Colin Stephen – Albania
Recently I have been doing a study for our church plant as we move forward in appointing a leadership team there. In looking over the characteristics of a church leader in 1 Timothy, I have been struck at what Paul says to Timothy.
Timothy was a young man sent to Ephesus, and it appears that news has come to Paul that Timothy is discouraged in the work and is maybe even ready to quit and leave Ephesus, to serve somewhere else. Therefore in:
Chapter 1 – Paul warns of false teaching and maybe even a lack of love.
Chapter 2 – gender problems and the role of men and women in the church
Chapter 3 – characteristics of church leaders, and deacons
Chapter 4 – false teaching, forbidding marriage
What is Paul’s advice, teaching and encouragement to Timothy in all the difficulties that this young man is facing?
There is a lot in 4:6-16, but I was struck by what Paul says in verse 16 Take care of yourself and your doctrine. Surely he should have said take care of your doctrine, then yourself. However, it appears to Paul that the secret in facing all these problems and how we solve the difficulties we have in the church, is to take care of our own character and example, first. A church leader has to be above reproach (3:2) and Timothy needs to be an example (4:12). If we can look after ourselves (and notice that in 4:8 this does not exclude self care and physical recreation) Paul says this is of value! So then, this is the secret to serving and solving difficulties within the church – to take good care of ourselves.
Certainly the secret to good leadership in the church is that the leader’s character is above reproach. There is no point in having a great teacher, prophet, healer or visionary if he bullies the church! Character is important.
In Acts 20, when Paul is leaving Ephesus, he calls the church leaders together and speaks to them. Again it is interesting that Paul emphasises his own character and behaviour from time spent living with them. He has served them with tears. (20:19,31) He has not coveted anyone’s wealth (20:33) but instead has worked to provide for his own needs. (20:34) In all things I gave you an example, so that labouring among you we ought to help the weak… (20:35) and he goes on to call them to also care for the poor. In the midst of all this he warns that amongst them are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who will harm the church. So, in verse 28 he says Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Again, we see the importance of firstly looking after themselves, before we look after the flock.
So then, what might this involve practically? As mentioned above, it certainly includes taking care of ourselves physically and getting enough rest, recreation, a day off, and a good night’s sleep. But it is also certainly a call to take care of our own spiritual character, our example and our life:
time spent alone with God;
– feeding off good sermons and books;
– time spent with close friends who can encourage and stimulate our faith;
– making the most of retreats and conferences;
– being with Christians in similar ministries who can – and will – build us up in the love of Christ;
So may we make the most of the Lighthouse Community – in its support and its encouragement – as we seek to serve the Lord, like Timothy, in the midst of problems and difficulties.