A training church
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2
As we read through the letters to Timothy you see Paul’s concern for Timothy as a person but you see even more than that a concern for Timothy as a leader in a specific church. Paul is laser focused on the building up of the church of God. He tells Timothy what is important for him to do as an elder in a specific congregation: Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). This is the essential work of the ministry in the church of God. If scripture is not read aloud, if it is not taught, and if he does not exhort the congregation, then something is missing. The word must have a prominent place because it is God’s revelation of himself and his work to his church. We know God because we know his word.
There are many other pieces to the nature of the church. One of these is the importance of training others. There are churches without pastors/elders in the New Testament, but Paul makes very clear that this isn’t the desired state. He delegates Titus to appoint elders in the churches in Crete: they didn’t have elders but they needed them. In fact, as we read through the letters Paul wrote to church leaders (Timothy and Titus), we see that the church needs both elders to lead and deacons to serve. Titus must identify and train men to be elders who are gifted in the teaching of scripture and are spiritually mature. In the same way, Paul encourages Timothy to entrust Paul’s teaching to faithful men who will be able to teach others. Here is another essential aspect of a local church: it must entrust the apostolic witness to a new generation of elders. Now the person taking the lead in such an instance is an installed elder, and it seems to be clear that it was normative for the early churches to have a plurality of elders. So Timothy in Ephesus served with other elders to teach and lead the church in Ephesus, but they are tasked with the training of new elders.
Now at first, we may feel that this isn’t necessary. All Nations has gotten its pastors from seminaries or from other churches. This isn’t necessarily bad, but there is a scriptural mandate that we train men within our congregation. In fact, for most of the history of the church there were no seminaries. The only training that happened (which was often quite rigorous) was within churches and through groups of churches. Seminaries are often good in providing basic tools, but if they are disconnected from the church there is little value.
So installed elders ought to pass on the apostolic teaching to faithful men. Practically speaking, this happens in a long-term investment in men who desire to hold such an office. This includes reading together, getting experience teaching in different settings, getting feedback, and their lives being observed. It also includes the involvement of the church body in their lives. The whole church should have an understanding that it is raising up leaders to be elders. It ought to seek to invest in their lives and pass on wisdom. The church must be willing to hear from other persons and not just the established elders. The church must be willing to send out their trained men to begin new churches and go on the mission field. How does a church plant a new church? It must have members, but it also must have leaders it sends with those members. There should be at least 2 leaders to send with that new church plant who will seek to equip it and lead it in addition to those who stay behind at the established church.
A new leader doesn’t just arrive at a church out of thin air; a leader has received the investment of elders and of a church over the long term. We and every other church must be intent on developing leaders or there will be no next generation of leaders or there will be no leaders and perhaps no church. If there was a lack in many churches in the 1900’s it was the understanding of where a church’s elders/pastors should come from. They come from churches who have equipped them. Especially in the later 20th century, there was an expectation that a church could just get a new pastor from a good seminary. Although seminary education can be good (I am talking from my own experience) a elder/pastor isn’t made through 3 years of coursework but through the investment of a local church and its pastors in that person’s life over years. May we at All Nations be faithful in training up new leaders to shepherd the church of God.