Fan into flame the gift of God – 2 Timothy 1:6
The ancient city of Ephesus was an important port and trade center for the Roman Empire. In the providence of God it also became a central hub center for a growing Christian church with a far-reaching impact throughout the neighboring region. And how was that impact achieved? Well certainly in the sovereignty of God Ephesus was placed at a strategic point on the coast of the Aegean Sea, a major bridge between Asia and Greece. God’s power and plan for cities like Ephesus also worked themselves out by the on-the-ground methodology of the first wave of Christian missionaries, most notably the Apostle Paul himself. Ephesus’ regional and global impact developed gradually as it became a center not just for trade but for focused Christian training.
Paul’s missionary strategy seems to have been to plant churches and personally oversee the discipleship within those churches in the major urban centers of the Empire, and then to use his team of associates as field missionaries for the smaller towns, villages, and regions surrounding them. In keeping with this missionary vision, Paul spent months of time living in Ephesus preaching the gospel, discipling believers, and training leaders who would serve the local church in Ephesus and be sent out as church planting missionaries and pastors into the other neighboring regions. In fact, Paul spent a good part of three years (Acts 20:31) during his third missionary journey based in Ephesus. The letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians and the letter to the Romans were all likely written in the context of Paul’s work in his city.
And a portion of Paul’s work in the city was spent molding and developing the leaders who would pick up the torch after he was gone. Paul never seemed to see ministry as merely a “present-tense” pastorate. He was shepherding the people that God had placed around him true enough, but his vision was also cast into the next several decades and beyond. An aspect of local ministry then was the ongoing training of young leaders for the work of continuing local ministry. The New Testament is full of examples of this passionate training ministry. Paul poured his life into mentoring men like Timothy (who interestingly went on to pastor at least for a while the congregation in Ephesus) and Titus (who led the growing church just south of Ephesus on the island of Crete). No one who reads through the narrative of Paul’s ministry in Acts or his own letters that follow after can avoid the overwhelming examples of Paul pouring his life into younger men who will continue in the service of the gospel long after he is gone.
As if that were not enough, early church history presents this same strategy of local ministry combined with focused ministry training as being employed by other apostles. A clear example is the elderly John the Apostle, the Beloved Disciple. John seems to have been both the last apostle and the apostle who lived the longest and who died of natural causes. According to early tradition he spent the last decades of his life based back in that same strategic city of Ephesus (the photo to the left is of ruins just outside Ephesus at the traditional tomb of John the Apostle). Except for a short period of exile on Patmos, his last years were spent in the same city of Paul and Timothy, and he spent those years writing his own account of Jesus’ ministry (The Gospel of John) and training younger men like Polycarp for the purpose of gospel ministry for the local church.
The pastors of First Baptist Church Henryville believe there is a great and specific weight placed upon pastors and the ministry of a local church to follow this example. When given the opportunity and resources by God, we must take the responsibility seriously to engage in developed training of men for the purpose of ministry. Christian colleges (like Boyce College) are immensely valuable and graduate seminaries (like Southern Seminary) are of great benefit for the purpose of ministry training. This is the testimony of Toby, Cade, and Logan. We all agree that the resources and training provided by these institutions meet a training need that cannot be met to the same extent in any other setting. These schools (and many other schools like them) provide focused education and training that cannot be received anywhere else. That does not, however, excuse the local church from the hands-on engagement of training those within its body for active ministry. Pastors and churches must receive the command of Paul to Timothy: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and 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 2:1-2).
With this burden in mind the pastors have developed and are in the process of beginning a new ministry entitled The Ephesian Fellowship (Hereafter EF). This ministry is designed to be a focused apprenticeship and training residency for men within our congregation who both sense a calling to ministry and have that calling affirmed by the local body. So what will this look like for First Baptist Church Henryville? What can you expect from the EF?
1. The EF is designed for men who are members of our church and who have publicly acknowledged a desire for and commitment to some form of gospel ministry, and who would like to voluntarily participate in this residency program. They will have the title of “Pastoral Resident” or “Pastoral Apprentice,” a position as an understudy. Pastoral Residents are not an official office (or a paid position) within the local church so participants won’t have an official leadership role just because they are participants in the EF, although they will have the opportunity for guided service within the church.
2. The EF is a program that is designed to take men who are members of our church through a two-year residency program. During these two years participants can expect:
A. Ongoing accountability from one another and the pastoral team
B. Regular reading and discussion times with one another and the pastoral team through books of particular importance and usefulness for local church ministry
C. Opportunities to gain experience by accompanying and assisting pastors in various ministry and pastoral responsibilities
D. Opportunities to accompany pastors to a variety of ministry conferences, retreats, or other learning possibilities related to local church ministry during the two-year period
E. Opportunities to serve FBC in various aspects of ministry service under the guidance of the pastors, deacons, and other church leadership.
3. The EF is not designed to be a substitute for the educational training that can be found at Boyce or SBTS, but it is designed to be a helpful, experience building, training ministry to supplement other aspects of preparation for ministry service.
We’re excited about beginning this new residency ministry. We pray that God will bless it as we seek to be his instruments in the preparation of men for the future. We’re excited for the men in our church who have already expressed interest in participating. We are looking to launch this residency ministry with our first group of guys in June 2013.
We hope and pray that all our members at FBC will come alongside us and these men as we strive together to proclaim the gospel and disciple believers in Henryville, Indiana, the United States, and around the world. Through them we have the opportunity to serve members of our own fellowship as well as the untold and unknown thousands that we pray will be impacted through their future ministries. So how can you be involved? There are three specific ways that you can assist us in training men for gospel ministry.
1. First, do not fail to pray for these men on a daily and weekly basis. Pray that their calling and gifting from God will be enflamed to a roaring blaze. Pray that they will persevere in the faith and in the ministry of the gospel. Pray that their affections would be continually stirred for Christ and that God by his Spirit would protect, sanctify, and cleanse them as the fruit of the Spirit are grown in their own lives.
2. Second, encourage these men on a daily and weekly basis. Esteem them and hold them accountable to the standards of gospel ministers. We are told in the Bible that “if anyone aspires to the office of overseer (pastor), he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1), but the tasks nobility is guarded by high demands and requirements for service (1 Timothy 3:2-7). Again, in Philippians we are told to “honor such men,” in this context men who are understudies of Paul and servants of the churches that he ministers to (Philippians 2:19-29). Late in that same letter we are told to keep our eyes on those who walk according to the example set by faithful gospel ministers (Philippians 3:17). Ministry can be lonely. There are times when ministry (even preparation for ministry) in a local church means engaging in things and enduring things that no one else can know or understand. They (as well as your pastors) need your encouragement and accountability to persevere.
3. Finally, if God places in your heart to do so, pray about assisting these men in some of the financial burdens associated with their ministry preparation. The EF is not a budgeted ministry of FBC and is not designed to require any ongoing financial cost to the church. Each participant knows about the small regular costs of the residency and is committed to fulfilling those obligations as well as the costs of more formal training and education through schooling at Boyce College or Southern Seminary if possible. There will be times, however, when these men might need and would certainly appreciate physical outpourings of support. They understand that ministry preparation will require ongoing reading as they “study to show themselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). This means they’ll be purchasing one or two books each month (at least!) for reading assignments. And as they have the opportunity they may be able to attend various conferences or ministry retreats and these opportunities usually involve some cost. So if you feel so led, I know they would appreciate occasional demonstrations of support, having their books paid for some months or having the cost of a weekend retreat covered for instance.
As a group of pastors we absolutely love our calling to feed and care for the sheep of our Great Shepherd. We couldn’t ask for a better group of men, women, teenagers, and children to serve in the gospel than those at FBC Henryville. It is a delight to serve you through the ministry of the Word. We love each of you, and as your pastoral leaders we are excited to pour our lives (as we pour them into all of you) into men who are set aside for specific ministry to God’s people. We carry the torch of God’s gospel to you each week. Now we are excited to fulfill the calling to build the fire in others who will take up that torch afterwards. Join with us in fanning that flame.