Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in . . . faith. (1 Timothy 4:12)
The great thing about setting an example is that you don’t need anyone’s permission. You have God’s command. You don’t have to budget for this. Money has nothing to do with it. And you don’t have to wait. You can start right now, while you’re still young in ministry, before you feel seasoned and venerable and worthy.
Pastor, here is a powerfully inspiring gift you can give to your church: set an example in your faith. And that faith includes both your doctrinal orthodoxy and your personal reality.
Orthodoxy Soaked in Vitality
It is downright exciting to attend a church where the pastor reveres the age-old truths of the gospel. All week long, this world belittles us with its demoralizing insinuations that we never measure up and we never fully belong and we’re always second-rate, because we don’t wear the latest fashions or have beautiful bodies or whatever. But then we stumble into church on Sunday morning, feeling low, and the songs and the Scripture and the sermon and the sacraments breathe fresh life into us. We float out of church, feeling alive again, confident again. We want to go live for Christ that week!
This renewal flows into us not because the pastor has followed faddishly popular ideas but because his preparation dug deep into the Bible, and he found there, once again, the grace and glory of Jesus for the undeserving. A pastor’s orthodox faith sets an example for how all of us can be refreshed in Christ again and again — with our Bibles, and our hearts, wide open.
It gets even better. In addition to his theological faith, a pastor’s personal felt reality with the living God — his inner awareness that God is very present, very involved — that visceral faith is a life-giving example to a whole church, setting a tone of eager anticipation Sunday after Sunday. Pastor, if your faith is orthodox but hypothetical, your church will spiral down into either tragic lethargy or rigid pride. And it will be your fault, on your watch.
But if your faith is both orthodox and vital, if the biblical Christ of our historic creeds is also an existential reality to you, your church will awaken. Your congregation will grow in sensitivity and alertness and sitting-on-the-edge-of-their-seats expectancy. What greater gift could you give them?
Leading in Vulnerability
But it’s a costly gift. A pastor’s personal faith is honest — to the point of vulnerability. Any pastor with a devoutly felt faith will find himself free to admit shortcomings and weaknesses, because he knows and feels the all-sufficiency of Jesus. And his transparency will send a signal to everyone in the church, “We can get real here. We can put our problems out on the table here. This is a safe place for people with failures and fears. The Lord is here, and he is enough for every one of us.”
Some people might feel threatened by such unusual openness. But most people will feel relieved, and they will happily jump in. The pastor’s personal faith sets an example that frees sinners to come out of hiding and find healing in Jesus, through and according to the gospel. They even experience this renewal together, as friends, which is the best way. It’s how church services stop feeling routinized, and they start feeling revived.
Theological orthodoxy soaked in personal vitality — this is the faith with which a young pastor can set an inspiring example for his congregation.
Three Qualities of Exemplary Faith
Now let’s take another step and run this exemplary faith through Titus 2:2, which describes a mature saint as “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled.” Those words describe what every young pastor aspires to become — especially in his faith.
A young pastor’s sober-minded faith puts first things first, is allergic to faddish crazes, and abhors fanaticism. Sadly, we live in an age of extremism, even among Christians. But the Bible calls us in the opposite direction: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5).
Some people need crazy extremism. They sense that their pet doctrine lacks solid biblical evidence. So they get pushy and political to offset their weak arguments. And by its nature, fanaticism is never satisfied; it never quits. It is too self-righteous, and too insecure, to moderate its claims. But sober-minded faith has the maturity to know where each doctrine fits within the total structure of orthodox belief. Exemplary faith cultivates a sense of theological proportion. And a young pastor can excel in this very way. (My son Gavin explains this wisdom in his excellent book Finding the Right Hills to Die On.)
Pastoral ministry is reserved for grown-ups. It is for father figures who can lead the church family well. And a young pastor can shine with the exemplary dignity of his faith. This word dignified in Titus 2:2 refers to the gravitas of a serious adult, one who truly deserves to be listened to. As the apostle wrote, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). He embraced dignity.
Pastor, you are not in the entertainment business. You’re called to be a serious man of God. Not pompous and stiff, of course! As Spurgeon wisely pointed out,
A man who is to do much with men must love them and feel at home with them. An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living. (Lectures to My Students, “The Minister’s Ordinary Conversation,” 169)
Should you exude gentle warmth toward your people? Yes! But all behavior that is nonsensical, vulgar, or simply “cute” is immature, self-indulgent, unworthy of a pastor. You are there among the people not ultimately as their servant but ultimately as the Lord’s servant in their midst. Your theological faith and the glory of the gospel, along with your personal faith and sense of God’s presence, will grace you with the dignity of the Lord’s mature servant.
This word in the original text is hard to pin down. The great thinkers of ancient Greece located it around the ideas of moderation, balance, good judgment (F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms, 179–80). The New Testament narrows the sense to personal modesty, careful behavior (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:5).
What a fascinating lens, then, to put on a pastor’s faith. What insight do we gain here? This kind of faith, both theological and personal, is not impulsive or reckless. It doesn’t leap to conclusions or strain the evidence or jump on bandwagons. This kind of faith weighs the alternatives thoroughly, shows good judgment, and discerns the best path forward. It satisfies the congregation’s questions and concerns. Its maturity is obviously credible.
A young pastor who thinks well stands a good chance of leading his congregation well, because he has already led himself along the path of strict discipline and careful consideration. He doesn’t have to stoop to arm-twisting. His exemplary faith is persuasive.
Need for Inspiring Faith
Pastor, this world of tragic unbelief needs your exemplary faith. And we disheartened Christians need your exemplary faith. Please, please startle us awake with your theologically robust and personally captivating faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Let me conclude by stating it as bluntly as I can. We need you, because we need him. Thank you for leading us by inspiring us.