Having been recently inducted as the new minister—technically, ‘teaching elder’—of a Presbyterian congregation in Tasmania, I have been reflecting upon the meaning of the actions of the Presbytery in setting me apart. And I have personally found new meaning of the words of 2 Timothy 1:5-7.
I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
For many modern reformed-evangelicals, the statement about Timothy receiving a ‘gift from God’ in connection to the laying on of hands seems quaint at best, and maybe even a little sacramentally suspicious. But is there a theological truth here which points to a profound spiritual blessing? I would like to suggest that there is – especially when it comes to the appointing of new overseers. It is to our great loss that we downplay the significance of ordination and / or induction.
Any leader of Christ’s flock should give evidence to a high degree of competency (i.e. being apt to teach), Christ-like character, theological conviction and I would also add ministerial calling. They are what I identify as the four ‘C’s’, or four essential pillars of pastoral ministry. But when a man is set apart as an under-shepherd of a particular congregation, the Bible teaches that God blesses the individual concerned with an extra gift (Greek, charismata) of grace.
Such a grace is more than just a position of authority, but a grace that empowers His servant not just to be a Christ-like model of godliness. It is a grace to exercise wisdom, strength and pastoral care for those whom Christ bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Church leadership is often lonely and extremely hard. That is why many leave the ministry at some point to seek other employment.
And yet, the Lord Jesus Christ not only promises that never will He leave or forsake us (Matt. 28:20), but that He will also equip us with the needed spiritual power for the task ahead (John 20:21-22). What does this mean then for the church of God today? Well, as the apostle Paul says, despite the trials we will face, we shouldn’t be afraid or timid, because we have been given a “spirit of power, love and self-discipline” (1 Tim. 1:6).
I have found this passage immensely encouraging. When I started out in pastoral ministry some twenty-odd years ago, I had no idea as to how difficult or discouraging it could be. People tried to warn me but I just had no idea how hard the challenge to persevere would be.
What has kept me going is the strength of God’s Spirit who, ironically, is most displayed when we are at our weakest (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10). This supernatural provision to keep trusting in Christ, loving His saints and saying no to sinful desires has all been because of His grace. A gift that was given to me—according to Paul—when the Presbytery of elders laid their hands on a minister of the Gospel.
I know that some will scoff and say that what I’m suggesting is superstitious sacramentalism. But my own experience gives testimony to the truth of God’s Word. Every single week I’m confronted with a pastoral issue or spiritual task (i.e. weekly preaching) which I know is just beyond me. I am deeply conscious that I don’t have the wisdom or the resources in and of myself to act appropriately.
However, there has not been a day where the Lord Jesus Christ has failed to be faithful. He has poured out upon me such an abundant provision of grace that it is more than I could have ever imagined or asked (Eph. 3:20). To be set apart as a leader of God’s people is such an inestimable honour that Christ supplies those whom He appoints to it with an extra portion of His Spirit.
As such, there is great encouragement to be had in remembering what we have received. Not just in salvation, but also in service, for even our good works are a gracious gift of our king (Eph. 2:10; Rev. 19:8). Hence, we should never give up. For even—actually, that should really be, especially—through our suffering, and perhaps even death, the Lord Jesus Christ is being glorified.
The ascended Christ not only sovereignly gives people gifts to His church (Eph. 4:7-11) but when they are recognized and set-apart, they are blessed with another spiritual gift. A ‘charismata’ to be strong and courageous even the situation is frightening, to love His people with gentleness and compassion when they are difficult, and even a self-control to keep it all together when you want to throw in the towel.
– Mark Powell
The Minister at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Hobart