Recently I was privileged to do a week’s teaching at a Bible college on the subject of missions. While there, I made the following statement in a radio interview, which took place before the student body and faculty: “Neither Bible colleges nor seminaries produce pastors; nor do they produce missionaries. Rather, this is the task of the local church.” I qualified this by making it clear that Bible colleges and seminaries are a wonderful aid toward this end. Nevertheless, the laboratory of the local church is the only place truly equipped to test the character and competence of one who senses a call to the ministry. Those who most loudly responded with an “amen!” were the president and faculty of the college. I was glad.
One of the hindrances to the advancement of the kingdom (which comes by the planting of local churches) is that untested men are too often sent into the ministry. Catastrophe often follows. However, if the local church takes seriously her responsibility to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ then much heartache can be avoided. We must appoint only qualified men to the eldership and we must send only qualified men to the field. BBC has a good record of this, but we need to be reminded of some essentials.
We recently announced that one of our men has expressed his desire to be an elder. He is beginning what we call our “eldership internship.” This process has been followed at BBC for many years. The man who desires to serve as an elder undergoes a significant period (usually about two years) in which the elders and congregation have the opportunity to observe his character, conduct and competency to determine his suitability for this office. Once the elders are persuaded of this, we make the recommendation to the congregation and ask them to affirm his eldership. We do this, of course, because the congregation is being called upon to submit to him as one of their overseers (Hebrews 13:17; etc.). If at some point during the process we are persuaded otherwise, then of course we would not put his name forward. At the same time, we would help the brother to find a more suitable sphere of ministry in the church.
We are also in the process of evaluating another brother’s desire to serve one day as a missionary. Because we will only send elder-qualified men as missionaries (they do not necessarily need to hold this office but they do need to meet the requirements), the same evaluation process applies. For some time, this brother has been undergoing this process.
So, when it comes to observing these brothers—whether desiring the eldership or missions—what are we looking for, specifically?
First, we are looking for the character of a biblically-qualified elder as described in 1Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. The man must have a godly testimony before his family, before his congregation, and before a watching world. His conduct in these spheres will practically reveal his character.
But second, competence is also important. He must be able to demonstrate the skill to shepherd the flock with the Word of God. The man who serves as an elder must be “able to teach” (“skilled in teaching”) (1 Timothy 3:2). Titus 1:9 further highlights that this includes the ability to defend the gospel. In other words, he must know the Word and have the ability to both articulate and to apply biblical doctrine. And with what we have already noted, he must have the integrity to be believable. The discerning of such a skill requires the combination of time and opportunity. By the way, this does not mean that the elder or missionary be required to have remarkable pulpit skills. He does not need the identity of a preacher; he is, however, required to have the ability of a teacher.
But third, perhaps the ultimate test of the brother’s competence is his fruitfulness in the commission of our Lord. Therefore, he must have a track record of being a disciple-maker. We should expect that he has a “Timothy.” Like Paul, the elder/missionary must be able to demonstrate that he has learned truth and that he is able to commit this to faithful men who can teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). The spiritually mature leader is both a Timothy and one who has a Timothy.
In other words, when the church is asked to confirm a man as either an elder or a missionary, it has every right (and responsibility) to ask, “Where is your Timothy? Show us the proof of your call to shepherd people.”
In June 1985 I made a trip to Australia before our eventual move to serve there as a missionary. I received some sound and sobering advice from a well-seasoned missionary. He said, “Make sure that you are coming here as a missionary and not as a ‘vacationary.’ And if you are not making disciples at home then don’t think that you will make them here. Getting on an airplane does not make you a missionary.” I needed to hear that. Nearly thirty years later I am still grateful for that honest and wise counsel.
This brother was simply saying that if I did not have a track record of taking the things that I had learned and committing them to faithful men who were able to teach others also, I was not qualified for the job as a missionary. And I would add, neither would I have been qualified to be an elder. If sheep produce sheep, then we should expect shepherds to produce shepherds.
As we evaluate men who indicate a call to the ministry we must expect that they prove this call before us. We must expect that, over time, they will be able to show us a Timothy; one to whom they have passed the truth of God’s Word to the point that this disciple is also a disciple-maker. In other words, as important as is faithfulness to the task, just as important is fruitfulness in the task.
Knowledge is great, but it does not automatically identify one as a leader. Having all of the answers concerning how to “do church” is helpful but not sufficient. The ability to detect error is helpful but it does not qualify one as a shepherd. The ability to speak in public can be a wonderful gift but it is no proof of spiritual maturity. Rather, as someone has said, “the fruit of a Christian is another Christian.” Based on Jesus’ teaching as recorded in John 15:1–8, this is a legitimate principle.
As the disciple abides in Christ, something of His glorious character is reproduced and revealed in the disciple’s life. But this will then be reproduced in the lives of others. We call this the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20).
When examining the call of a would-be elder or missionary, you should expect to see the fruit of faithfulness to this Commission. You should see it in their home as they shepherd a “Mrs Timothy” and as they raise their little “Timothys” and “Miss Timothys,” as the case may be. But, of course, as the context of 2 Timothy makes clear, you must expect this in the congregation as well. So, look for it hopefully as you ask respectfully, “Where is your Timothy?”