Months before his death the Apostle Paul, wrote a letter to his friend and apprentice Timothy. The letter appears in our New Testaments as 2 Timothy and is a tender, warmhearted letter written in much affection. As a younger leader I identify with the Timothy of this letter. I have been privileged to have had several 'Pauls' in my life ranging from older men in their 60s & 70s to those only a few years older than me. These people have inputted into my life and trained me, not to work a job but to live a life of faith that honours Jesus. I appreciate and value all of the older men who have set an example for me by faithfully loving their wives, raising their children and passionately declaring the good news of Jesus. I have learnt to pray, to give, to preach and to serve from such men, and I will go on learning from them for many years to come. Some I've known personally while others have influenced me from afar. Men like Rob Milliken, Richard James, Tom Shaw, Andy Chev, Graham Marsh, Andrew Wilson, Dave Dean, Chris Ashurst, Andy Thorpe, Steve Blaber & John Kettle. Others like Terry Virgo, Dave Holden, Joel Virgo, Tim Keller, John Piper, PJ Smyth, Andy Stanley & Mark Driscoll.
Yesterday was a sad day. I read of a controversy and request-for-resignation of a well known and personally influential Christian leader. I don't know the ins and outs of the story and I don't know how accurate a lot of the allegations are. What I do know is that it hit me quite hard. It felt as though a 'Paul' to this 'Timothy' had been disqualified and discredited. It wounded me and marred much of the positive impression he has made on my life.
Recognising the influence that mentors can have in our lives I wanted to write a letter, an epistle if you will, to all of the 'Pauls' out there, from this Timothy.
To all of my spiritual fathers in the faith:
Timothy, a slave of Jesus, to Paul my mentor and Father in the faith.
I am first a Christian and I know that chiefly I am to look to Jesus as my master, example and friend. It's not appropriate or fair of me to elevate you or anyone like you to the status of messiah in my life. For the times I have done this, I am sorry. I appreciate that you are also a fallen, sinful and fallible man like myself and I will daily extend to you all of the grace and forgiveness that I would want extended to myself. We are, both of us, 'beggars who've found bread' and as such we are equally in need of food and sustenance from God.
That being said you are also my example in the Lord and the one I choose to imitate, just as you imitate Christ. You are my father in God and as such have made an indelible imprint on my character and conduct. You have encouraged me to pursue Jesus throughout the heartaches and confusions of life and you have provided for me answers I needed when I needed them. Thank you.
I have laid down all of my hopes and dreams to pursue Jesus and have done so at your bidding and with your input and motivation. You have been a guiding voice and have challenged me to make the big sacrifice and to throw my life away on Christ. For all this I am genuinely grateful. Grateful but also sobered by the recent news of another's disqualification from service.
You wrote to me once telling me to:Follow the pattern of the words you have heard from me...' telling me to 'Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ.'. You admonished me to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, 'a worker who has no need to be ashamed...' and you urged me to 'Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace... having nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies, that you know breed quarrels.'
Now, in light of the recent news about our brother, I would urge you to heed your own advice to me.
Your faithful perseverance and enduring to the end, means more to me than you know. Your example to me over the 15 years I've followed Jesus has been exemplary but I would urge you not to discredit your witness and ruin your legacy.
It matters to me that you do whatever it takes to preserve the passionate gospel witness you've set for me. Go on more holidays if you need to, have sabbaticals if it helps, reduce your leadership responsibility if you must - just please don't disqualify yourself. What you preached to me from the pulpit and from across the dinner table counts more than you know. I may not have always taken your advice but I have always been moulded by your fire for God.
I'm not expecting you to be perfect, I know you're not. I'm not burdening you by asking you even to 'have it all together', I'm just asking that you guard your life and conduct. Our enemy hates you. He hates you and he wants to see your life's work discredited. The more you've walked with Christ and faithfully used your leadership gift, you have become a bigger and bigger target for Satan. The weaknesses in your character, he sees and your vulnerabilities he knows all about. That untamed tongue and that stubborn spirit, he's well aware of. Don't give him the pleasure of catching you unawares. Know yourself, know your weaknesses and know the all-sufficiency of Jesus to meet you in your time of need.
Just because you've heard and given most of the sermons in the book doesn't mean you're done. It doesn't mean you can stop immersing yourself in prayer, it doesn't mean you can cope fine now without a devotion to Jesus.
Just because you've attended and led every prayer meeting available over many years of ministry doesn't mean you can stop praying.
Just because you've reengineered community groups/life groups/home groups/mission groups... doesn't now mean you can do without community.
It's easy to become skeptical and jaded in ministry, especially after many years where perhaps your expectations haven't been met. The things you hoped for in your twenties you may still be hoping for in your 50s or 60s; maybe your heart feels a little sick with all those hope deferrals. Jesus is the medicine to cure that sickness. You told me once that he was and I found it to be true.
Don't become so worldly wise that you graduate off of your knees and onto your feet again.
Don't get disillusioned with Jesus, it's everything else that's the illusion not him.
Don't allow success to rob you of faith and don't allow material comfort to soften you and seduce you into passivity. It was your fire and determination that got you that success, and it was your sacrificial giving that made it possible for God to entrust you with such comfort.
In your older age I imagine that the desire to be liked by the world and understood by the community grows stronger. The temptation to keep quiet and be liked gets stronger I'm sure. Remember this - the world hated Jesus, it will hate you. Don't do whatever it takes to gain a seat on the cool kids' table.
I need you, we the church need you. You might not think that it does, but it does.
Your life has become a tree that we seek shade under, you have become an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.
I am praying for you that you will fight the good fight of faith all the way to the end. I want for you to transition well, retire well and die well, and I know that needs all the prayer and support in the world. I'll do whatever I can to help just please, for heaven's sake, don't discredit yourself and break my heart.
Yours with all affection and gratitude,