Developing Teachers and Leaders in Our Church

The church’s mission church is simple—make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). Within this mission, pastor-teachers teach others to teach the Word: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Teaching takes place formally and includes directly teaching doctrine, but teaching takes place informally as well. A family teaches the leader when he is young, the church instructs him as well, and leaders then train these men to take their place in time. Consider two examples from Scripture.

First, consider Jesus and the disciples. Mark 3:13–15 speaks of how Jesus developed the disciples according to preference (“those whom he desired”), presence (“so that they might be with him”), preaching (“send them out to preach”) and power (“send them out…to cast out demons”). He singled out potential leaders, shared His life and ministry with them, and trained them to serve others.

Second, consider Paul and Timothy. Thanks to the ministry of Timothy’s family and his church (Acts 16:1–2; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15), Timothy earned for himself a good reputation of character and being knowledgeable of the Scriptures. As a result, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him” (Acts 16:3). Then, Paul’s teaching and example developed Timothy all the more (cf. Philippians 2:19–24). Like Jesus and the disciples, Paul chose Timothy, shared his life and ministry with him, and trained him to serve others.

It is easy to plan formal teaching. Informal training—letting one’s life impact another by spending time together—this training must be planned as well, something formally informal. If our church is going to develop leaders, both formal and informal training are essential. The pastors teach those who can teach, and by building relationships with these men in other settings, they pass on their way of life as well—their character, their wisdom, and more.

Seeing the value of formal and informal training, our pastors will begin a program next year entitled “Entrusting Faithful Men.” Those who teach the church will read through a volume a year of Rolland McCune’s Systematic Theology and meet at least six times each year to discuss what we are learning. Any men besides are welcome to join. Our church has a fund to provide these books to the men in order to invest in them and thus our church. Our pastors will meet informally with these men as well.

As it applies to the church, expect somebody new to try his hand at teaching from time to time. Pray that God would raise up teachers and leaders in our midst. If nothing else, just as we pray for our women to faithfully serve, love their husbands, and raise godly children, pray also for our men to know the Word and be better husbands, fathers, and examples. May the Lord bless our church as we are mindful to develop teachers and leaders in our midst.

A Testimony from Teaching Some Teachers

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV).

This past week, I had the privilege of leading six men through a Doctor of Ministry class at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC: “The Theology and Development of Leadership.” They were from Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The time zones from my location in Rockford, IL, were either two hours back, one hour ahead, thirteen hours ahead, or fourteen hours ahead. While some were just seeing the sun, some had already seen it go down. Their roles as leaders include the following: a “retired” missionary from Paraguay, now serving in the States; an assistant pastor who also presides over a Bible college; an assistant pastor who oversees a counseling center in two locations; a senior pastor who also has a counseling center in his church; an assistant pastor who might become his church’s senior pastor within the next few years; and a pastor who recently relocated from one country to another.

I stayed up late each night, compiling as much as I could for these men. The best resource was simply the Scripture itself. We looked at the Testaments Old and New and especially focused on New Testament passages that taught about leaders and their development. We met together for thirty hours over the course of five days—four hours on Monday, eight on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and two on Friday.  Due to COVID-19, instead of meeting in Greenville, we connected via Zoom, a video program that allowed everyone to see and hear each other at the same time. We could even share our computer screens as desired, which was helpful when the men gave presentations about leaders from church history and when I simply taught through my own notes for the majority of the time.

The presentations and class discussions taught me much as well. I may have been the instructor, but these men had been called by God to teach in their churches and therefore had something to offer themselves. I was especially glad to listen to the “students” crowned with gray.

The greatest thing that prepared me to teach this class was simply becoming and being a pastor. Parents, brothers, pastors, and others invested their lives in me, especially the senior pastor at my previous church. Preaching the Word, pastoring, and being sharpened by others—these things and more go into what makes a pastor a pastor and a Christian leader a leader.

From the missionary now in the States: “This class has transformed my thinking, increased my understanding, and burned in my heart the desire to study God’s Word more.” Teachers should teach teachers. Iron sharpens iron-sharpening iron. All of us have something to teach and learn from one another. All glory be to God.

May the Lord be gracious to raise up leaders in all of our churches, and may we be mindful to teach these men so that they can teach others as well.

An Essential for Every Pastor: Being a Man of the Word (Titus 1:9)

Titus 1:6–9 is a key passage for determining who may or may not be a pastor in a church. Titus 1:6 describes how a pastor leads his family, and Titus 1:7–8 describes his character. Titus 1:7 lists five character traits that a pastor should not have, and Titus 1:8 lists six that he should. In the Greek, Titus 1:9 continues the sentence from Titus 1:7–8 and assumes the imperative verb “must” (dei) to give us a seventh positive requirement for the pastor: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

We could generally sum of Titus 1:9 with this—a pastor must be a man of the word. More specifically, we could explain this verse with four statements.

A pastor has been taught the trustworthy word.

New Testament Greek sometimes uses whole prepositional phrases to describe a noun. Literally put, a pastor must be “holding fast to the according-to-the-teaching trustworthy word.” So, when Titus 1:9 requires that a pastor hold fast to the word, it’s a word that is described in two ways. It is according to the teaching, and it is trustworthy. And if it is according to the teaching, the pastor himself has been taught this word so as to be able to hold fast to it and teach it himself. Churches and their pastors should teach men who are able to teach. Bible colleges, seminaries, and institutes can aid this teaching, but however it is done, a pastor is someone who has been taught the trustworthy word.

The phrase “the trustworthy word” uses the same Greek words (pistos, logos) that Paul uses in the Pastoral Epistles when he says “This saying is trustworthy” (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8). These “sayings” always refer to a summary statement about the gospel or to a statement about the one who proclaims it. These passages show us that the “trustworthy word” is the gospel that leads sinners to salvation in Christ and to subsequent life of godliness.

Similarly, Paul commends Timothy as a “good servant of Christ Jesus” for teaching the brothers in that which he had been trained, “the words of the faith,” a phrase which uses these words again (1 Timothy 4:6). Timothy was an example of someone who preached the trustworthy word because he was trained to do so. Like Timothy, pastors must know this trustworthy word inside and out and all of its related doctrines as best they can. A pastor is someone who has been taught the trustworthy word.

A pastor holds firm to the trustworthy word.

“Hold firm” is technically a participle, an “-ing” kind of word in the English. Mentioned earlier, the main verb of Titus 1:7–9 is “must,” so the pastor “must” be “holding firm.” This same verb (antechō) is used to describe one being “devoted” to a master (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) and how we should “help” the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It literally means to “hold against” one’s self whatever the object may be. As Titus 1:9 demands, a pastor must firmly hold the trustworthy word to himself. By doing so, he will save himself and his hearers (cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16).

A pastor instructs in sound doctrine.

To fully understand this point and the next, we should note that a pastor will not be “able” (dunatos) to instruct in sound doctrine or rebuke those who contradict unless he first holds firm the trustworthy word. The two small words “so that” indicate that one action leads to two others—the pastor holds firm the trustworthy word “so that he may be able” to “give instruction” and “rebuke.” A pastor cannot instruct something that eludes his grasp, let alone know how to rebuke someone who is contradicting.

The translation “give instruction” is an interesting choice for the ESV since it is the only one of 109 instances of parakaleō to be translated this way. To be fair, parakaleō has a range of translations, shaped by context, varying quite a bit—comfort, urge, beg, invite, ask, appeal, exhort, entreat, plead, and encourage. So, when the action of parakaleō involves “sound doctrine,” it would mean at the least to “give instruction,” but these other choices are not far behind. “Sound doctrine” comes from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:3), “follows… the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13), and thus “accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3). It opposes sin (1 Timothy 1:10; cf. 1:9–10), rebukes sinners (Titus 1:13), and cannot be endured by those who are ruled by their passions (2 Timothy 4:3). Thus, sound doctrine must be instructed and exhorted, and those who hear it should be urged, invited, and asked to submit thereto.

A pastor rebukes those who contradict sound doctrine.

A pastor who is taught, holds firm, and instructs the word of God will be opposed by unbelievers. In Titus’s context, some of these unbelievers professed to know God, upset families in the churches, used the church for personal gain, and needed to be silenced through rebuke (Titus 1:10–16; cf. 1:9, 13). Titus was to do so “with all authority” (Titus 2:15) and avoid those who persisted in strife (Titus 3:10–11; cf. Romans 16:17–18; 2 John 10–11). Titus was to name the sinner and the sin, just as John the Baptist did with Herod for his unlawful marriage “and for all the evil things that Herod had done” (Luke 3:19).

Summary

Titus 1:9 is just one verse, but it teaches much about how a pastor is to be a man of the word. A pastor must have been taught the word, hold firm thereto, and instruct others in sound doctrine. When opposed, the pastor must rebuke those who contradict. May God help all of us as pastors and Christian leaders to live according to Titus 1:9.

The Requirements for a Pastor

Is your church looking for a pastor? If it is not doing so right now, it will be in the future. Pastors resign, retire, move, or pass away, leaving churches with the need to find their next pastor. The Bible is not only sufficient to help a church figure out who that next man should be (and hopefully the church is training these kind of men already; cf. 2 Tim 2:2), but it helpfully gives specific instruction on exactly what kind of man the pastor should be.

While many passages help us understand the character and role of a pastor, 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 are especially helpful in listing out what is required of men who are pastors. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 primarily inform the readers as to the character and abilities of a pastor, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 primarily exhorts pastors as to the manner and motives for their ministry. What follows below is a comprehensive list of the twenty-two requirements in those passages. The list below primarily follows the list in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and adds what is left from Titus 1:5–9 and 1 Peter 5:1–4. The list is categorized into four types of requirements—family, character, ability, and circumstances. The list of character requirements is further categorized into positive and negative character traits.

Circumstantial Requirements

  1. A pastor must first desire to be a pastor (1 Tim 3:1), and this desire should be guided by proper motivations (cf. 1 Pet 5:2, 4).
  2. He must not be a recent convert because a newborn Christian appointed to leadership could fall into pride and condemnation (1 Tim 3:6).
  3. He must be well thought of by outsiders, that is, unbelievers (1 Tim 3:7).

Positive Character Requirements (What He Must Be)

  1. He must be above reproach in both his character (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7) and family (Titus 1:6, 9), a description which functions as somewhat of a headword for all of the character traits to follow in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The pastor is naturally an example for others in all of the items in the list (cf. 1 Pet 5:3).
  2. He is the husband of one wife, which means he is faithful and pure, whether married or not (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).
  3. He is sober-minded (1 Tim 3:2).
  4. He is self-controlled in his thoughts (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8) and disciplined in his bodily appetites as well (Titus 1:8).
  5. He is respectable (1 Tim 3:2).
  6. He is hospitable (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8).
  7. He is gentle (1 Tim 3:3; cf. 1 Pet 5:3, “not domineering”).
  8. He is a lover of good (Titus 1:8).
  9. He is upright (Titus 1:8).
  10. He is holy (Titus 1:8).

Negative Character Requirements (What He Must Not Be)

  1. He is not a drunkard (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is not violent (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  3. He is not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3).
  4. He is not a lover of money (1 Tim 3:3) and not greedy for gain (Titus 1:7; cf. 1 Pet 5:2).
  5. He is not arrogant (Titus 1:7).
  6. He is not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).

Family Requirements

  1. He manages his household well, which, if he has children, is seen in part by having submissive children, meaning at the least that his children are not openly rebellious and engaged in riotous living (1 Tim 3:4–5; Titus 1:6).

Ability Requirements

  1. He is able to manage and care for the church as a whole (1 Tim 3:5) as the overseer of the church (1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is able to teach (1 Tim 3:2), which Titus 1:9 elaborates as the pastor being 1) “taught,” 2) one to “hold firm to the trustworthy word,” 3) “able to give instruction in sound doctrine,” and 4) “able… also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

 

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Semi-regular Attenders: How to Think about Those Who Only Partially Attend a Church’s Services

Most Christians are familiar with the command to stir one another up to love in good works in Hebrews 10:24. The negative counterpart to this is the related command in Hebrews 10:25, to not neglect the assembled church where this stirring primarily takes place. To forsake the assembly altogether may betray that one may not be a Christian at all.

But what about Christians who come to church some of the time but not all the times that a church has said it would assemble? What if someone comes on Sunday mornings but not other regularly scheduled times, especially if it seems that he could have otherwise been there?

As a pastor, I have thought about this question many times. Whatever your schedule may be, my answer to these “semi-regular attenders” is to try to understand exactly why they are missing services and then go from there. What follows below are some questions I might explore in light of why some might be absent from the assembly on occasion.

  1. First, “Is this person a member?” 

My church has a covenant and bylaws to which all members must agree. In our covenant, among other things, members agree “with the aid of the Holy Spirit… to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to give it a sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.” In the section “Ecclesiology” in our Declaration of Faith, it states, “We believe the true mission of the church is to worship God in all of its services and activities.” Likewise, our Bylaws specifies the duties of members, one being this: “Each member shall seek diligently, by Divine help, to…  attend the services regularly.” Our Bylaws even specify when these services or meetings will take place: “The regular meetings of this church shall include the Sunday morning worship service, Sunday morning meeting, Sunday afternoon/evening meeting, a midweek service, fellowship around the Lord’s Table (normally the first Sunday of each month), and other meetings…”

So, if someone has been admitted into the membership of the church, that person has obligated himself to live up to what the church has agreed concerning its belief and practice of the faith. The church has likewise committed itself to holding each member accountable to this covenant, which means that all of its members should be checking up on one another to do as they have agreed to do, assembling with each other included. Thus, there has been a mutual agreement to simply do what everyone has said they would do. It would thus be natural to hold each accountable in the event of absence from the assembly.

  1. Second, “Why are you missing services?” 

My observation is that people miss services for two primary reasons—suffering or sin.

In a broken world, people suffer the loss of being with the assembly due to a job that schedules their presence during services, a sickness that keeps them at home, care for family members who are sick or aging, or health issues from aging themselves. Perhaps a long commute makes attendance difficult, especially if the weather is poor.

As to sin, sometimes people miss services because they are lazy, have misplace priorities (e.g., become too involved in youth sports leagues or vacation too often at their cabin), reject the church leadership, or want to avoid other people in their church due to some kind of conflict. Using the language above, sin is keeping them from assembling because they are forsaking the “Divine help” and “aid of the Spirit” that would otherwise move them to want to be with the people of God. This leads me to question #3.

  1. Third, “Should I confront this person? If so, when do I do so? After missing one service? Five? Fifty?” 

If someone attends some services but not others, I find it difficult to conclude that they are altogether violating Hebrews 10:24–25. If he has not made his excuses known and his absence is not a pattern, one should give the absentee the benefit of the doubt concerning his absence.

In reaching out, however, simply showing concern may stir the one absent in a far better way than confrontation. You might say, “Hey, I missed you last Sunday. Glad to see you back. I hope everything is going well.” Just the mere mention of noticing an absence and affirming the joy of his presence can strengthen his resolve to be faithful.

Or, it may be that the Lord gives the pastor and church an opportunity to address the matter through the regular preaching of the Word. I have a unique advantage for this kind of thing as a pastor. I might notice some not-so-faithful patterns in people’s lives that might be better corrected by simply addressing everyone on the matter instead of personally making a bigger deal of something than it needs to be. I just patiently wait to say the needed thing with an appropriate passage as it comes up in the preaching schedule. And hopefully the absentee is not absent on that day! If so, a personal conversation may need to take place sometime in the future.

One needs to be careful to address the congregation when preaching like this, however. Don’t illustrate an example of what not to do by describing someone’s aberrant behavior so exactly that he or she feels singled out in front of everyone else. There is a time to bring a member’s sin before the congregation, but that is the last step in church discipline (Matthew 18:17). It’s not like missing a service here and there is quite akin to outright immorality or the promotion of heresy (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 1:19–20).

At the same time, churches should not let members be absent forever. Otherwise the church is danger of neglecting the command of not neglecting the assembly in Hebrews 10:24–25. It may do well for churches to specify in their bylaws how long one may be intentionally absent from the assembly and still maintain one’s membership. For example, my church only allows for 12 weeks of absence along these lines, but in between that time should be many attempts by the pastors and the membership to bring the wayward sheep back into the fold. And maybe 12 weeks sometimes turns into more while working with the individual. Voting someone out of the membership for sustained, intentional absence should be a tearful matter. Such a member would have been cautioned concerning this matter when he joined the church. Now that he has chosen to be perpetually absent, he can only expect to be put of the church membership as he was warned, an act of discipline by the church.

  1. Fourth, “But what if the person is not a member?”

For anyone who has not committed himself to the church, and therefore the church has not formally committed itself to him, I’m simply happy for however often the person attends, assuming the individual is teachable and cooperative with the church concerning whatever keeps him from joining. But, as I remind people from time to time, the longer someone attends, the more our relationships will build, and the more we will at least hold the individual accountable for living a godly life (assuming the person is a Christian).

I’m sure more questions and suggestions could be given. I’ve already said a mouthful, and my suggestions obviously assume congregationalism, church membership, and the helpfulness of a church covenant. Hopefully the above is helpful for anyone thinking through how to handle “semi-regular attenders.”

Churches Helping Churches to Keep Pastors in the Word

Acts 18:5 records, “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

It might seem that Luke is merely telling us that Paul was evangelizing the Jews when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia. A closer look at Acts 18, however, shows us how generosity from others can free ministers to further the work of the Lord.

When first in Corinth, Paul financially supported himself by making tents with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2–3). Paul later told the Corinthians that though he had the right to receive compensation for his spiritual labors (1 Cor 9:3–12a), he did not make “use of this right” in order to keep from putting “an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). Paul had them keep their money so they would not suspect him of serving for money alone.

As time went on, however, Paul apparently stopped his secular labors and engaged in spiritual labor alone. Paul went from making tents to being “occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). The Greek word for “occupied” is used elsewhere by Luke to describe how crowds would “surround” someone (Luke 8:45), enemies that would “hem… in” their victims (Luke 19:43), and “holding” someone “in custody” (Luke 22:63). Whereas Paul previously split his time between a secular vocation and spending his Saturdays in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:2–4), we might say that he was now able to be surrounded by, hemmed in, and held in custody by the Word. The ministry of the Word now dominated his attention.

But what did Timothy and Silas do to change Paul’s situation? The answer lies in what Paul told the Corinthians later: “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way” (2 Corinthians 11:8–9). In Macedonia was Philippi, and Paul told the Philippians this: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15). Paul was in Philippi before he came to Corinth (cf. Acts 16:11–34).

So, matching Acts 18:5 with 2 Corinthians 11:8–9 and Philippians 4:15, we could conclude that, when Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia, they brought a financial gift from the Philippians that freed Paul from making tents in order to make disciples alone.

From this example, we learn in principle that, whereas a church may not be able to fully financially support a pastor, sometimes God provides that financial support through others. And if those finances are provided, the church can rejoice and use them for his support.

 

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God’s Grace in the Midst of Rapid Leadership Change

From time to time, Luke records dual-episodes in Acts to show the similarities and contrasts between events in the life of Paul. We see this in Acts 17:1–9 and 17:10–15. In both instances (in Thessalonica and Berea), Paul and others evangelized (Acts 17:1–3, 10), people believed (Acts 17:4, 11–12), others persecuted the missionaries (Acts 17:5–7, 13), and Paul was forced to leave (Acts 17:8, 14–15). The contrast between the two is that the Berean “Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11).1 That is, whereas the Thessalonian Jews were split in believing that Jesus was the Christ, the Berean Jews eagerly received the gospel at large.

Paul stayed in Thessalonica perhaps 3–6 months, and he was briefly in Berea as well. In both instances, just as the believers came to know the gospel, so also they had come to know Paul as a spiritual father who quickly had to leave. How did they process his departure?

1 Thessalonians was written shortly after Paul’s departure, and the letter is replete with how this quick departure was difficult. He had worked as a tentmaker in their midst and thus shared his very life with them (1 Thess 2:8–9). Paul mothered and fathered these believers in their newfound faith (1 Thess 2:7, 11). They believed the gospel in spite of the Jewish opposition and thus persevered together (1 Thess 2:13–16). Such bonds would have tightly tethered their hearts together as one.

Nonetheless, “We were torn away from you,” Paul recalled (1 Thess 2:17). What pain of heart this must have been. As a result, “We endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face… again and again, but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess 2:17–18). And why did he repeatedly attempt to see them again? Because these dear people were Paul’s glory, joy, and crown—his reward for service to show Jesus at His coming (1 Thess 2:19–20).

Unable to go himself, Paul sent Timothy in his stead, desperately wondering if the persecution was too much for them (1 Thess 3:1–5). Upon Timothy’s return, Paul found out that they were persevering, still thought of him kindly, and longed to see him (1 Thess 3:6–10). Of course they would. He had faithfully given them the gospel and nurtured them in the faith, taking nothing in return, and in spite of the persecution. In this was love—that Paul imitated Christ and gave himself in this way for his spiritual children. He prayed for them to persevere and for the Father and the Son to work in them until Christ came again (1 Thess 3:11–13).

Even though Paul could not return, as we saw, Timothy was regularly back and forth these early days (1 Thess 3:1–10; see also Acts 20:5). Besides this, the Thessalonians had respectable men who were over them, labored in study, and admonished them in the Word—in a word, elders (1 Thess 5:12–13). Thus, in Paul’s absence, God’s grace was to have other good men brace them up to keep running the race that their Lord had run before them. Perhaps we might assume that something like this situation was God’s grace to Berea as well.

From the above, we can see that, even when unexpected changes come about, and even when it concerns the leadership of the church, the Good Shepherd is not inattentive to His sheep. One man is not the church, and as gifted as he may be, Christ can guide His people through a change of leaders. What He did then He can do for us today. May God be likewise gracious to our own churches when we experience this kind of thing.

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Silent Separation: What to Think When Leaders Part Ways and Keep Their Reasons to Themselves

We typically think of separation between Christians in negative terms because it typically involves an implied or explicit rebuke by the one initiating the separation.

Separation can take place over denial—separating from those who claim to be Christians but obviously deny the gospel through heresy or evil works (e.g., Rom 16:17–18; Titus 1:10–16).

Separation can take place over disobedience—separating from those who indeed are Christians but are clearly disobeying a specific command in Scripture (e.g., 2 Thess 3:6, 15).

Separation can also take place over disagreement—separating from Christians whose approach to ministry widely differs from one’s own, or even separating from Christians whose character or background suggests a certain unfitness for ministry and thus joining in ministry together. Paul’s separation from Barnabas over John Mark would be an example of this (Acts 15:36–41).

But what if we see Christians separate from one another but do not make their reasons clear to others? And what if this separation is all the more obvious because those separating are in positions of leadership? How should we think about the matter?

First, using the categories above, if there is no public statement by one party about the other, we should assume that neither denial or disobedience are involved. Scripture commands us to “mark” and identify a heretic as necessary in order to avoid him in the future (Rom 16:17). We are likewise to silence and sharply rebuke false leaders who deny the gospel through their works (Titus 1:11, 13). While it is not exactly the same situation, we are to treat disobedient brothers in a similar manner—the “brothers” are commanded to keep away from the specific “brother” who is violating the Word of God (2 Thess 3:6, 15). Whether denial or disobedience, some sort of public rebuke is given through word and act. If one party or the other has not identified the other as denying the gospel or disobeying the clear commands of Scripture in some way, it could be slander and gossip on our part to assume and suggest otherwise.

This being the case, second, if two Christians part ways but say nothing publicly about the matter or about the other person, we could maybe assume that their separation is one of disagreement. The disagreement could be over how to approach a specific ministry or over one’s ministry philosophy as a whole. Leaders may part ways over mistakes or misjudgments that are not necessarily sins but have nonetheless led to disappointment and a lack of confidence in the other’s wisdom over time. Perhaps a leader asks another to carry out a significant task that the other feels he is not gifted or skilled to complete, so the second man chooses to move on to another ministry where he believes can effectively serve.

With that last thought in mind, third, sometimes a separation between leaders involves no denial, disobedience, or disagreement at all. For the sake of continuing our alliteration, perhaps we could call this separation divine, that is, that it is God who is the One who providentially brings the separation about. It may simply be that, whereas the Lord gave someone a specific ministry for a time, the Lord may create an opportunity for someone to move on and serve somewhere else. It is always sad for brothers to part, even for good reason, when God chooses to move someone from one ministry to another (cf. Acts 20:37; 2 Tim 1:3).

Considering the above, we should guard ourselves from automatically assuming that a parting of ways involves sin, mistakes, or even disagreement. If a denial of the gospel is involved, it is the responsibility of the true Christian to make this denial known as necessary. If disobedience is involved, the obedient Christian is responsible to act accordingly. If disagreement is involved, perhaps the reasons may be stated, and perhaps they may be not. And sometimes a parting of ways simply comes about by the clear and remarkable providence of God.

The Sharp Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas: Who Was Right?

Acts 15:36–41 records a disagreement that arose between Paul and Barnabas. Paul asked Barnabas to join him to check in on the churches that were planted in Acts 13–14 (Acts 15:36). In wanting another to help, Barnabas suggested John Mark (Acts 15:37) who had “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Since John Mark “had withdrawn” and “not gone with them to the work,” “Paul thought best not to take with them one” who had done such a thing (Acts 15:38).1

Barnabas was not convinced by Paul. In fact, in Paul himself, Barnabas showed that he was a man to give someone an opportunity to serve in ministry when others would not (cf. Acts 9:26–29). Barnabas was apparently convinced that Mark had learned his lesson and was worthy to serve again. But, as it was, “a sharp disagreement” parted these two great men (Acts 15:39).

In giving careful attention to what follows in Acts 15:39–41, it seems that neither Paul nor Barnabas were wrong, as disappointing as it was to see them disagree. Notice:

  • Rather than one or the other seeing the churches again, Barnabas took Mark to see the believers in Cyprus (cf. Acts 13:4–12), and Paul took Silas to go beyond to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:39–41). So, no one disagreed so as to abandon the trip. Everyone kept on ministering.
  • Though Paul stubbornly refused to accept John Mark and parted ways with Barnabas, the church nonetheless commended Paul to God’s grace for the trip ahead (Acts 15:40). “Commended” in Acts 15:40 is in the singular, referring to Paul in particular (but obviously having Silas in view). The commendation was not for Barnabas and John Mark.
  • While this commendation was not to Barnabas and John Mark, it does not follow that the church did not approve of their ministry. In the end, Barnabas was doing what he was doing at the initiation of Paul (cf. Acts 15:36).
  • The church in Jerusalem seems to have approved of both Barnabas and Paul as well. John Mark came from there (Acts 12:25), and Silas did as well (Acts 15:22). Being one to explain Jerusalem’s letter to Antioch (Acts 15:32–33), it would have been helpful for Silas to spread this word even further (cf. Acts 16:4).

As time went on, we see Paul speak of both Barnabas (1 Cor 9:6) and John Mark (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11) with approval. If perhaps there is any blame in the situation, perhaps it belongs to John Mark for abandoning the trip in Acts 13.

Whatever the case may be, we see an instance in the early church where two leaders disagreed over a matter of personnel. In God’s grace, the disagreement stopped no one from serving, and, in fact, more men served as a result. Even in disagreement, if both parties are seeking the honor the Lord, good things may still happen in the end.

  1. All biblical quotes are from the ESV. []

An Encouraging Passage for a Church Searching for a Pastor

Multiple Scriptures instruct churches as to how to go about finding a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 list out requirements for the pastor—a pastor must desire his role, be able to teach and administrate, have an exemplary character, and be confirmed by the church that these things are so.  Acts 6:1–7 gives a play-by-play example for how to “appoint” deacons to the church, instructive for how to “appoint” pastors as well (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5)—leaders lead, and congregations decide in the process.1

In several ways, Acts 11:19–26 is an encouraging passage for churches without a pastor as well. To clarify, as it speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul), I realize these men are unique in the history of the church with respect to their caliber and calling. Paul was the foremost apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas was shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this ministry (cf. Acts 13:1–3). At the same time, though their role was something beyond a local church, they more or less functioned as Antioch’s first pastors, and thus their example is instructive and encouraging for churches without a pastor today.

The Role of Acts 11:19–26 Within Acts as a Whole

The church was birthed by the Spirit, grew and spread in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (Acts 1–6; cf. 1:8). Persecution drove its followers out of these areas, and Saul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 7–9). Peter, the foremost apostle to the Jews (cf. Gal 2:7–8), saw the Spirit poured out on the Gentile Cornelius and his household and told Jerusalem about the matter (Acts 10:1–11:18). When we arrive at Acts 11:19–26, we have been left to anticipate how God would use Paul to take the gospel to the uttermost end of the earth. Acts 11:19–26 begins to tell us how this happens, and the rest of the book of Acts could be broadly summarized as recording how Paul took the gospel to the world (Acts 13–28).

A Summary of Acts 11:19–26 

Though driven from Jerusalem by persecution, Gentiles continued to give the gospel, and  many more Gentiles were saved (Acts 11:19–21). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to lead the believers in Antioch, and the church flourished under his ministry (Acts 11:22–24). It is here in particular that we have one of our examples of a church without a pastor receiving someone who more or less functioned as a pastor.

As the passage goes on, Barnabas realized that the church could use another good man as well, and perhaps he saw Antioch as a Gentile church that could become the base of operations for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. So, he left to “look for Saul,” “found him,” “brought him to Antioch,” and the two taught in Antioch for a year (Acts 19:25–26). Here again we find an example of a church adding a man who functioned as a pastor.

God’s work through these two and the church was so effective that the surrounding community coined the term “Christians” to apply to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They lived like Christ, spoke of Christ, and were marked off as a group of people that were united around Him.

How Acts 11:19–26 Can Encourage a Church Without a Pastor

With this understanding of Acts 11:19–26 in mind, let’s consider the passage with an eye on how it can encourage a church searching for a pastor.

First, be encouraged that the Lord can grow a church without a pastor.

As believers scattered to Antioch, they gave the gospel to Gentiles, “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Because “the hand of the Lord was with them… a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). All of this took place without any mention to the leadership of these believers.

While every church should ideally have a pastor and even multiple pastors as necessary, a healthy group of believers will continue to make disciples and function as they ought in the absence of a pastor.

Second, God can use the greater body of Christ to help a local church find a pastor.

Upon hearing of the Lord’s work in Antioch, “the church in Jerusalem… sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22). When Barnabas saw this marvelous outpouring of “the grace of God, he was glad” and powerfully preached to them, being the “good man” that he was (Acts 11:23–24). As a result, again, “a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). The hand of the Lord can work mightily through a thriving church  that has been blessed with a gifted leader.

Just as Jerusalem was a help to Antioch then, churches can enlist the help of others in seeking out pastors today.

Third, pastors can help find pastors.

In Acts 11:19–26, we have not only one but two examples for finding a pastor for a church. As the church grew, Barnabas saw the need for more leadership. The fact that he had to “look for Saul” in Tarsus implies that he did not know where he was except for general location of the city, and it was a city of 500,000 people. Finally, he “found him” and “brought him” back (Acts 11:25–26).

Churches sometimes struggle to find a pastor, but, as helped by the leadership of its church or other leaders in the body of Christ, the church’s hard work pays off, and the Lord can bless a church with a needed pastor, just as He did for Antioch.

Fourth, a church continues in God’s grace with its new pastor.

Notice that, all along the way, Antioch flourished in the grace of God. Whether without Barnabas, with Barnabas, and then with Barnabas and Saul—the hand of the Lord was upon the life of this church every stage of the way.

That a church continues in God’s grace means that God can bless a church while temporarily without leadership. Adding a pastor obviously helps to organize the church to take the Great Commission even further. Either way, God’s grace is evident before and after a church has found its pastor.

Fifth, a pastor should lead the church towards finding his successor.

This point comes after Acts 11:19–26. As Barnabas and Saul ministered in Antioch, the church eventually added three more men to its leadership—Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13:1). Because of their unique calling, Barnabas and Paul passed the baton to these men to carry on the pastoral work of the church while they went to give the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13–14). We can guess that Barnabas and Paul likely played a key role in growing these leaders, and the church was able to continue with an established leadership, even as Barnabas and Paul went away.

Ideally, a pastor today may find it helpful to train a pastor before he leaves, or he may find it helpful to simply lead the church in finding its next pastor and then stepping down when the new pastor comes. Or maybe he can outline the process, step aside, and let the church take it from there. Every church is different, and no two transitions in leadership are quite the same. One way or the other, though, a church should have a plan to find its next pastor, and, as God is gracious, the church will have an idea of who that person is as well.

Conclusion

In all the above, what is evident for Antioch, if nothing else, is this—God sees when a church is without a pastor, can bless it in a pastor’s absence, can bless it by providing a pastor, and will continue to bless it when a pastor arrives. If possible, a church and its pastors should raise up pastors from within the congregation. At the least, pastors should lead the church in finding who will lead the church in the future or leave the church with a plan to do so. If your church is without a pastor, may you be encouraged that God can bless you as He did with Antioch long ago.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []