By now you’ve probably seen the articles that address the state of many pastors in America. Navigating through the crisis of the pandemic, not to mention the other crises the wave of the pandemic has caused, has taken its toll on many pastors. If you are one of those pastors, please know that you are not alone!
As pastors, we are constantly pouring our cup into others. Essentially, that is ministry—giving our lives in the service to others.
However, if pastors constantly pour their lives into others—into ministry—but never have anyone pouring their lives into them, eventually their lives will become empty. Be honest, if your life was like a gas gauge in a car, where would the needle be? Closer to F? Half a tank? Closer to E? Or on E?
What’s your plan on replenishing your cup… your life? Many pastors fill their lives through Bible intake, prayer, solitude and solace, reading books, listening to podcasts, exercising, and/or engaging in a hobby. These are all important—especially prayer and bible reading as they allow the Spirit and the Word to minister to us. Yet, I would argue something else is needed.
Young Timothy and a Tough Ministry
Imagine you were Timothy. You are a younger pastor serving in your first, but difficult, ministry assignment—one in which you were tasked to handle some problems in the church (like false teachers). Not only are you in a difficult ministry, but you’re living in a very secular city. Because of the infancy of the church, there’s no books to read, podcasts to listen to, nor conferences to attend to tell you what to do. Yet, you need to bring order to the church, appoint elders and deacons, minister to widows, and effectively shepherd believers to becoming more conformed into the image of Jesus.
I’m sure if you were in Timothy’s shoes, ministry would be overwhelming and taxing. In fact, you may even feel like throwing in the towel and walking away— doing something else with your life. Why do you think in his second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds him to fan the flame of the gift of God and remember the power, love, and self-discipline that the Spirit of God imparts (2 Tim 1:7)?
In reading about Timothy’s ministry almost two millennia ago and observing what many of our ministries are like today, we can conclude not much has changed. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. Pastoral ministry invites us into sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Don’t get me wrong, even though we share in the sufferings of Christ, it doesn’t mean that ministry is devoid of joy. The author of Hebrews says, “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross despising its shame” (Heb 12:2).
What’s one thing that Timothy had that many pastors don’t have today? A mentor. Timothy had Paul.
Paul Poured into Timothy
In the midst of an overwhelming ministry—one in which he certainly had days where he felt like giving up—Timothy received correspondence from his mentor. I don’t know about you, but I always love getting mail (that’s not bills). Believing in the sovereignty of God, and believing that he knows what we need when we need it, maybe Timothy received this letter during a week when he really wanted to quit or when he really needed some guidance.
As Timothy reads the first line, he immediately knows that it is from Paul. But then the second line is what strikes me. Paul writes, “To Timothy my true son in the faith.” It is in this one simple sentence that we see the epitome of what a mentoring relationship should be.
First, a mentor pursues the mentee. From the very beginning of the relationship, Paul pursued Timothy. Timothy, in his youthfulness and young ministry, didn’t have to pursue Paul. Timothy didn’t have to beg Paul for time, Paul intentionally gave Timothy his time and wisdom. From my perspective, it seems that mentorships are quite the opposite today—young ministers are expected to be the pursuer.
Second, a mentor is older, more experienced, and more mature than the mentee. Paul uses the term “son” to describe Timothy. In ministry, sure we need friends and peers; but even more so, we need someone who is older, wiser, and more experienced speaking life and light into our ministry. If I was going to hike Mt. Everest, I want an experienced guide to speak into my training and be the one I follow up the mountain. This is certainly a challenge today for many young pastors as they see older, more experienced leaders to be antiquated when it comes to ministry in the 21st century. It seems today that a marker of this generation (and our culture) is to follow what “works” rather than follow what’s “wise.” But as Solomon writes, “gray hair is a crown of glory” (Prov 16:31).
Third, a mentor is someone who will love you unconditionally and be for you. Again, imagine you were Timothy—in a difficult ministry, living in difficult times—and felt like giving up. Yet, your mentor writes a letter where he emphatically states, “my true son.” Timothy wasn’t just a son in Paul’s eyes, he was his “true” son. Fathers love their children unconditionally. Fathers are for their children. They want to see their children succeed and flourish. Those three words, “my true son,” were most powerful to the heart and mind of Timothy. Young pastors need to know that there is someone in their corner that loves them unconditionally and that is for them and their flourishing. Young pastors (old pastors for that matters) will inevitably make mistakes. Although church members and attenders will abandon pastors because they see them more as friends or acquaintances that disappoint, pastors need fathers (or mothers) in ministry that will love them even in their mistakes.
Fourth, a mentor is someone you can trust. Because Paul loved Timothy, and because Paul loved Jesus (which he exemplified in and through his life), he became the person that Timothy could trust. In a day where finishing well seems to be a tall order, and narcissism seems to be character trait in many “successful” pastors, young pastors need another kind of pastor to look up to. They need older pastors to faithfully love them and Jesus. This will require denying themselves and taking up their cross and following Jesus.
Who’s Your Paul? Who’s Your Timothy?
I’m 38 years old. I’ve been in ministry since I was 17. Over those 20 years I have had the blessing of mentors like Johnny Hunt, Chris Fryer, and Shane Harchfield pour into my life. In more recent years, I have the blessing of calling Ed Stetzer a mentor— not just a friend and boss. All of these men have modeled the four characteristics above.
While I have had Paul’s in my life, I have also aimed at being someone else’s Paul. Regardless of your age, you should always have someone pouring back into you as you pour into others.
2020 has done us no favors in creating conditions that fill our cup. In fact, if anything, 2020 has shown us that if we are not intentional at having our cups filled, our lives will be empty. For those of us who are in pastoral ministry, if we are going to have a full cup in an empty world, we must have a mentor, a coach, an older pastor personally pouring into us.