August 16, 2017

Passing the Torch – My Timothy

Ben Strohbehn

The letter was signed “Your Timothy”— one of the greatest commendations a senior pastor can receive. This came to me from one who once served as a member of our pastoral staff. He is now serving as senior pastor of another church to which the Lord led him. This unique closing of his letter caused me to reflect that four years of laboring together had obviously resulted in a “passing the torch” experience. Even though it began in 1982, that relationship has continued until this present day.

Passing the torch is a sacred responsibility that is entrusted to any senior pastor as he initiates contact with an individual who may be added to the pastoral staff. In fact, we have often been reminded of our first meeting when we discussed such things as salvation experience, call to the ministry, commitment to the inspired Word of God, extent of Bible training, music standards and separation, along with other essential areas usually covered at the outset of such a vital relationship.

It was also important that there be likemindedness in regards to philosophy of ministry as set forth in Ephesians 4:11–16. Over the years we would utilize that passage as the ultimate guide to determine whether or not a particular plan or program would be useful. We wanted to be certain that it would include evangelizing, educating, or enlisting someone to whom we would have a ministry. At the same time we wanted the people of the church to be given the opportunity to be perfected (fully equipped) (vv. 12, 13), protected (vv. 14, 15), and edified (v. 16). To be successful in building a church, one must focus on building people, and this is done by the consistent preaching of the Word.

When I was in the early years of my pastoral ministry, a veteran pastor explained his preaching program, which had resulted in both spiritual and numerical growth. His Sunday morning sermon was strongly evangelistic, but he said he spent more study time in preparing for his preaching/teaching on Sunday evening and Wednesday evening, for that is when he was building (equipping and edifying) his people. This is an excellent idea that works even in today’s culture as evidenced in the church where “my Timothy” is the pastor.

As we endeavored to follow the pattern of Paul’s ministry to Timothy, we found many nuggets of practical value, especially in 2 Timothy 3:10–17—things that could be applied to our labors together. Personally I wanted to be able to say to “my Timothy” as Paul said to his: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience.” Each topic provides a wealth of practical principals for personal application and opportunity for much valuable instruction.

Paul reminded Timothy of the consistent pattern of his life—he practiced what he preached. Purpose in serving the Lord must always be in focus, along with the importance of being longsuffering and patient. In pastoral staff meetings we often discussed the need to see “persecutions and afflictions” not as problems but as challenges.

Our regular staff meetings, including an early breakfast meeting on occasion, were always a delight as we reviewed the church calendar and planned special events. This time also allowed us opportunity to address some of the perils so common to the pastoral ministry. The danger of making comparisons seems to be a common peril, but John 21:15–21 readily shows how that can be avoided. The Lord Jesus reminded Peter not to be troubled by John’s future, but rather Peter was just to “Follow me.”

Another serious peril is discontentment. The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (see 1 Tim. 6:6–10). Senior pastors must be careful not to pass on “the Blue Monday syndrome” when spirituality becomes dependent on Sunday school or church attendance. Satan delights in that mentality but can be defeated by a reminder from the Word that “ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).

There is also the peril that concerns companionship. While it is true that we must be careful in choosing friends so as to avoid compromise, it is also important to build a strong relationship within the families of the pastoral staff. One enjoyable thing we did was to include the pastoral families in a time of fellowship in our home with guest speakers, especially evangelists and Bible conference speakers.

Passing the torch was a gratifying experience that we enjoyed for four great years, but there came that time when I said to him, “I want to recommend you to a church seeking the Lord’s will for a senior pastor.” With his consent the recommendation was made, and now you know the rest of the story whereby Dr. Chuck Phelps, “my Timothy,” became the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire. I have personally been blessed exceeding abundantly through these many years of our association, but it must never be forgotten that it was all “the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).


At the time of original publication, Dr. Ben Strohbehn was a full-time evangelist.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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