Embrace grace, entrust leadership and endure hardship

by Scott Ridout, Converge President
Scott Ridout

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who are qualified to teach others also. Endure hardship like a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:1-3).

These are the words Paul wrote to Timothy in a very challenging time in his life. After years of advancing the gospel through planting churches and encouraging leaders all over the known world, Paul finds himself in prison for his faith. He knows the end is near and reflects on his own journey: "I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith." And now, in a very personal letter, he highlights the things that allowed him to be so fruitful, and passes these learnings onto Timothy, his son in the faith. 

What he pens in his last few days on earth have resounded through the centuries as a clarion call to all of us who are deeply involved in the work of the gospel. I have shared my thoughts about this passage in many venues among our leaders and in our districts. I feel Paul's words to Timothy are God's words to us in this moment.

In this passage, Paul gives three exhortations: embrace grace, entrust leadership and endure hardship. Today we will explore the first exhortation.

Embrace grace

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1).

What does it mean to "be strong in grace"? Perhaps he's talking about being strong in your understanding of what Christ has accomplished. After all, in 2 Tim. 1:9-12, Paul lists many of the things Christ has done for us. Maybe he is telling us to be rooted in our thinking and our theology. Of course he is, but I think there is more. 

Perhaps he's talking about ministry. Preach grace. Share the good news of the gospel. Anchor your ministry on Christ's performance. Make sure people know the love of God for us. Defend this truth and correct those in error. Yeah, that is a part of it too. But there is more.

I can't get past the "fatherly tone" of Paul in this passage. In 2 Timothy, Paul mentions five of his sons in the ministry who have walked away from the truth for one reason or another. He's heartbroken, aware the deceiver is still active and life in this world is challenging for those who live for Jesus. So he pleads with Timothy to stay the course. This passage is theological and practical, but it is also very personal: "you then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

I believe Paul challenges Timothy to lean into the strength of God's grace in three ways: his perspective, his performance and his power. He challenges Timothy to see himself through God's eyes. We must view ourselves as God views us - fully accepted, forgiven and loved. We must view Christ's performance as sufficient. We are not earning our way with God or anyone else, we have no one to impress and nothing to prove. We must find our significance, security and satisfaction in him. We must rely on his power, not our own, for ministry, realizing that with him "all things are possible," while apart from him "we can do nothing." We must learn to rest in him. This is a difficult task for the believer because there are so many voices of disapproval in our world. We must not allow our value to be defined by what we have done or what has been done to us. We must learn to live for an audience of One and find our value in the price that was paid for us, God's one and only Son. We must see what he sees and lean into the confidence of what he has and live in the power he provides. We are fully accepted, fully loved, fully free and fully empowered. We must be strong in grace. God must do a mighty work in us before he can do a mighty work through us.

Entrust leadership

And the things which you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who are qualified to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).

Paul reminds Timothy of his own journey in Christ. For years Paul has invested in Timothy’s life and now the mantle of leadership is being passed. It is Paul's charge to Timothy not only to raise up followers, but to develop leaders. He challenges Timothy to develop the next generation - to instill character, competency and the inclination to pass along what they have learned to others. He wants the fruit of his efforts to be reliable, ready reproducers.

In my work with churches over the years, I have been able to see the trends of ministry in churches across the country and around the world. What I have found is that most of these trends are not "problems to be solved" but "tensions to be managed.” It is not that the church is emphasizing wrong things, it is that in many times we emphasize one thing to the neglect of another. Yet the Bible does not treat them as either/or proposition, but as a both/and perspective.

One recent trend has me greatly concerned. I see that recently churches are more concerned attracting crowds than in developing the core. I am thrilled with the megachurch trends in America. Our own movement has experienced unprecedented growth in attendance, decisions and baptisms. I am thrilled that our churches are preaching the gospel and crowds are responding. However, to reach greater crowds, we must develop more leaders, not just followers. 

Growth and health are not enemies, they are partners. To accomplish the Great Commission we must focus on both. Jesus described this tension when he noted, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."  We must reach the crowds and we will best accomplish that by developing the core. We must redefine long-term success of ministry in terms of present impact, and long-term legacy.

Endure hardship

Endure hardship like a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3).

No one said leadership would be easy. If it was, everyone would do it. I could spend days talking about all the challenges I have faced in ministry. I imagine you could too. The question is not whether or not we will face hardship, Jesus told us "in this world, you will have trouble" (John 16:33). The challenge of hardship is to recognize it and handle it appropriately.

In the next few verses, Paul lays out three big traps all of us face in ministry, and three mentalities to navigate through them. First, he describes the Christian worker as good soldier and says "don't get distracted." Many things will call for your attention. Focus on the things that accomplish the mission and win the war. Second, he reminds us there are rules to this race and like a disciplined athlete, "don't be disqualified. “Finally, like the hardworking farmer waiting on the harvest, he tells us "don't get discouraged." Stay focused. Stay on course. Stay faithful.

I appreciate your efforts to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far reaches of the globe. Thank you for your willingness and your work. Thank you for your fervor and your faithfulness. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't lose sight of what God has called us to.

These are the prayers I have prayed for all our leaders: missionaries, pastors, planters, executive ministers, staff and lay leaders. If we do these few things— embrace the grace of God for our lives and ministries, define success by the leaders we raise and endure hardship convinced of God's character and our call— we will be well positioned for God to use our efforts to ripple out into eternity. Join me in praying that God will lead us every step of the way as we start and strengthen churches together worldwide.

    Point - September 2018

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