Dear Timothy: Two watchwords for your pastoral ministry, Part I "Contentment"

Dear TimothyA few years ago, Founders Ministries published an excellent, multi-author work, titled Dear Timothy (A must-read for young pastors and thankfully still available).

The book was written as a series of letters from the veteran pastor, Paul, to the young upstart pastor, Timothy. In the spirit of that fine publication, I offer the following letter as an addendum in two parts.

Dear Timothy,

It is difficult to fathom that you have been serving as pastor in your congregation for nearly three years now. It seems like just yesterday you were in seminary, feasting voraciously on Greek, Hebrew, Systematic Theology and works of the theological giants in church history. As you shepherd your flock, you are now learning how all that knowledge works itself out in real-life, in the hardscrabble rubber-meets-the-road vicissitudes of local church ministry. By now, you know why I often used the analogy of a soldier to illustrate the role of the pastor: ministry means war. It will always be so; you will never cease to be a soldier and you must regularly remind your congregation that they remain the church and war and, until our great Lord and Savior returns, will not be the church at rest.

Now that you have shed at least a minimal amount of have blood and developed a few discernible scars (God has designed both of these for your good, remember) in local church ministry, I am writing you, to borrow the language of my dear brother Peter, to stir up your mind by way of reminder; I feel compelled by our Lord to remind you of two watchwords that serve as your North Star. These two words must serve as your own pastors and they must motivate every single day of the ministry the Lord has given you, else you will soon be tempted to give up in despair, to quit the race that God has sovereignly and graciously set before you. They must become pillars that buttress your calling on the days when all that seems to be left of your ministry is the divine calling itself; but as pillars are designed to do, they will keep you upright.

These two watchwords are a part the irreducible calling of the Christian to demonstrate love to God and love to neighbor. These two watchwords are: contentment and faithfulness. In this letter, I will concisely detail what I mean by contentment. Next time, I will send you a letter outlining briefly a biblical doctrine of faithfulness.

What do I mean contentment? I wrote about this doctrine in the letter I wrote to the church at Philippi. In that letter, I told those dear brother and sisters in Christ that I have learned the secret of contentment (Phil. 4:11). There, I told the congregation that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What I meant by that and what I mean by contentment is simply this: If you find ultimate contentment in Christ and in all the blessings you have in Him in His sinless humanity and His substitutionary death on Calvary, then the often difficult circumstances you meet in ministry will not faze you. Will circumstances concern you? Yes, because you love your people and want your congregation to glorify and enjoy God. This attitude is as it should be. But the ill winds that blow through your life and ministry, no matter how stout and chaotic, will not blow you off  the course God has set out for you—if, and you know that “if” is one of the most important words I include in my letters, your contentment is found in Christ alone.

Timothy, my dear son in Christ, you will tempted to fall into a malaise of despair when church attendance dips precipitously, when your people do not give enough money for the church to meet its monthly budget, when they nap through the doctrinal parts of your sermons, when they show a propensity for milk instead of meat, when you hear rumblings from a few that perhaps the church needs a new leader. Your contentment must be in Christ, for he will never treat you in such a fickle manner. Even if they do unjustly remove you from office, you must not waver, neither in your life, nor in your teaching, for your contentment is in Christ. He will not fire you. He will shepherd your heart through these trying times to make you more like Him. People are a fickle lot. Jesus is not. People are unfaithful. Jesus is faithful. That is why your contentment, your satisfaction must ultimately be in Him. As the prophet Isaiah put so well, when you walk through the water, He will be with you. When you are under fire, not a hair of your head will be burned, ultimately, if He is your treasure and portion. If you are content in Christ, then circumstances, even difficult circumstances, will never be able to dictate whether or not you have joy; it will be fixed upon Christ. Remember, He who has numbered the hairs of your head has also ordained year times, your seasons and your circumstances.

Timothy, my child in the faith, the Siren song of worldly success, even (or perhaps especially) in the church, will draw you to itself. If your heart is not lashed to the mast that is Christ, then you will be drawn effectually into its deadly tentacles. If your church grows profoundly in grace and in number, or if you become a regular figure on the evangelical conference scene, always remember the answer to the question I posed to the Corinthians: “What did you have that you did not receive?” If things go well, it is God who is giving the increase, therefore you must be content in Christ, else the poison ivy of pride may grow up and its vines will encircle your heart and mind, choking life and godliness out of them, encasing them in the poison of pastoral hubris. Remember what I told you elsewhere: There is great gain in godliness with contentment.

Timothy, my beloved boy in the Gospel, do not be blown asunder by the ill winds of discontentment. Do not fail to see the subtly atheistic character of the soul that finds itself shackled in the dungeon of discontentment. Discontentment puts God in the dock and questions His sweet sovereignty; it is a subtle rejection of the wisdom of God and His decrees and an exaltation of the wisdom of man; it covets something our Lord has not been pleased to give us; it exhibits a desire to be sovereign. In the end, discontentment mistrusts God. Trust Christ. Seasons and circumstances may change, but He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

That’s all for now. There is much more I could write to you on this topic, but that would require more words than are at this time helpful. I will write you again soon and exegete for you briefly the second watchword that must undergird your ministry: faithfulness. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Keep your eyes riveted on Him who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

Jeff is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. A native of Blairsville, Ga., Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Georgia, a Master of Divinity in biblical and theological studies and a Ph.D. in historical theology with an emphasis on Baptist history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, KY. Jeff and his wife Lisa have been married for 19 years and have four children.
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