In what’s believed to be a letter written from prison, shortly before Paul’s death, Paul wrote to Timothy, the one who “as a son with his father [had] served with [Paul] in the work of the gospel;” the one who had “proved himself.” Paul knew his time was short and that he was close to finishing the race he had been called to run. It was now time to make sure the baton he was passing was securely in the hand of those who would continue the race; to those who would be faithful in the ministry of shepherding the church in such a way that they “proclaim” Christ, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that” they “may present everyone mature in Christ.”
In this last letter, Paul was not only passing the baton to Timothy, he was also exhorting Timothy to be looking for those to whom he would eventually need to handoff the same baton. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote:
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men [faithful men and women] who will also be qualified [able] to teach others.”
When I attended the Elder Leadership Institute (ELI) last summer, this was the message God had for me. The baton of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the kingdom of God is in my hand, as it is in the hand of anyone who accepts the call of being an elder. It was a message from Jim Singleton that God used to remind me of a lesson I had learned and experienced as a young man when I was involved with a ministry called the Navigators.
In this ministry, we were encouraged to disciple people with the goal of helping each individual come to Jesus through evangelism, to help believers become established in their walk with the Lord through practices such as personal devotions, bible study, prayer, fellowship, evangelism, and more. Then we worked to help these believers to become equipped to do the very same thing: evangelize, establish, and equip. Jim Singleton reminded us that along with all the responsibilities accompanying the role of an elder, each of us should be looking for a few people we can help grow in discipleship with the explicit intention that they would in turn engage in this kind of ministry as they learned to walk with the Lord.
Jim encouraged us to look for the kind of person who Paul described to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2. He summed up the qualities of this person with the flattering acronym FAT, which stands for Faithful, Available, and Teachable. Since then, this has been the focus of my wife, Kim, and me since I returned from ELI.
Following Jim’s suggestion of using Greg Ogden’s booklet, Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ we have been meeting with two couples who agreed when they finished the study they will invite others to engage in the study with the intention of passing the baton on to still others when they finish it. We are also praying, planning, and beginning to invite some other couples in the church who have shown signs of being faithful, available, and teachable to engage in this study this coming fall.
We have no idea how long our race will continue, but we hope in the time we have that we will pass the baton on to as many people as possible so there will always be those who are evangelizing, establishing, and equipping others for the ministry of discipleship. I am thankful to the Lord for how He used those who spoke at the Elder Leadership Institute to reawaken with me a heart for this important ministry.
Matthew G. Pickard serves as an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, WA. For 33 years, he has taught mathematics at the University of Puget Sound. His wife Kim is the director and head teacher at First Presbyterian Church School, a ministry of their church. Matt and Kim have been married for 34 years and have two grown sons, Austin and Andrew. Both sons are getting marriaged this year, each to a wonderful woman who loves the Lord.