As pastors and Christian ministry leaders, we understand that our purpose and task is tied with the mission of Christ. Yet there is an important aspect of the Church’s mission that is regularly overlooked and even ignored.
One of the primary themes that runs throughout the Pastoral Epistles, and is particularly notable in 2 Timothy, is Paul’s stress on the necessity of maintaining healthy doctrine in the Church.1 Timothy is strongly warned against abandoning the teaching that he had received from Paul, which Paul claims represents the apostolic teaching shared by all of the Church.2
As part of his warning, Paul contrasts the false teachers, who are themselves deceived and deceive others, with the truthfulness of the Scripture and his own teaching (2 Timothy 3:10–17). His charge to Timothy makes clear that pastoral ministry in the church cannot be reduced to simply helping people in need, modeling kindness, being a good listener, or providing encouraging messages and an exciting time of worship celebration each week. Instead, Timothy must give careful attention to his teaching and make concerted efforts both to present truthful instruction for the church in what Jesus and the apostles taught and to refute erroneous teaching that is being propagated by false teachers, whose deception threatens the spiritual health and well-being of the church.3
Paul’s strong exhortation to his disciple and friend is especially pointed, since he is aware that his death is approaching, if not imminent, after which he will not be present to counter the false teachers or present the truth. It is precisely for this reason that he insists that one of Timothy’s chief tasks—which remains true for the Church today—is to make possible the delivery of the apostolic teaching to future generations.
Early in the letter, Paul identifies his gospel (his teaching) as a treasure that has been entrusted to him by God, which he—and God Himself—has now entrusted to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:12–14).4 That treasure must be passed on to future generations, through instructing faithful persons who will be able to understand the teaching correctly, and faithfully relay it to others, who can repeat the process (2 Timothy 2:2).
The Church must therefore embrace the understanding that we have been given a charge and a task. Part of the mission of Christ, to which we are obligated as followers of Jesus, is the chronological extension of the kingdom of God. The Church’s mission must therefore not be defined merely in geographical terms, as if the only thing we are concerned with is extending the gospel to new places. Nor can we be satisfied with defining our mission merely in terms of the numbers of new converts, as if our only aim was the addition of more believers to the fold (or worse, the growth of the size of our congregation). Both of those tasks are crucial, central to our mission. But they are not the entire mission, and giving ourselves to those essential aspects of the mission does not release us from the obligation to fulfill the rest of what Jesus commanded His Church to do.
We must be convinced that the fulfillment of the Church’s mission to extend the kingdom of God chronologically requires two additional and equally important aspects. The first is the instruction of believers in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Usually when we think of this aspect of the mission of Christ, we rightly envision such typical ministries as preaching, teaching, or discipling young believers. The second part involves the preservation of that teaching for future generations. Here we think, for instance, of the importance of the copying of the biblical manuscripts, or the translation, publication, and distribution of the Scriptures. Without the work of faithful people serving in ministries that are devoted to making the Word available, the task of passing on the apostolic teaching to future generations would not be possible.
But there are also important ministries that are not often recognized or regarded highly in many church circles—yet I would argue that they are not only important but necessary to fulfill the mission we have been given by Jesus. I’m thinking of certain vehicles that are particularly aimed at preserving and passing on the teaching of Jesus and the apostles to future generations: the writing of theology and works of biblical studies, the publication of scholarly resources, and especially, the establishment of institutions for theological education of leaders. Without these vehicles, the Church is greatly diminished, its spiritual health endangered, and the mission of Christ compromised. They are essential components in the mission of extending the kingdom chronologically.
Faithful pastors who wish to lead their churches in the mission of Christ will therefore ensure that the churches they lead are not only aware of this need but are actively working to meet it. How would they do so? I submit that one important way would be for pastors and churches to include financial support for theological education as part of the church’s missions and operational budget.
I offer the following three recommendations for pastors and churches for your prayerful consideration:
- Each local church should establish a scholarship fund to support individuals from the congregation whom God has called into ministry. The church would establish the guidelines for regulating the fund and dispersing the scholarships, which would be designed to help pay for formal theological training for those called to ministry.
- Each local church should ensure that the compensation for the pastor and any pastoral staff includes an amount for essential theological education (if the person has not yet completed it) and for continuing education.
- Each local church should identify a Bible college or seminary which the church will support financially as a regular part of its missions giving.
Giving to support theological education for future leaders must not be relegated to an afterthought, something to be done when we have an excess of money that we cannot spend elsewhere—especially since we know full well that such a day will never come. Instead, let us regard the need for supporting theological education as an absolute priority, necessary both to fulfill Christ’s command and to preserve the life and spiritual health of the Church for future generations, and therefore an essential and significant part of the church’s budget.
Jesus Himself has commanded us, and the apostles—especially Paul—echoed their Master and ours: we are entrusted with a treasure to be passed on to generations yet to be born. We dare not neglect this aspect of Christ’s mission.
1. Not only the Pastoral Epistles, but nearly the entirety of the New Testament, reflects a deep concern that the Church maintain the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the face of numerous challenges from false prophets and those spreading false doctrine. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, only two—1 Peter (surprisingly) and 3 John (due to its brevity, perhaps)—lack evidence of a significant emphasis on avoiding false doctrine and/or embracing and preserving teaching that is truthful and in accordance with what Jesus and the apostles taught.