Do you know what a paradigm shift is? A paradigm shift occurs when our most fundamental assumptions are shaken, resulting in an entirely new way of looking at things. When people realized that the universe revolved around the sun instead of the earth, that was a paradigm shift. Everything we thought we knew about astronomy had to be rethought in light of that paradigm shift. A paradigm shift calls into question every piece of conventional wisdom we’ve previously held to. In many ways becoming a Christian is a paradigm shift, where everything we once accepted as true and significant is called into question by the claims of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible.
In two weeks we celebrate one of the most significant paradigm shifts in modern history, the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther published his 95 complaints against the organized church of his generation in Wittenberg, Germany. From that incredible event, a fresh wind of spiritual awakening swept through Europe, as men and women awakened to Christ as never before in their generation. From the teachings of Luther, and other reformers like Calvin, Arminius, and Zwingli, people rediscovered the priority of the Bible. Through the reformers people rediscovered the priority of grace, that there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God, but that acceptance with God comes as a free gift. The Reformers reminded us that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
A critical distinctive of the Reformation was the priesthood of every Christian, that every follower of Jesus Christ is a priest who has direct access to God through Jesus. The Reformers reminded us that we don’t have to go through a human intermediaries like an pastors priests, bishops or even popes to get to God. Every follower of Jesus has free access to God through Jesus, thus breaking down the myth that ordinary Christians are second class citizens in God’s eyes.
Unfortunately the Reformation didn’t fully develop this idea. Luther, Calvin and others applied this idea to the Christian life, but they didn’t apply it in relationship to ministry to each other. So the Reformation reformed doctrine but didn’t reform the way people did church. And for over 400 years the Reformation has existed as half finished, reformed in doctrine but not in practice.
But in our generation we’re watching the completion of the Reformation. It all started back in the 1960s when a number of Christian leaders began to rediscover the biblical teaching about spiritual gifts and ministry. This led to a rediscovery of the fact that a life of ministry is God’s vision for every follower of Jesus Christ, regardless of their age, gender, abilities or education. Ministry is not the property of the ordained clergy, but ministry belongs to the people, to the ordinary men and women. Not only is every single follower of Jesus Christ a priest in relation to God, but we’re also priests to each other and to our world, ministers called by God to together communicate God’s grace through our words and our actions. To express this idea here at Life Bible Fellowship Church we have the motto "every member a minister."
But two main obstacles have stood in the way of a full realization of this new Reformation in our day. The first obstacle is pastors. We’ve often stood in the way of returning the ministry to the people. We’ve been trained and educated to think that we can do it better, that to impact people’s lives you need professional training. And many of us became pastors because we like to feel needed, so when we are the ministers and the people are the recipients of our ministry, we feel needed, successful, and important. But we also burn out, self destruct, and often quit because we simply can’t carry the load that God intended and designed the entire church to carry. So pastors themselves have stood in the way of empowering people with the confidence to minister.
But the ordinary people of the church have also stood in the way as well. Most Christians have not be enthusiastic in embracing their biblical identity as ministers because it seems so different than the way we’ve been taught. It’s safer and easier to simply pay the professionals to do the ministry. Most followers of Jesus have resisted God’s call to a lifestyle of ministry, feeling unqualified, inadequate, and afraid.
Today we’re going to look at how God can empower our church with the kind of confidence that leads to a completion of what Martin Luther started. We’re in the midst of a series through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians called LIVING CONFIDENTLY IN UNCERTAIN TIMES. This morning we’re going to see three reasons why it’s absolutely critical for pastors and people to stop resisting God’s call to reformation. Three reasons why God wants every follower of Jesus Christ to be empowered with the confidence to minister.
I. Meeting Needs (3:1-5).
After spending chapter 2 expressing his heart to the Thessalonian Christians, Paul begins to explain how he empowered a young man Timothy with the confidence to minister. Now this passage presupposes that we understand the circumstances surrounding Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, so let’s review those circumstances briefly. Paul arrived in the Greek city of Thessalonica after he and his co-worker Silas had received a terrible beating and been imprisoned in the city of Philippi. During his short time in Thessalonica, Paul, Silas, and Timothy led several of the Thessalonians to faith in Jesus and this new nucleus of new Christians became a new church. But soon trouble started, and Paul, Silas and Timothy were forced to run for their lives and Paul and Silas were forbidden from entering Thessalonica again. So the three of them continued along the Roman road the Via Egnatia, first visiting the city of Berea, and then arriving in Athens, Greece. It was while they were in Athens that Paul’s concern for the Thessalonian Christians reached its peak, so he decided to send Timothy back to the city to find out how things were. For some reason the city ban against Paul and Silas didn’t apply to Timothy, perhaps because he was half Greek or perhaps because he was so young the authorities didn’t notice him. From there Paul, Silas and Timothy were reunited in the city of Corinth, where Timothy brought fresh news of the Thessalonians.
Notice how Paul describes young Timothy in v. 2. Timothy is a brother in Christ, a follower of Jesus, related to every other Christian as a brother. But he’s also called "God’s fellow worker." Now that’s a remarkable phrase, that any person besides Jesus himself could be described as God’s co-worker. The Greek word Paul uses here is where we get our English word synergy from, that God’s partnership with Timothy is providing synergy. Now some Bible translations have the phrase "God’s minister" (KJV) instead of "God’s co-worker" because some people found the idea of God having co-workers a far too bold word to be applied to Timothy.1 But the original word here is sunergos, fellow worker, partner, co-worker.
Now it’s likely that Timothy was in his early to mid 20s when Paul wrote this. Timothy was a young and inexperienced ministry intern, yet here Paul empowers Timothy with the confidence to minister, the confidence to be viewed as someone who works in synergy with God.
Timothy’s mission is to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith. The word "strengthen" is a building term that means to cause a structure to become more secure. Think of retrofitting a freeway overpass, that’s what this word describes. When used to describe our faith it means "to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief."2 The word "encourage" here basically describes a coach who comes alongside a person to help them take the next step. Paul wanted Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians so they wouldn’t waver when problems and suffering came upon them.
No sooner had the Thessalonians trusted in Jesus when the bottom seemed to fall out of their lives. Paul was concerned that this suffering, these trials and problems, might so shake up the Thessalonians that they’d give up their faith.3 Paul reminds his friends that suffering is a mark of discipleship, that following Jesus means we’re destined for these kinds of trials. Paul wants to reassure his friends that the troubles they’re going through aren’t arbitrary accidents, blind acts of fate or the result of bad karma, but that suffering is the crown of being a follower of Jesus.4 Paul’s problem is that he was separated from the Thessalonian Christians by distance and circumstances. From Athens with no telephone, FAX, email or teleconferencing, Paul had no way to meet the needs of his Thessalonian friends. So he empowered Timothy with the confidence to minister.
Here we find the first reason why empowering confidence is so necessary. EMPOWERING MEMBERS WITH CONFIDENCE TO MINISTER IS NECESSARY FOR US TO MEET THE DIVERSE NEEDS OF PEOPLE.
Paul couldn’t meet the diverse needs of his friends due to distance and circumstances. Had he been in Thessalonica he could’ve done it himself, because the Thessalonian church was probably no bigger than a few dozen Christians. The Thessalonian church was about the size of a home Bible study.Our challenge today isn’t distance or circumstances but size. For Paul, ministering to a few dozen people was a realistic assignment, yet as we look at the ratio of pastors to Christians in our culture today we’re overwhelmed with the size of the task. It’s simply impossible for a few pastors or elders to meet the whole variety of needs we’re confronted with today. We’d be like the person trying to plug all the holes in the dam with his fingers, eventually the dam will burst and the person will be swept off in the current.
What exactly did Timothy do as God’s ministry partner? He was a builder, retrofitting the newfound faith of the Thessalonians with scaffolding to make it strong. He was a coach, encouraging the Thessalonians to keep on the track, to keep the faith, cheering them, challenging them, loving them. He was a troubleshooter, helping the Thessalonians deal with the suffering that had come upon them. He was a teacher, reminding them of the things Paul had already taught them, instructing them from the Scriptures. And he was a link between Paul and the Thessalonians, a strategic link to help the Thessalonians feel Paul’s love and to help Paul support the Thessalonians. Timothy was God’s coworker, building, coaching, troubleshooting, teaching, and linking the Thessalonians so they could grow in their Christian life.
How tempting it might have been for the Thessalonians to disregard Timothy. After all he was only in his early to mid 20s, he had no previous ministry experience. He hadn’t gone to seminary or been ordained. He was Paul’s gopher, just a kid from the podunk town of Lystra, a kid still learning the ropes. It would be like going in to surgery and seeing a first year med student show up or calling the police and having a boy scout show up. Yet Paul empowers Timothy with the confidence to minister, he sees him as God’s co-worker.
At Life Bible Fellowship Church our "Timothys" are our Care Pastors. A care pastor at this church is anyone who works with a group of people in ministry. The volunteers working with our children during Sunday services are care pastors; the volunteers working with our Jr. High and high school students are care pastors; the volunteers leading Bible studies, overseeing task forces, working with teams of people in ministry are all care pastors. These men, women, students and children are our Timothys, God’s co-workers, partnering in synergy with God to accomplish his purposes. Some care pastors build people’s faith to solidify it, some coach people in their spiritual growth, some troubleshoot when people go through problems, some teach people from the scriptures, and some link you up with the pastoral staff and elder board. Only through care pastors can we begin to meet the diverse needs of people here at the church, especially as we continue to grow.
II. Knowing What God is Doing (3:6-9).
Look at what Timothy was able to accomplish with the Thessalonians. We get the sense that Paul wrote this letter immediately after Timothy rejoined he and Silas in Corinth.4 Timothy brought good news--great news in fact--that despite all the persecution and pressures, the Thessalonians were hanging tough, their faith was still strong, their love was still solid.I’m sure Paul was a little worried that the Thessalonians might be upset because he sent Timothy instead of coming himself, so Paul breaths a sigh of relief when they express fond feelings toward Paul. What God is doing in the lives of the Thessalonians rejuvenates Paul’s will to minister, it breathes life in his efforts. This joy wells up in gratitude once again, for the third time in the letter, for the Thessalonians.
Here we find a second reason why empowering people with the confidence to minister is necessary. EMPOWERING MEMBERS WITH CONFIDENCE TO MINISTER IS NECESSARY FOR US TO KNOW WHAT GOD IS DOING IN PEOPLE’S LIVES.
Again, Paul was confronted with distance and circumstances that led to his inability to know what God was doing in the lives of the Thessalonians. He had no way of knowing which seeds that he’d planted were growing and bearing fruit. By empowering Timothy for ministry, Paul was able to know what God was doing, where the Thessalonians were growing, what fruit God was producing in their lives.
Whereas Paul was faced with distance and circumstances, today we as pastors are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of people. Often our elders will sit in our meetings twice a month, and during our pastoral care time we confess that we don’t know what God is doing in everyone’s life. We’re often overwhelmed with the fact that God is intimately involved in doing very definite things in each of your lives, that he’s processing you, shaping you, molding you, and we’re only aware of a tiny fraction of what he’s doing.
When I do my sermon planning I’ll sometimes look for people to share their own experiences about on the topics I’m preaching about. For instance, if I’m preaching on overcoming fear, I’ll look for someone who’s overcome fear to share their story with the congregation. I realize that there’s probably dozens of people in our congregation who have the kind of story I’m looking for, but because I’m only one person I don’t know who they are.Yet as more and more ordinary people become God’s co-workers in ministry, that decentralizes the ministry away from me, away from the staff, away from the elders. As our staff meet with the various Care Pastors for on-going training, coaching and encouragement, they’re able to get a pulse on what God’s doing in their group. This gives us a mosaic of what God’s doing, as we hear from our Timothys, our Care Pastors. In a church of our size, the only way for us to know what God’s doing in people’s lives is by empowering people with the confidence to minister.
III. Focusing Our Efforts (3:10-13).
Now after Timothy’s successful time of ministry with the Thessalonians, and after his report to Paul, that leads Paul to passionate prayer. The thrust of Paul’s prayer is to see the Thessalonians again and for God to supply what’s lacking in their faith. Now how would Paul know what was lacking in their faith? Only from Timothy’s report.
Paul starts begins by about his prayers, and he ends this chapter by actually praying for his friends. He asks God to clear the way for him to return to the city, to personally strengthen his friends, for God to cause the Thessalonians’ love to increase. He prays for their development in spiritual maturity, that when Jesus Christ comes again at the end of the age, they wouldn’t shrink back in embarrassment, but that they might be blameless and confident to embrace their Savior. Timothy’s ministry enabled Paul to know what needed to be done with the Thessalonians.
Here we have the final reason. EMPOWERING MEMBERS FOR MINISTRY IS NECESSARY FOR US TO FOCUS OUR EFFORTS.
Without Timothy Paul wouldn’t know what needs needed to be addressed, about what deficiencies needed to be taken care of, about what weaknesses needed to be focused on. The ministry of Timothy enabled Paul to pray intelligently and to know where to focus his efforts with the Thessalonian Christians. In fact, I’m sure the very topics he deals with in 1 and 2 Thessalonians come largely from Timothy’s report after his time of ministry.
When our Care Pastors share with us what they sense needs to be done, we try to listen very carefully, because their insight helps us focus our efforts.I’ve learned in these last eight years of pastoring that we can’t do everything that needs to be done all at once, so we need the wisdom to know where to focus our efforts.
As we think about the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a lot of reforming still needs to be done. The church still waits to be fully empowered with the confidence to minister, to be released from the shackles of insecure pastors and unconfident people. Paul learned that lesson with Timothy, when empowered an inexperienced young intern with the confidence to partner with God as a co-worker in a critical ministry setting. Empowering others for ministry is the only way to meet the diverse needs of people, know what God is doing in people’s lives, and to know how to focus our efforts.
You see, I know how important this is because I’ve been on the receiving end of it. When I walked through these doors in 1982, all I had going for me was 9 months of sobriety from drugs and alcohol, a good looking girlfriend who thought the world of me, and a newfound faith in Jesus Christ. To look at me I wasn’t very impressive, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, a still colorful vocabulary when I drove, and a very shy, insecure disposition. Chris and I spent months coming to church a little late and leaving as quickly as possible, because we felt so insecure about our lack of spiritual maturity. It wasn’t until 9 months after we started attending that we finally met a pastor, and that was only because we’d decided to get married and we’d heard that you need a pastor to do that. Yet as I grew in my faith, the leaders of this church empowered me with confidence to minister, despite my many weaknesses, despite my insecurities and despite my lack of maturity. It started with teaching a Bible study, then teaching an Adult Sunday school class. Then you empowered me with the confidence to lead you in worship. When you sent a team of people to plant a church in Ontario, you placed your hands on me to commission me as part of that plant. Then two years later you welcomed me back, this time as a College Ministry Intern. Our senior pastor empowered me with confidence by trusting his pulpit to me on occasion during my internship. Then after I graduated from seminary, on July 7, 1991, you placed your hands on me and ordained me to full-time pastoral ministry...that was a day I’ll never forget. Five months later our elder board invited me to become the Pastor of Teaching, and you welcomed me, empowering me with the confidence to take a role I felt completely unqualified to take. For seventeen years you’ve been empowering me with the confidence to minister, and I believe God’s blessed the results.
What would happen if we did that with everybody? Not that every person will end up becoming a pastor or staff member, but what if we empowered every child in our children’s ministry with the confidence to minister?What if instead of viewing our student ministry as a way to keep teenagers out of trouble, we empowered every Jr. High and high school student with the confidence to minister? What if every person who walked through these doors was empowered with the confidence to minister? We might just see people’s needs met, we might just know what God is doing in people’s lives, and we might just know how to focus our efforts.In short we might see a New Reformation.
1. Charles A Wanamaker, The Epistles To the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. (New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 128
2. J. P. Louw and E. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), CD rom version, 74.19
3. This is the meaning of sainomai. See Louw and Nida, 31.66.
4. Wanamaker, p. 130; Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. (NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 97.
5. Wanamaker, p. 133.