Timothy must have been a remarkable young man to gain Paul’s trust and confidence. However, it is clear that Paul let him go out from under his immediate tutelage. Personal training can only go so far and then a young protégé has to go it alone. Maybe it was the immensity of the task of evangelizing the world that led to Timothy separating physically from Paul or maybe Paul saw it as the next effective step in Timothy’s training. It is obvious that Paul held on lightly, in order to give Timothy maximum responsibility and freedom.
Yet Paul continued to mentor Timothy from afar, as can be seen from the many instructions given in the book. A brief survey of some notable directives can be helpful to keep in mind:
Remain on (1:3)
Serving the Lord requires staying power. There is opposition at every turn, so the faint of heart need not apply. We are in this for the long haul, so let’s not give up. Practical tip: Don’t make any decision to step down as an elder while you are in the midst of a difficult time. Wait until the pressure is off, so you can think clearly and rationally.
As elders we must be people of prayer! This is a primary ministry of shepherding. Through prayer we affect people’s lives, not only for salvation, but also for growth in knowledge of the truth (2:4). Nothing can be done without a conscious dependence on the Lord. While it is true the Lord can use us despite our shortcomings, we dare not presume that we can shepherd without God’s power and enabling. As elders we must give much time to prayer, both as a group and as individuals. Practical tip: Divide the church phone book into seven sections, and pray for 1/7 of the people each day, bringing them before the throne of grace each week. (Obviously, you can adjust this number as you see fit).
Conduct yourself (3:15)
How we behave affects others, who are taking their cues from the elders. Much of the Christian life is application of the truth in day to day living. People look to those who are spiritually mature to see how faith works out in the humdrum of life. As elders, our conduct is a primary teaching tool! Practical tip: Ask yourself this question, Would I be comfortable telling a new believer to follow my example as I interact with life and people?
Give attention to reading Scripture (4:13)
I can not say enough about the place of Scripture in the elder’s lives. We should be saturating ourselves in Scripture—and not just for preparation to teach or preach. We need it for our own, ongoing personal growth! Memorize it, listen to it, read it, meditate on it. Sounds like a lot, and it is. Make a list in the back of your Bible of topics and verse references so you can quickly find relevant passages when needed. People need to see and hear us using Scripture in our conversation and the challenges of life. This is just as “public” as the “public reading of Scripture” during meeting times. TIP: Plan a reading schedule so that you get a constant, steady and broad diet of Scripture. Consider also a public reading plan for the church meetings.
Elders should set the example for showing honor to others. Two groups in particular are pointed out by Paul: widows and elders. The first because widows are often overlooked, and the second because who honors the elders if they don’t honor each other. Practical tip: Make a practice of complimenting one or two other people each Sunday, catch them in the act of serving and encourage them. Don’t be stingy with honoring others.
Maintain without bias (5:21)
One of the hardest things for a leader is to refrain from biased decisions and attitudes. This is especially difficult when it comes to favoring family or friends. Nothing erodes trust faster than favoring one person over another without just cause. This, of course, does not mean we let the pendulum swing too far in either direction. That is, we ought not act unfavorably to our family members either. Practical tip: Actively listen to any hints others make about your being biased. Ask a trusted mentor or friend if any such criticism has a kernel of truth to them.
Flee evil (6:11)
As you know, elders don’t have a free pass when it comes to temptation. In fact, sometimes the pressure is more. How much more do we need to be vigilant in fleeing evil. A wise man recognizes his own weakness. Practical tip: Find a spiritual accountability partner and give each other the freedom to ask the hard questions and honestly interact with each other.
Fight well (6:12)
Eldering is definitely a spiritual battle. You are not fighting temptation and a host of other things for yourself, but you are engaging in the battle for and with other people. Any successful fighter studies and practices in order to fight better. Fighting is the “hand to hand” combat of a specific situation. The battle involves more people. The war is the big picture. Yes, we may lose some battles at times, but the war is as good as won, because of the promises of God! Tip: Consult with other elders and read widely about other Spiritual leaders and how they have handled different situations in ministry.
Instruct on stewardship (6:17-19)
Don’t shy away from talking about money. However, Paul never tells Timothy about capital campaigns or fundraising. He instructs Timothy to speak to the wealthy about using their money for Godly purposes. The apostle never shied away from asking people to give liberally to the Lord (though he never asked for any money for himself and his own particular ministry). Practical tip: Commit at least one Sunday sermon per year on the subject of stewardship.
Guard your charge (6:20)
Elders are charged by God, gifted and enabled to carry out the charge, to shepherd the people of God. Don’t let anything hinder that most important of ministries. The “success” of the local church, in the most spiritual sense, is dependent upon godly elders doing their work of shepherding. This is more important than preaching or teaching by themselves. The people of God need shepherds who care for them. As one brother put it, “We need broad shoulders and big hearts.” Broad shoulders to bear the burden, and big hearts to show the love.