This was a short devotion I wrote for publication in the Echoes International magazine in 2015.
There are a number of difficult lessons we have to learn in our lives. It may be simply that we don’t look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie; or the realisation that we will, one day, die. For many in church leadership, though, I think the hardest lesson is, “it doesn’t all depend on me”. We pay lip service to Jesus’ words that “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), but our actions show we believe it is we who will, in reality, do it. And we jealously guard the leadership positions we have so as to control the way our fellowships develop.
In this letter to Timothy, written near the end of his life, Paul tackles this issue, encouraging Timothy to ensure the faith is transmitted to successive generations. The good deposit of teaching that Timothy has received from Paul (1:12-14) is to be guarded; and Paul is clear that the faith is guarded by giving, it is protected by proclamation.
Someone has said that the church is only one generation away from dying out. In a sense, this is true; for without handing on the responsibility for leading and teaching in the church to the next generation, there will be no church to lead. Paul shows us that there are three stages to this process.
First, grace, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” To be able to pass on the message, we have to be grounded in the message. We have a responsibility to know what we believe, or as Paul puts it in chapter 1:12, “I know whom I have believed”. That emphasis on the person of Jesus as being the basis and centre of our faith is so important because we pass on, not a set of practices, traditions and philosophical statements, but a relationship.
Second, trust, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men”. The deposit that has been entrusted to us (1:14) is to be entrusted to others. This means actively seeking out the people who will be the next generation of church leaders. Timothy was not going to be around for ever, his responsibility was not to selfishly hold on to the teaching and leadership responsibilities, but to pass them on to local people. Whether we talk about local churches in the UK or France, or Zambia, the responsibility of those who are in leadership at the moment, is not to hold on to it, but to pass it on. This is not a diminution of the role of the present leader or missionary, it is one of the greatest privileges we can have. Paul’s joy is clearly seen in Timothy, one of the people he entrusted with the message.
Third, replication, “reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. Passing on the message is no good if it stops after just one generation. The people who should be sought out are those who will themselves seek out others; people who will not consider the role they have as one that they jealously guard, but one which they joyfully share. The role of church leader and teacher is always that of John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Leadership, perhaps especially in terms of training the next generation, is always about taking joy in the growth and gifts of others rather than our own.
So, in humility, leaders need to prepare others to take our place, remembering that we are where we are not because of anything we have done but because of who God is. If we are not in leadership, we need to pray for humble and faithful leaders who will follow Paul’s injunction to Timothy and train others for the task of leading Christ’s Church into the next generation.