visible and the invisible. And when it does, you’re called to do what Paul tells Timothy in all of these passages: fight the good fight. For the sake of the gospel and God’s people, this good fight is not okay to lose.
- Always remember your unworthiness (1 Timothy 1:12-16). The day you come to the conclusion that you deserve your ministry is the day you ought to step out of it. Let each day that passes by end with your heart concluding that you are indeed the foremost of sinners, and that it was only by God’s unmerited grace that you were considered faithful for the gospel ministry. I’ve seen a lot of young men verbalize such humility; fewer truly believe it. Be one of those few.
- Depend on God in prayer…for everything (1 Timothy 1:11, 6:12, 2 Timothy 1:7, 12, 2:1, 4, 8, 4:17-18 ). Do not for a second – even for a second – think that you can carry out your ministry apart from the Almighty. It was He who saved you. It was He who appointed you. It was He who commissioned you. It was He who gifted you. It is He who strengthens you. It is He who grows you. It is He will carry you. It is He who will rescue you. It is He who will empower you. It is He who will reward you. It is He to whom you ought to look each day, for apart from Him you are nothing. So pray, pray, pray, and pray more.
- Respect your calling and your ministry (1 Timothy 4:12, 2 Timothy 1:6, Titus 2:15). I’m extra-careful about saying this, for there’s a lot of twisted teaching today about the importance of self-love. But there’s a distinction between loving yourself and respecting the giftedness that God has placed in you. There’s a fine line between humbling yourself before God and disregarding the dignity of the ministry of the gospel that has been entrusted to you. There’s a difference between arrogantly forcing your way and being firm about who God has called you to be and what He has called you to do. Be cautious not to confuse the earthen vessel of your flesh with the glorious treasure of the gospel ministry and the nobility of your commission to fulfill it.
- Remember Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:8). Woe to the man who engages in ministry and forgets Christ Jesus in His heart! Ministry is a laborious work, and many times a busy one. I doubt not the length and breadth of what will become your to-do list. It is, after all, work. But, in all that you do, remember Jesus Christ. As you navigate through ministry’s waters, think of Him. Pray to Him. Listen to Him. Meditate on Him. Keep your nose in the Word, keep your knees on the floor (prayer), and keep your eyes on the Savior.
Young men…the church is waiting.