(originally posted on 20th May 2019)
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)
In our generation of ageing congregations and frequent church closures there is a growing need to raise up church leaders. But in the urgency to fill pulpits it is tempting to lean more and more on willing but untrained men and women to teach and nourish our churches.
When Paul commissioned Timothy to continue the work of pastoring his beloved flock at Ephesus, he instructed Timothy to “do [his] best” to be a leader who “correctly handles the word of truth.” Those two things cannot be separated — you cannot expect to correctly handle the word of truth unless you do your best at it: work hard, pray, read carefully, and do your best to be intimately familiar with the word of truth. In other words, some form of theological training is absolutely necessary if we want men and women in our churches who do not mishandle and misinterpret God’s great truth for us in Scripture.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he recognises that there is no shortage of people who “want to be teachers” but the problem is that “they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim 1:7). But Paul warns that such ignorance is potentially harmful: some have “suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Tim 1:20) and given themselves to “what is falsely called knowledge … and in so doing have departed from the faith.” (1 Tim 6:20-21).
How to avoid this? “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7). This means taking time to do some hard work: it’s described by Paul in the very next verses as “labour and striving” (v10). Timothy is to “be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them … watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them…” (vv15-16).
Do you see how vital it is to give our leaders and potential leaders time and space to “think over” (2 Tim 2:7) God’s word to us, to devote themselves to examining their lives, to get their doctrine straight? Do you see how their diligence in searching and understanding Scripture, and how devoting themselves to godliness and healthy character, are non-negotiable necessities for anyone who is charged with handling the word of truth? This isn’t simply a willing volunteer spirit, but dedicated hours of reading, praying, debating, praying, listening, praying, meditating, praying, digesting, and praying!
This isn’t to say that we must send everyone off to seminary for four years though — certainly that’s not the route Timothy took. Still, we must charge those who would be teachers to “do [their] best” to learn how to correctly handle the word of truth, and to learn how to develop lifelong patterns of training in godliness.
Today in the UK we have access to dozens of part-time, full-time, residential and online-access courses that are designed to equip our future leaders with skills and patterns to ensure lifelong habits of training in godliness, and to give them deep historical insight into Scripture and ministry. Let’s have no more shipwrecks — let’s tap into the resources at our disposal and give our leaders every opportunity to labour and strive to become faithful and approved teachers, “good ministers of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching” (1 Tim 4:6)
Josh Probert is a leader at Christ Church Liverpool and Training Assistant at the North West Partnership.