What are we to do?: Email from an Irish Timothy, and Public Response

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We received an email from a brother from Ireland who stumbled upon the Paul & Timothy Website. He sent us an email that contains very relevant and pertinent questions for young men, aspiring to eldership and preparing for the rest of their life. We have asked him if we could respond to his email in the form of a blog post. Here is his email:

Hi,
I came across your site and I have no idea if this email gets to the guys who started ‘paul and timothy’ or to some other people, but I thought I would get in touch anyway as your vision really resonated with me. I would really appreciate any random advice or insight you may have on my situation (if you have the time to give it).

I am 23, married with two small kids and a pregnant wife and I currently live in Northern Ireland employed by a church to coordinate the youth work. I have been doing that for a couple of years straight after I left seminary and feel compelled to preach, pastor, and we want to church plant. The issue I am now facing though is the exact one you guys are raising – I am not going to be a ‘career youth worker’, yet I know I need to gain more wisdom and experience before I could ‘elder’. So the choice I am facing is to either a) cut my hours in the church to part time in order to work a job half the time and ‘ministry’ half the time or b) get a full time regular job and put the pastor-esque ministry work slightly more in the backburner for a few years. My church leaders have affirmed God’s call to plant, pastor and preach – we are now just trying to work out the route God wants us to take before we get there! When I saw your site I thought it was so relevant to me I would drop you guys a line – wisdom from an abundance of counselors….Any general perspective or advice from yourselves would be great – though I’m sure you’re all busy.

Really appreciate your time to read this and I will be in prayer for you guys and the conference. Blessings.

Here is our response:

Dear Brother,
Thank you for taking the time to email us. Your story resonates with all of us on the Paul and Timothy Team, and we believe, thousands of other young ministers around the globe.

We experience your same desire to preach and plant churches. Because of God’s Sovereign kindness toward us sinners, the Kingdom of God has been made manifest in our lives in a way that brings us great joy. How can we aspire to anything else but to work for the propagation of this gospel that has liberated us and brought us peace with our Maker? We want to preach about the blood of Christ that has made atonement for our sins at every opportunity! We want to do everything we can to help the Church to treasure the gift they have been given, as they ought to, for their joy and for God’s glory! We want them to carefully guard the doctrines that have been entrusted to them and fend the wolves that would seek to devour them. We have a desire to preach, to teach, and to shepherd.

These same impulse seems to be present in your life as well: a zeal and a sense of call to pursue a life of ministry to the Church and reaching out to the lost. These impulses, from the Holy Spirit, must be responded to. We must serve the Church and evangelize the lost; it is a matter of obedience. But the question is… how?

Our youth and inexperience do not adequately compliment our zeal. A careful look at the qualifications for elders/pastors, given to us in Titus and Timothy, show us that we do not yet have the character for the task, even if we do have the skill set.

We see four different routes that one could go when faced with this dilemma. We have described what those four routes look like, below. They are in order, starting with what we believe is the least desirable option, and ending with we believe is the best option one could take when faced with this dilemma.

1. One option would be to take up the office of elder, even though we may seem under-aged and under-qualified through the lens of the Pastoral Epistles. Because more and more of evangelical churches are looking for educated men, even if they are not biblically qualified, it is possible for a young man in his twenties to procure a pastoral position at a church, right out of Seminary or Bible College. We believe that the church has suffered greatly because of this. Young men in this position are pressured to make the ministry a vocation while the verdict is still out on their leadership ability, as will be later witnessed by the fruit from their children, and in the home. They are often taken away from investing in their family, their primary responsibility, in order to invest in the church. We believe that this has contributed to the destabilization of the Christian family, and can often lead to moral failure. Elders are to be examples, and above reproach on how to cultivate a Godly family life. God has chosen to call the office “eldership” because it is not intended for “youngsters”.

2. Another option is to take up a youth pastoring position as a stepping stone for eldership. Many young 20 somethings have chosen this route. However, we see danger in using youth ministry as a stepping stone for “something greater”. Not only does it communicate that our youth are the experimental training grounds of unproven pastors, but it causes ministers not to take ministry to youth as seriously. We should put our best into teaching and discipling young people. If your heart is in youth ministry, then minister there with your whole heart and die a youth pastor. But being a youth pastor doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be an elder. People should minister to young people because they have a burden for the youth, not because it is the way to become the lead pastor of a congregation. Paul says that a man who is an exemplary householder is also the man who possesses the qualities of an elder. The household is the primary training grounds for eldership. Focus on discipling your wife and your children. Be a federal husband and father. Take responsibility for your family and learn to shepherd them. By leading, shepherding, loving, caring, and laying your life down for them, God will prepare you to lead His bride.

3. Yet another option is to ignore the call of God for a later time, seeing that we currently not character qualified for the ministry. We can then pursue an unrelated career and fail to improve in the necessary skill sets that are often useful to eldership. Many young men who choose this option lose their vision for leadership in the Church, and never fulfill their God given desire for eldership.

4. A final option (and the one we recommend most!), is to seek to be bi-vocational and active in a mentored ministry. Look for a steady job that is either very flexible or will help you in the development of your gifts (something that involves entrepreneurial activity or public speaking). Along with this, express your desire to your elders to use your gifts in service to the church, or as a church planter in a neighboring city, under their care… as a kind of intern or missionary. If you are an asset to the body in this way, it is likely that they will be open to supporting you part time. Being bi-vocational is a very honorable thing to do. Do not view it as less than ideal. Paul the Apostle was bi-vocational. God uses our current stage of life to prepare us for the next. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. When the time is right, there will be a gradual move into eldership. Because you will already have one hand deep in ministry to the church, you will likely already be functioning as an elder in many ways before you are formally recognized as one.

Be patient, but be obedient to the call of God on your life. Don’t try to grow old too fast, and don’t let others despise you for your youth. We are in a unique season of life. While elders can have very effective ministries, God has a role for us to fulfill in this stage of life. We must learn to embrace the stage we are in, and be thankful to God for it. Let us strive to be in a partnership with older men in the gospel while taking heed to our own households!

Our pastor, Gregg Harris has a seminar called Seasons of Life Seminar that might be helpful to use in addition to what we have written.

Our prayers are with you and the many others in your position.

In Christ,
the Paul and Timothy Team

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