communication,  faith

[Timothy] Ready To Speak

[Timothy] Ready To Speak

It was Sunday morning and my family was out of town visiting a Christian fellowship with friends. A teen had been invited to share his testimony of participation in the youth mission trip. He approached the platform reluctantly, accepted the microphone with his right hand and tossed it to his left like a football, then continued tossing it back and forth throughout his remarks. The next few minutes were awkward for the young man and the congregation. 

“Like…uh…we….like…..uh……flew in a like…..uh….you know…..plane…and stuff. And we like….uh…you know….helped out some like people…with like…you know…stuff. I’m s’posed to like tell you like…my uh testimony…and stuff…and like y’know it was like God was way awesome…..y’know? And uuuummmm… the coolest part was when the guys like threw this like pie in the counselor’s face! Like…dude! I’d totally go back just for that! God is like awesome…y’know?”

A few minutes into his talk we overheard an elderly couple sitting directly in

 front of us. The woman leaned into her husband whispering loudly enough for many to hear. “He’s just young. Someday he will grow up. He’s just young.”

We don’t expect much of young Christians these days. The current research

about younger generations reveals this is a global epidemic. 

In contrast, Timothy responded to God’s call on his life at a young age and

under the tutelage of a great mentor, grew to be an influential leader in the early church. Paul’s first letter to his young protégée is a comprehensive guide to leadership development for contemporary youth and their mentors. 

Timothy was Groomed for Leadership

Most scholars think Paul and Timothy met while Timothy was in his mid to

late teens. When writing his first letter to Timothy, now referenced in the Christian scriptures as 1 Timothy, Paul described him as a youth. By then Timothy was probably about thirty years old. Timothy entered into an apprenticeship with Paul. Beginning in his teen years, Timothy traveled with Paul as part of the team.

Timothy was the child of mixed marriage, unusual in Ephesian society. The

son of a Jewish mother and Greek father, he could have been considered disadvantaged by society or believers. While we don’t receive any information from Paul about Timothy’s father, Paul does talk about his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 2:5).

His background made Timothy an even better fit as an apprentice,

substitute, and successor for Paul. Paul was a Jew whose ministry was primarily with Gentiles. A young man with Greek ancestry could help to “bridge the cultural gap” in Ephesus. Timothy’s family life could have been considered a strike against him in the Ephesian culture or in contemporary American society; yet, his heritage created the perfect solution to a cultural challenge.

Implications for Early Church Leaders

Paul’s directions to Timothy in particular establish the importance of leaders being living examples of the fruit of Christian faith. The focus on a living example of Christianity in practice is consistent with the rhetoric of an alternate culture. Timothy is called to lead Christians into an entirely new way of living that has the potential to influence culture.

In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul provides the compact but comprehensive list of instructions for Timothy and for all Christian leaders. “Set an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This lifestyle is to set early church leaders apart from the deviant teachers in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s writing, whose message, according to New Testament theologians, “is soiled by their bad conduct.”  

Mentoring Young Leaders Today

         When listening to youth share of their interactions with Christian leaders, tragic stories abound. Tim V. is a young scholar who recently shared his story with me. At twenty-four years old, after spending his short lifetime in church and ministry, he set out on a spiritual quest to spend a year visiting churches in his Canadian city. One Sunday he slipped into a church wearing his favorite cap. A glaring woman tapped him on the shoulder and scowled, “Get. Your. Hat. Off!” She was the only person who spoke with him during the entire two-hour visit.

         It is difficult to imagine that teenaged Timothy looked much more like a leader then my young friend Tim when Paul found him, but Paul brought him onto the team and began to give him both mentoring and responsibility.  Bible scholar, Houston writes, “It is essential in our day that we make room for young people in our leadership ranks.” It is all the more important as we consider the future of the church. “Knowledge and technology are multiplying so fast that we older people are not able to retrain and keep up.” Church leaders must take the initiative if we expect to influence the use of growing knowledge and technology for kingdom work. Paul took the initiative to gain the involvement and approval of the elders     (1 Tim. 4:14). What might churches look like if discerning leaders worked to bring young leaders-to-be together with Wise Guides?

Paul’s summary of instructions (I Tim. 4:12) begins with “Let no one look

down on you because you are young.” Timothy is too young to command authority. Though commissioned by Paul, there is no justification for him to teach with authority other than the record of his life. His lifestyle is ultimately the source of Timothy’s authority. It is expected that integrity of word and deed will gain Timothy the credibility and authority that his junior age might not.

 Set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

The first requirement for Christian leadership is an “exemplary Christian

lifestyle.” Paul details this exemplary life in a short list. Speech and conduct encompass most of the observable life—the visible dimension of godliness. Our first impressions of people are based on speech and conduct. James admonishes that control of the tongue provides for control of the rest of a person’s behavior (James 3:2). 

         Timothy was instructed to end the negative culture of communication in the church in Ephesus. Today’s developing young leaders must learn to lead in the conversation of contemporary culture. With technological developments, communication media are rapidly changing. Leaders-to-be must learn to communicate interpersonally and publicly; to analyze social media and to respond appropriately; to submit to accountability; and to encourage appropriate conversation in every communication medium.

         Young leaders are also called to love and faith that summarize the Christian life. Author and leadership studies professor, Bruce Winston, wrote, “Leadership is first of all – Love!” He defines the Greek word agapao as “moral love, doing the right thing at he right time for the right reason.” This is a lesson every young Christian needs to learn. It takes faith to love this way. Paul repeatedly aligns love and faith with “faith referring to the relationship with Christ and love to activity generated by the indwelling Holy Spirit.” Genuine Christianity is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). 

A common misconception is that those in leadership positions arrive

knowing how to fill them. Irrespective of age, leaders need to be developed. We need to be committed to training the next generation of leaders. Paul’s mentoring of young Timothy provides a template for training the next generation of leaders in today’s Christian communities.

         But how are today’s leaders calling young people into a leadership lifestyle? I direct programming for the Institute for Cultural Communicators, a faith-based nonprofit that empowers nextgen Christian influencers. Teenagers don’t arrive ready for leadership. Their gifts need to be developed and their God-given talents need refining. In 27 years of traveling the country with some of the most intelligent, talented, articulate, educated, well-groomed young leaders, only a handful of Christian leaders have accepted the invitation to even observe the training held in their own churches. Many of these same church leaders have complained to me about the lack of communication and leadership skill in the next generation.

         What could happen if contemporary Christian leaders were invested in winning the hearts of the next generation by spending time with them and entrusting them with responsibility as Paul did with Timothy?

         As Paul’s short list suggests, effective ministry and godliness are inseparable. A short assignment does not make for an easy assignment. Paul charges us to “take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.” 

The stakes are high. What price do we put on the hearts of the next generation? I’d love to hear your comments.  


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