“Timothy is warned to pursue holiness, stick to the text, and be a zealous evangelist. Pivoting out of this point Paul tells him that he is rounding third in his ministry. He is about to head into the clubhouse. The sun is setting, and he is done. Now, from the perspective of the end he looks back and says this is what matters.”
Like any other line of work preachers can find themselves discouraged. Wondering if what they are doing really matters and if they are making a difference, pastors often resort to unhealthy evaluations of their ministries. Worldly evaluations of success can distort a pastor’s expectations and crush their joy.
Pastors often feel greatly encouraged when any combination of the following is present: attendance is up, people are affirming, there seems to be excitement, or giving is increased. These good things could be real evidences of grace. God may in fact be using the preacher’s work to bring about true gospel growth in people. However, they could also be a ruse. They could point to something bad. Many people could be coming to hear you preach, lavishing affirmation, demonstrating excitement, and even giving because you aren’t actually preaching God’s Word faithfully. I can think of a few smiling, gospel-muting, preachers on TV who have all of these but don’t have the gospel.
What’s my point? Be very careful what you are using as a ministry evaluator. Some things can be deceptive; not the least of which is our own flesh and cravings for affirmation.
Along these lines have you noticed that when talking about the minister’s job the Bible does not place much emphasis upon how people do or do not respond? This is telling to me. The emphasis is upon the preacher’s character and the content of his teaching. Paul tells Timothy to work hard like a soldier, athlete, and farmer (2 Tim. 2:3-7). Ministers are to patiently teach and correct others with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24–25). Amid the context of a hedonistic culture that worships themselves Paul exhorts his young apprentice to preach the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1-4). And in Corinth instead of giving the seekers what they wanted, namely wisdom and power (which he had by the way), he gave them what they needed, the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:22-23). The apostle Paul modeled for us the priority for the pastor. Instead of focusing solely on what his hearers want or are saying the focus is upon what he is called to be and do. In other words, Paul says, watch your life and your doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), fulfill your ministry, preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2, 5).
Oh but this is so hard. As pastors we forget this on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. One of the reasons I think we forget is because we forget our true audience. I mentioned earlier that Paul does not seem to be overly consumed with the polls of the people, but this does not mean that he is unconcerned with his craft. He is very concerned with what he is doing. But instead of laboring for the favor of men he is focused on what God thinks.
Minister’s (Ultimate) Audience
This is revolutionary for us to understand. Read through 2 Timothy 4 again. Look at the perspective of the apostle. If you permit me to summarize for the point, he tells Timothy that he is charging him in the presence of God and Christ Jesus to preach God’s Word. What’s more, this is the same God who is the judge. He is watching how you handle the Bible in the context of the church—his church purchased by his blood (Acts 20:28). He tells him to preach and teach this Word when it is popular and unpopular. He warns him to not be captive to the narcissistic culture but rather to expose it with preaching. Further Timothy is warned to pursue holiness, stick to the text, and be a zealous evangelist. Pivoting out of this point Paul tells him that he is rounding third in his ministry. He is about to head into the clubhouse. The sun is setting, and he is done. Now, from the perspective of the end he looks back and says this is what matters. It is about faithfulness. It is what God wants and it is not always what people want. Timothy, he says, aim to conduct your ministry with faithfulness in the sight of God.