1Timothy 2: The first thing I want you to do is pray.
So, Paul, that seasoned Apostle, missionary, and pastor has some advice for his young pastor friend Timothy. Everyone, pastor-types and regular church folks, leans forward to listen to what he has to say. What’s of first importance? What is Timothy to believe in first of all? Paul zeros in on prayer. For this young pastor the lynchpin of his ministry isn’t preaching well-constructed, well-delivered sermons. It’s not church administration or solid doctrine or even visitation. He’s to be a man of prayer — an expert at it. Paul wants him to pray for people he knows and for people he doesn’t know. He’s to pray for their salvation and, if they have authority, to pray that they’ll rule successfully, maintaining peace in the land. Paul sets for Timothy an example and now Timothy is to set an example for his congregation at Ephesus. As a result, the men and the women in his congregation will focus on prayer. Let’s take these instructions to heart. Let’s “pray every way we know how.” Let’s remember that prayer “is at the bottom” of everything we do. Who knows what might happen as God’s called ministers and their congregations give themselves to fervent, persistent, faith-filled prayer!
Take Away: Prayer is to be our number one agenda item.
You get what you pay for
2Corinthians 11: My needs were always supplied by the Christians from Macedonia province.
One reason some of the members of the church at Corinth don’t value Paul’s ministry as much as they value that of others is that Paul served them free of charge during his time with them. Others have come their way with hard luck stories and claims of greater enlightenment. They’ve asked for and received offerings from the church there. Now, when Paul writes to them in authoritative tones they tend to discount his ministry to them because they didn’t pay for it. Paul’s about to join the traveling preachers in stating his credentials and sharing his hard luck stories, and both are much more impressive than those of the traveling preachers they’re listening to. The Apostle wonders if he cheated them by letting churches elsewhere support his ministry during his time in Corinth. He thought he was doing them a favor, making it clear that he wasn’t in it for the money, but now he wonders if they’d be more inclined to listen to him had they supported him during his time there. Paul makes it clear that he’s not sorry he ministered to them as he did, so I don’t want to make more of this than is there. Still, it’s a point worth consideration. Generally speaking, people value that which costs them something. If it’s just handed to them, they think it’s worth what they paid for it. In this passage, I see that, on one hand, sometimes it’s best to just give our ministry away, making it as easy as possible for people to receive it. On the other hand, though, it’s fair and right that people support those who minister to them and, in fact, their doing so increases the value of that ministry in their eyes.
Take Away: We tend to value that which costs us something.
Pastors and their congregations
Acts 6: Choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts.
One of the growth pains of the infant church has to do with the distribution of resources among the church’s own needy. Some women, apparently due to a language barrier, aren’t getting a fair share of the food the church is providing. The disciples realize that this is an important concern and willingly share the leadership responsibilities with seven non-apostles. The result is that the disciples are able to focus on their role in the church while sharing some responsibilities with those who have gifts for that purpose. The needs of the people are met and the church continues to advance. As a pastor I’ve read this account again and again trying to understand it in light of the current pastor/congregation scheme that’s generally in place. I’ve tried to translate it into the 21st century average Protestant church with an average attendance of 70 to 100. On one hand, I realize that the church of Acts now numbers in the thousands. Even if the disciples try to handle it all it simply can’t be. The question that comes to mind is, is that the only reason for the addition of non-clergy leadership? I think that a lot of church people think so. In their smaller situations they’re very pastor-centric. They want the pastor to be the one who visits them when they’re sick and who makes regular nursing home visits. They expect the pastor to attend every committee meeting and to pray every public prayer. Then, if the church grows, they’ll take care of things by hiring an assistant pastor. I can’t help but think this is mistaken because I have the idea that the division of leadership in the Acts church isn’t all about size and work load. Rather, I believe the leadership and ministry opportunities need to be shared because it’s healthier for the church. Had the disciples been perfectly capable of caring for the widows while handling the preaching and teaching responsibilities, I still think they would have done, under the Spirit’s leadership, just what they did. Some church people need to find a place of ministry and plug in, not always looking to the pastor to do it all. Some pastors need to quit hogging all the ministry opportunities and give others a chance.
Take Away: The Lord didn’t come to be served, but to serve and we aren’t his followers unless we follow him into lives of service of others.