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Home > Issues > 2012 > Fall > More than a Message

Early one morning, my firstborn, Abby, came stumbling out of her room in a predawn stupor. She caught me at the kitchen table enjoying some coffee and solitude.

"What are you doing, Daddy?"

"Spending time with Jesus," I said.

I pulled her onto my lap, showed her my Bible and the journal where I record my thoughts and prayers. In a minute she was on her way back to bed, and I didn't think much more about the encounter.

Several weeks later I saw light coming from under her door. I knocked gently and asked, "What are you doing, Sweetie?" Abby was lying on the floor with her children's Bible open, holding a pen over some note paper. She looked up and replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "Spending time with Jesus."

Pastoring, I'm learning, is a lot like parenting. To a large extent, you get what you are.

While I believe what we say is crucial, I am convinced that nothing impacts people more deeply than an embodied gospel message. This is especially true as we enter a more secular, even post-Christian era. It is the weight of our actions rather than our words which will define us as leaders. If our churches are not transformational places structured around embodying the gospel, it will be nearly impossible to gain a hearing for our faith.

Living examples

As I read the Pastoral Epistles I am struck by how frequently Paul connects Timothy's spiritual transformation to the health and growth of those Timothy leads. This passage is typical:

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity …. so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim 4:12-16, emphasis mine).

"Set an example," Paul says, in, well, everything. How we speak, behave, our love for others, our love for God, the relative purity of our hearts—in all these things we are to set an example for those we lead.

"… so that everyone may see your progress." Could it be that my church needs to see my progress? Maybe they not only need a pastor who can teach them about spiritual formation, but one who will model it as well.

For better or worse, people are following my example as I, by the grace of God, try to follow the example of Christ.

"Watch your life and your doctrine." Being orthodox, holding sound theology, getting the gospel right, all necessary, but according to Paul, this is not enough. It has to be both life and doctrine. Sound doctrine will get us only so far if it isn't also lived out.

This seems to be the basis by which Paul can make audacious statements like these: "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1), "Join together in following my example … you have us as a model" (Phil. 3:17), and "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice" (Phil. 4:9). To Timothy he can write, "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose," because Timothy does, in fact, know these things (2 Tim. 3:10-11). Paul has intentionally lived and led in a way that allowed Timothy and others to see.

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From Issue:Ministry's Core, Fall 2012 | Posted: January 7, 2013

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