Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discipleship: The Example of Paul

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, a grouping known as the Pastoral Letters, are some of the most relational books in the Bible. Not only do they contain Paul's advice to Timothy and Titus as they seek to build Christ-centered community in their churches, but they are written by a faithful apostle to men he calls his sons in the faith. The friendships between these men are a beautiful picture of what it should look like to pass down the responsibility of the gospel and equip the next generation for faithful ministry.

Timothy was born in the city of Lystra to a Greek father and Jewish mother. Timothy's mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were both very formative in Timothy's early years. 2 Timothy 1:3-5 speaks of their faithfulness in teaching him the scriptures and building him up in character.

 Timothy's first interactions with Paul likely came during one of Paul's missionary journeys to Lystra where he preached the gospel to a young Timothy. Apparently, Timothy took strongly to the gospel he heard from Paul and grew into a faithful young man of God (Acts 16:1-2). Because of the recommendations of believers from Lystra, Paul decided to take Timothy with him on his missionary journeys (Acts 16:3) where young Timothy suffered alongside Paul, proving himself to be a faithful companion.

Eventually, Timothy became the pastor of the church in Ephesus he and Paul planted. His mission there was to preserve the gospel (1 Tim. 1:3-5), which Paul instructs him to do through his letters 1 & 2 Timothy. 

Timothy was not necessarily impressive in terms of the world. He was shy, physically infirm, and young by the standards of his time (probably mid-thirties). He would not have been our first pick to carry on the work of Paul. However, Timothy exceeded what was expected of him through his faithfulness to God by relying on Christ for all strength and power (1 Cor. 1:26-29 and 2 Tim. 2:1). These are the things Paul encouraged Timothy to continue.

Paul loved Timothy dearly, which is evident from the letters he sent. First, Paul calls Timothy his true son in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2). Paul obviously saw the bond that had been made through Timothy's conversion and ministry with him to be significant, so much so that he thought of him as a son. Second, Paul comes alongside Timothy in ministry, first in his missionary travels and next by instructing him in how to care for his church by protecting the gospel. Although Paul had a lot to teach Timothy, he also valued his younger friend as a partner in ministry (Rom. 16:2). 

The discipleship relationship between these two men ran deep. Philippians 1:1 and Colossians 1:1 tell us that Timothy visited his aging mentor several times during his imprisonments. We also know that the two missed each other terribly when they were apart and longed for the companionship and encouragement of one another (2 Tim. 1:3-4; 4:21). Paul and Timothy show us that intentional and Christ-centered discipling can create powerful bonds that will be used by God for the benefit of both people and, most importantly, for the glory of God and the proclamation of his gospel.

Much less is known about Titus than Timothy, yet Paul also refers to him as a son in the faith, so he should be considered as another young pastor Paul discipled.

Titus was born as a Greek and became a convert of Paul then joined him his third missionary journey. Titus faithfully served the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-7, 13-15; 8:6, 16-24) and he also organized the church in Crete and led them in their early years. While Titus was pastoring the Cretan church Paul wrote him his letter.

We do not know many details about Titus, but what we do know is significant. He worked with Paul as a missionary, he faithfully served the churches, and Paul invested in his life through letters. The book of Titus is an illustration of Paul passing on his wisdom to a leader of future generations of believers, a discipleship model that we should pay attention to and replicate in our own lives and churches. 

John Stott's books The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus and The Message of 2 Timothy
Timothy-- Paul's Son in the Faith (The United Church of God)
Titus (Insight for Living Ministries)
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Titus

7 Characteristics of Effective Discipleship

The relationship Paul fostered between Timothy and Titus was Christ-exalting and worked to supply the next generation of believers in the early church with leaders who strove to preserve the gospel. How can we model after Paul in producing these kinds of relationships in our own era to build up leaders for the future? Drawing from Paul's example and various sources, here are seven characteristics of effective discipleship to be used in mentorships as one Christian passes down wisdom to another.

1. Time
Being present in someones life is very powerful. Relationships are built on quality and quantity time, and the basis of discipleship is a relationship. In order to accomplish the rest of these characteristics in an effective discipleship, you must make yourself available, being intentional about spending time together. Strong bonds are not built over night and it takes time to be develop an authentic discipleship relationship.
Source: Kathy Anderson

2. Understanding
The full effect of discipleship requires the two parties getting to know each other so they can understand what the other needs to hear-- whether to laugh or cry, encourage or convict, sympathize or rationalize. To achieve this kind of understanding there must be authentic vulnerability and willingness to be honest with each other. Furthermore, vulnerability should be guarded with absolute trust and confidentiality  so the relationship can continue to be edifying without anyone fearing possible ridicule or judgement.

3. God's Word and Prayer
Although it is not placed first on the list, this is the most important element to effective discipleship because there can be no meaningful change without God. Yet the placement is not irrelevant. God's Word and prayer both create intimate bonds when explored together and they are most powerful when they come in the context of a relationship that has invested the necessary time to produce quality understanding.

4. Godly Example
A changed heart should overflow into changed actions. Discipleship should have godly living as one of its main aims for both the mentor and the mentee. The mentor should be the model of a godly life, so the mentee may follow by example. Discipleship is a perfect opportunity to create strong accountability and encouragement for both people to be growing in holiness out of love for God. Most importantly, in discipleship relationships, we should encourage one another to trust God for all peace, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
Source: Kathy Anderson

5. Resolution of Conflict
As relationships get deeper, the sinful natures of people will begin to reveal themselves as a new understanding of one another increases the chances of seeing things that are ugly along with the good. As these two sinners continue to interact there is bound to be conflict, but how this conflict is resolved will be the difference in whether the relationship crumbles or continues to grow toward Christ. First, both people must decide to make conflict resolution a priority. It is not always a comfortable process, but immediate confession and forgiveness  of wrongs is necessary for continued trust. Next, both people must commit to handling these issues in love so that no more damage is caused in the resolution, but it is also used as a tool to propel the discipleship relationship to greater depths of understanding and encouragement.

6. Encouragement
Just as Paul encouraged Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God" (2 Tim. 1:6, ESV) and "not neglect the gift within you" (1 Tim. 4:14, ESV), so we should seek to encourage those we disciple in their spiritual and natural gifts. One of the goals of Christian discipleship is to build up leaders for the next generation, and this means we must be teaching them to foster how God has blessed them so that they might bless others in his name. Encouragement  should be the very intentional result of all the hard labor of developing the discipleship relationship. 
Source: Kathy Anderson

7. Love
Finally, tie all these together in love. Mutual love and submission fueled by the Holy Spirit should  be the overwhelming characteristic of Christian discipleship relationships. God will be glorified in the relationship if it mimics his love for us, not selfish or self-exalting, but sacrificial. Only by speaking the truth in love and seeking to serve one another in your roles will spiritual growth manifest itself in the discipleship. 

Kathy Anderson's lectures in the class Pastoral Letters at University of Northwestern -- St. Paul
Model for Mentoring