I never will forget what a wise, old pastor once told me about being a leader in a church: “Son” he said, “You can say anything you need to to a group of people who know you love them.” Wow, how I’ve learned the truth of this over the years. If a group of people knows you love them, have confidence you want what’s best for them, and believe you know that “father” isn’t just a title, you can say even very hard or uncomfortable truths to them and they will listen.
But the work the leader has to do to really be known as a true father has to come first. Demanding people do what you say before you’ve done that work among them usually ends in tragedy and anger!
Look at our lesson today and see St. Paul’s wisdom to his spiritual son, Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:9-15:
Timothy, my son, the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.
St. Paul sent St. Timothy to oversee the church in Ephesus and Timothy became the first bishop of Ephesus and died in AD 97.
But Timothy was a young man when he took the duties of a bishop in that great city, and being a young man had the potential of making it hard for Timothy to lead this new church. So Paul, being Timothy’s mentor, gave him the path to strong leadership among the believers.
If Timothy was going to avoid having them “despise” his youth, he was going to have to focus on being an example to the believers of true Christian transformation. His speech and his conduct had to exemplify love, faith, and purity. There’s nothing like a good example to overcome the suspicion that you don’t know what you’re doing! A true shepherd of a parish stays awake to the dangers of his undisciplined words and his undisciplined living. And he also embraces the power of repentance when he stumbles. Sometimes the most powerful example of a leader to his people is the example of being willing to repent!
Next St. Paul gives Timothy a laundry list of activities to focus on if he’s going to be an effective leader of this church. If you look at this list, you’ll see the key to truly growing a parish and being faithful to the calling of being a parish that actually transforms your local community.
Timothy should set his priorities to these:
- The Public Reading of Scripture. St. John Chrysostom declared that it was ignorance of the scriptures that causes sinful behavior. Of course, most people couldn’t read the scriptures for themselves because books were very expensive at that time, and many couldn’t read anyway. So the strong and public reading of the Holy Scriptures was necessary for the faithful to know the Bible!
- Preaching! St. Paul says in another place that it was through the “foolishness of preaching” that God’s wisdom would change the world. (see 1 Corinthians 1:21) The strong and effective preaching of the Good News is an integral part of establishing effective leadership in the Church.
- Teaching! Paul distinguishes the difference between Preaching and Teaching by setting these two priorities next to each other. Preaching is public speech meant to change, move, and motivate the people. And Teaching is the personal and vital passing on of knowledge and wisdom of the Faith in an intimate and face-to-face setting that gives the people the intellectual resources to be formed as purposeful Orthodox Christians.
- Finally, Don’t neglect the Gift given to you. St. Paul wants to remind Timothy that it is through God’s grace that Timothy’s talents and abilities can be effective and forgetting this “gift” can lead to the foolish notion that I’m good enough by myself” to accomplish the calling of “father.”
Today, are you willing to embrace timeless wisdom to be an effective leader? It isn’t your age that makes you effective or not. It’s your willingness to be an example to others and set the spiritual priorities that help us all be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Drear Lord, in Your wisdom You call each of us to our special place in Your Body, the Church. Some You have called to be “fathers” among us and that heavy calling is too much for us to handle without You. Please help me hear the wisdom of St. Paul to serve my parish as the “father” You’ve called me to be. Amen.