The Church Needs Timothy

"He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

If you have spent any time in the church or in Christian ministry you know that there are some awesome leaders and there are some pretty rotten ones out there. It is a mixed bag of experiences for most of us when it comes to church leadership. This little post is not meant to ignore great leaders laboring for the good of the church and it is not meant to highlight only the failures of church leadership. My purpose is to express a longing and a call for more leaders who have the same love for the church as Paul and Timothy.

Despite all of the problems in the early church (sexual immorality, doctrinal confusion, divisiveness, false teachers, cultural conflicts, etc...) Paul expressed his love for the churches with each letter. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 we read that he lived among them with nurturing care and fatherly wisdom. He didn't only want to deliver the Gospel to them but also his own life (1Thess 2.8). We would expect no less from Paul's spiritual son Timothy. To the Philippian church Paul writes "I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare" (Phil 2.20).

Paul goes on to explain that most people seek their own interests and not the interests of Jesus. This is so true. I have witnessed it in my own life when a program or idea doesn't get traction within my church family and I grow impatient and think poorly of them. I have seen it in a young leader who called some of the elderly brothers and sisters in his church "wolves" because they wanted to sing hymns. I have watched new pastors come into churches with their pastoral agenda created on the engine of the Christian publishing industry, with little consideration of Jesus' interests or the welfare of the people.

Timothy, in contrast, seeks the interests of Jesus above his own. He, like Paul, makes a priority of the well-being of God's people even at personal cost (consider the example of Epaphroditus). This is his proven worth and it is ours as well if we would put aside our own interests and seek Jesus' best for his Church. It is this mentality that leaders sorely need in the age of digital media platforms, multi-site campuses, and celebrity status. It is so easy to view our churches as places and programs, and forget the people. It is easy to tell ourselves we are serving the people when we are truly more interested in our own successes and realizing of our ideas.

Notice in Philippians 2.19-23 that Timothy isn't simply replacing his interests with those of a church majority or the loudest voices in the congregation. He is seeking the interests of Jesus and so should we.

It is Jesus' purpose to save a people for himself and bring them to be with him forever and ever in his new creation. In the Gospels Jesus is recorded as saying, "I will build my church" (Mt 16.18), and in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians we learn that Jesus gave certain gifts for the building up of the church. He intercedes for his people (1 John 2.1-3), comforts us, walks in our midst, and upholds us as we await his return. He saves us from sin and death. He matures us and equips us for his work in the world. He comforts, encourages, and strengthens us. He intercedes for us when we sin. He fills us with his Holy Spirit. All of this leads to his ultimate purpose of restoring us in his new creation where we will live with him in worship and love forever and ever.

Paul and Timothy loved the church like Jesus even if it got messy and people didn't always measure up to the new life we have in Christ. They labored for the church knowing God's purpose could not be stopped and that they had been entrusted with a role in the maturing of God's people. We need this mentality in todays leaders. We need those who will love and labor for the good of the church even if it is hard.

To get to this point in any leader's life we must do four things. The first is to put off the old embittered attitudes and selfish ambition which pollute our work. The second is to commit ourselves to love and seek God's best for his people no matter how we may feel or be provoked. The third is to learn what the New Testament says about building a healthy church, using Paul's letters and the account of Acts as our starting point. The example of the Apostles expresses the heart of Jesus for his Church and we can learn from them. And the fourth is begin praying for our church with hope and trust in God's promises to equip, mature, and bring us all to completion in Christ Jesus. By taking these steps we can avoid inadvertently hurting Jesus' people, and instead be useful to the Lord in building up his church.

Lord deliver us from cynical and complaining hearts as leaders in your church. Teach us to love the people as you love them. Teach us to work for them as you desire and purpose. Replace our interests with your own. 

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