Brothers, Train up the Next Generation

Article
06.10.2024

I find there is a persistent temptation in my life and ministry—the temptation to just finish my own race faithfully.

“What’s wrong with that?” you ask. It sounds fairly biblical, almost Pauline. “I just want to finish the race. I don’t want to be disqualified but be found faithful to the end.” Which is well and good, unless the understanding of faithfulness to the gospel is limited to my allotted three score years and ten, or if by reason of strength, four score.

I don’t know about you, but the challenges and weight of pastoral ministry can sometimes reduce my ambitions to, “Lord, just help me to be faithful to the end.”

On the flipside of that temptation is the fact that maintaining a passion for the future can be difficult, especially a future beyond our sight. It’s easy to be passionate about my children’s well-being or even their children’s well-being. But it’s hard to maintain that passion much beyond three generations without falling into abstraction.

I share all this to say, it’s easy to regard something as good as gospel faithfulness too much in terms of our own tenure. What we need, therefore, is to view faithfulness in gospel ministry as including an investment in what comes after us.

Disciple Faithful Men

Paul tells Timothy, “Guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). A few verses later, he explains that guarding includes entrusting to faithful men what had been entrusted to him, men who would in turn pass it along to others (2 Tim. 2:2).

An essential part of faithful gospel ministry, in other words, is investing in the next generation. It is not an optional add-on. In other words, when Paul tells Timothy to “guard” the gospel, he is not merely calling Timothy to protect the integrity of the gospel from false teaching. He is also calling Timothy to fight to preserve the continuation of the gospel against the effects of erosion over time, even beyond Timothy’s time.

So let me say it again. Essential to our faithfulness in gospel ministry is investing in a succeeding generation of gospel ministers.

Beware Hezekiah Syndrome

I believe the greatest challenge to being mindful of such investment is the “my lifetime” tendency, a tendency we see exemplified in King Hezekiah of Judah. When the prophet Isaiah predicts that a Babylonian captivity will occur after Hezekiah dies, Hezekiah replies, «The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.» Then he thinks, «There will be peace and security in my lifetime” (Isa. 39:8).

What makes this account even more sobering and a warning to us is the fact that Hezekiah was extremely influential in reforming the spiritual life of Judah. He cleansed the temple, restored temple worship, reinstated Passover, and reorganized the priesthood. He made an impressive contribution.

But this late-in-life episode reveals his pride and myopia. Despite his zeal for God’s house, apparently he wasn’t zealous about what happened after he passed off the scene.

Avoid Temporal Shortsightedness

Richard Baxter addresses our shortsightedness wonderfully in The Reformed Pastor. He writes, “If you will glorify God in your lives, you must be chiefly intent upon the public good, and the spreading of the gospel through the world.” The alternative is “a private, narrow soul always taken up about itself that sees not how things go in the world. Its desires and prayers and endeavors go no further than they can see or travel.”

Baxter points to a geographical shortsightedness, but we might also be guilty of a temporal shortsightedness. Such was Hezekiah. Yet Baxter calls us to a farsightedness—a largeness of soul that “beholds all the earth and desires to know how it goes with the cause and with the servants of the Lord.”

Let us not simply say, “As long as all is well in my lifetime.”

Cultivate Farsighted Vision

Paul’s desire for Timothy to appoint men who will teach others also likewise looks into the future. He, too, was farsighted. Remember this is the same letter in which he says, “The time of my departure is at hand.” Therefore, he wants Timothy to train the next generation to think this way about gospel ministry.

The lesson for us is, necessary to faithful gospel ministry is an investment in the next generation of gospel ministers.

This should translate into very concrete realities in our weekly lives. This is a responsibility the church shares corporately, but it will require of you a very definite investment of time, energy, and purpose.

Invest in the Next Gospel Generation

What will this look like? Let me suggest four possibilities. First, devote yourself to faithful gospel ministry, especially the ministry of the Word. The best way to train men to faithfully preach the gospel is to faithfully preach the gospel. William Perkins wrote, “So, let every minister both in his teaching and in his conversation work in such a way that he honors his calling, so that he may attract others to share his love for it.”

Second, pay attention to the young men of various ages in your congregation. Notice how they receive your preaching. Notice how they process your preaching. Notice any deepening affections for God and his Word. Keep your eyes open.

Third, create contexts for the young men who catch your eye to practice and grow in their handling of the Word.

Fourth, and this must not go unsaid, pray very specifically for God to raise up the next generation of gospel ministers. Pray for your replacement but pray also for more than that. Pray with an eye, and a heart, toward the future and the continuing success of the gospel in the world, until Christ comes.

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Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published at DesiringGod.org and is republished with permission.

By:
Mike Bullmore

Mike Bullmore served for 25 years as senior pastor of Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin and is now teaching and training pastors in multiple venues.

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