Aspiring Pastors Need Encouragement, Too: 5 Ways Paul Encouraged Timothy
As a millennial, I number among the fragile generation that invented the participation trophy. They call us “entitled,” “soft,” and “sensitive.” Millennials (and younger) tend to share an aversion to criticism. This is a challenge to business leaders forced to reassess how to critique the next generation. For example, instead of identifying strengths and weaknesses, many organizations talk about strengths and opportunities.
Millennials like myself desperately need veteran saints to smooth out our rough edges, rebuke our shortcomings, and exemplify Christian faithfulness. Simply put, young men need older men to provide faithful feedback. And such feedback should often come in the form of a stiff word of criticism.
However, I want to argue that young aspiring pastors must also receive positive encouragement from older men. Encouragement from anyone is always good. Encouragement from seasoned saints—especially pastors—builds up young leaders in a pronounced way.
As I reflect upon my own path to the pastorate, I bless God for men like Robert Fisher. Forty years my senior, Robert was my pastor and most steadfast mentor. He taught me how to preach the Bible, love God’s people, and cultivate fellowship with Christ. Our meetings (and now phone calls) number into the hundreds. I am grateful for each of his sharpest critiques. But I am also convinced that his constant encouragements will yield eternal fruit. His positive support propelled me to kingdom service. He built me up in ministry.
Just as Paul built up Timothy.
There are at least five ways Paul encouraged Timothy. And as a younger man, I have benefited significantly from older men who followed this apostolic example.
1. Paul Helped Timothy Improve His Gifts.
Paul invested in Timothy by recruiting him for missionary service (Acts 16:1–3). After years of ministry together, Paul still highlighted his young friend’s gifts. He charged Timothy not to neglect his gift of teaching by devoting himself to the ministry of the Word (1 Tim. 4:13–14). Paul appreciated Timothy’s skill with the Bible and noticed Timothy’s earnestness as a pastor. Commenting on his “sincere faith,” Paul charged him to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6–7).
Young ministers may know they have spiritual gifts. However, they may not know the precise ways those gifts bless others. A word in due season from an older saint can provide insights a peer can’t offer. An older pastor discerning what a young man does well should point that out and exhort him to do more of the same. Whether it’s highlighting a certain part of his character, his helpful tone in the pulpit, or a humble act of service, encouragement will spur a young minister on to greater faithfulness.
2. Paul Showed Timothy the Gravity of Ministry.
No one ever accused Paul of being light-hearted or chipper. He embodied sober-mindedness. At various points, he charged Timothy to consider the gravity of his task (1 Tim. 1:18, 4:16, 6:20). His most memorable exhortation comes in 2 Timothy 4:1–2, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
This charge must have left Timothy shaking in his sandals. Yet surely it also fortified the confidence of his young son in the faith. In other words, by grappling with the consequences of true shepherding, Timothy could more competently assume a proper posture as a pastor.
Young ministers need the wisdom of the gray heads in their congregations. The weathering of age often yields deeper appreciation for faithful shepherding. Thus, the man who has walked with God for thirty or forty years is normally more equipped to help a young man grasp the monumental weight of ministry. Shepherding has eternal consequences. Aspiring pastors need to count the cost of one day giving an account for the souls entrusted to their care (Heb. 13:17). The sober perspective of a seasoned saint may scare a young man off. But it will more likely steel his nerves and strengthen his resolve.
3. Paul Expressed His Love to Timothy.
Paul’s letters overflow with affection. He addressed Timothy as his true and beloved child in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). He freely spoke of his love for Timothy to others (1 Cor. 4:17). Years of gospel ministry with Timothy forged a familial bond. Though Paul could have allowed his love for Timothy to be assumed, he went out of his way to express it. Paul related to Timothy with the warmth of a father, not a business mentor, commanding officer, or football coach. This dynamic of love regulated all of his exhortations to his young friend.
Encouragement without love is like a car without oil. It may run for a season, but not for the long haul. Pastor, do the younger men you’re investing in know you love them? Have you told them lately? You may be surprised how effective your encouragements can be when shared in a context of love.
4. Paul Commended Timothy to Others.
Almost as striking as Paul’s words to Timothy are his words to others about Timothy. Paul mentions him in most of his letters (Rom. 16:21; 1 Cor. 16:10; Phil. 2:19; 2:22; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; Phile. 1:1). Paul wanted other Christians to appreciate Timothy’s ministry. To the church in Philippi, he wrote:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare … But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel (Phil. 2:19–22).
Paul took advantage of every opportunity to honor Timothy and commend his work to others.
Though flattery serves no one, public encouragement from older men is wind in the sails of aspiring pastors. Private exhortations are vital, but public commendation matters as well. People tend to be most careful and exact when speaking or writing to a large group. Thus when older men publicly express trust in a younger man, they bolster that brother’s confidence and effectiveness in a way private words cannot. Pastor, are you taking the opportunities to celebrate God’s grace in the lives of young men in your church? Do you ever build them up in front of your people?
5. Paul Included Timothy in His Ministry.
It’s remarkable to consider how Paul utilized Timothy in ministry. He recruited Timothy for missionary service when he was likely a teenager (Acts 16:3). He deputized Timothy for a variety of pastoral endeavors (Acts 17:4; 19:22; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 3:2, 6). He entrusted saints to Timothy’s care (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:3). Paul included Timothy as a joint-sender of many of his letters (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess.; 2 Thess.). It’s difficult to identify a part of Paul’s ministry that he was unwilling to share with Timothy. By including him in so much, Paul exhibited a tremendous amount of trust in his young co-laborer.
Faithful pastors––like the apostle Paul––care deeply about their ministries. They appreciate the extreme importance of their work. Because of this, they usually only delegate to those they trust. To partner with a younger man for the sake of the gospel is an incredible gesture of encouragement. Pastor, have you considered the responsibilities you can assign to younger men as a way of encouraging their pastoral gifts? Are there people they can disciple? Small groups they can organize? Sermons they can preach? Homebound members they can visit? Services they can lead? You’re already called to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). Mobilizing aspiring pastors for building up the body will yield tremendous fruit––both in young leaders and the churches they will one day serve.
Paul exhorted Timothy to fan into flame the gift that was within him. Yet Paul himself, through consistent encouragement, ignited within Timothy a passion for the local church. As an older man, he had a special opportunity to embolden Timothy to be a shepherd. Older saints today share that same opportunity.
So many men never pursue ministry because they lack mentors. They never get the help I received from men like Robert Fisher. Young men need many things, especially the sagely support of their pastors. There simply is a ripe harvest of aspiring ministers waiting for encouragement from their fathers in the faith.