Entrusting the Gospel

Entrusting the Gospel

Most church attenders want to tell their pastors what they should be doing. The pastor must of course preach well, and sing well, and smile heaps and visit me (but not ask any awkward questions) and lead the building project and show up to everything. They must consume enough Youtube to connect with the youth and enough daytime TV to connect with the oldies. They must be theologically informed, a master of apologetics, culturally astute and pastorally sensitive. As most of us are aware, Jesus himself would fail the pastor’s performance review.

Bishop James Bimba and Tim Thorburn Tim Thorburn (right) with Bishop James Bimba, who has planted many churches in rural Liberia and is learning to entrust the gospel to the planters[/caption]

But what does the Chief Shepherd want his under-shepherds to do? Turning to His word, the list of things the pastor must do isn’t so long. They must watch over the flock (Acts 20:28), nourishing them with sound doctrine and protecting them by refuting those who oppose it (Titus 1:9). They must preach the word, correct and rebuke (2 Tim 4:2). They must manage the family of God (1 Tim 3:5) and be an example to the flock (Titus 2:7). This is a noble task, but this list misses one essential aspect of the pastor’s task.

In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul describes the goal of pastors and teachers as ‘to equip God’s people for works of service’.  So the pastor is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the congregation members to be able to do it themselves. Equipping is broader than skills training – it carries the idea of repairing and preparing people. As pastors teach the gospel publically and privately, the convictions of God’s people are shaped and deepened so they can speak the truth. And the character of God’s people is transformed so that they speak the truth in love. This isn’t a different job description to the paragraph above, but it requires a deliberate mindset – the vision of all of God’s people equipped and enabled to build the body by making disciples. This is not about using people to do what the pastor doesn’t like doing; it is about growing all to maturity so that they are capable and motivated to build the body of Christ with energy and wisdom.

But even this misses a crucial part of a pastor’s job description. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy (a young pastor), ‘The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.’ Timothy is to deliberately select a few suitable people from his church, and entrust the gospel to them so they can teach others. They must be reliable people, so they effort of entrusting is not wasted. Amongst the ‘all’ who are to be equipped, some are to be identified as suitable for the more intensive work of being entrusted with the gospel.

Paul doesn’t specify how Timothy is to do the entrusting, but we get some clues from the way Paul has entrusted the gospel to Timothy (2 Tim 1:14). It has included clear repeated teaching of the content of the gospel. And it has included serving together in the work of the gospel, with Timothy as Paul’s ‘son’ (Phil 2:22). In Paul’s world, fathers taught their sons the family business or trade. So Timothy was his ministry apprentice, and as such Timothy saw close up Paul’s way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions and sufferings (2 Tim 3:10-11). This all contributed to the entrusting.

And this was not simply succession planning. Timothy (like Paul) was to apprentice multiple people who could then be entrusted with the task of pastoring God’s people. This was a growth strategy, ensuring both the preservation and spread of the gospel.

So pastors are called on by their Lord to entrust the gospel to reliable people who will teach others. It is part of their job to consciously look around for reliable people, and deliberately invest time and energy into the task of entrusting the gospel to them. It is in our local churches that recruiting and entrusting should be happening.

This piece was written by Tim Thorburn, and first published in Issue 76 of ‘Trinity News’, the Trinity Theological College newsletter. Tim is the Director of the Perth Gospel Partnership, WA Regional Director for the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and a staff worker with Christian Union UWA.