[Note: this article by professor Jim Shaddix is the sixth in a semester-long series on Mondays describing various ways we at SEBTS seek to equip pastors for local churches. Dr. Shaddix serves as Professor of Preaching at SEBTS]
At the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, the U.S. team was highly favored to win the sprint relay. Carl Lewis, then considered the fastest man on the planet, was supposed to run the anchor leg. But Lewis and the U.S. team never got to the finals. They were so loaded with talent that the coach decided to run some other sprinters in the preliminaries. In one of those races, Calvin Smith and Lee McNeil exchanged the baton illegally between the third and fourth leg. Smith was unsteady with the handoff, and McNeil failed to provide a stable target. The team was disqualified. Why? Because in a relay race, the exchange of the baton has to take place within a designated area, and the U.S. team was outside the allowed zone! What a tragedy—to lose a race, not because you don’t have the fastest runners or the best team, and not even because you drop the baton. But you lose the race because you fail to make the exchange of the baton within the zone that has been assigned to you.
The Apostle Paul understood that pastors were assigned to run a much more important relay race. This race has eternal implications, and the baton is Christ’s gospel. Paul’s forefathers had handed this baton to him and he had handed it to Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. They, in turn, had handed it to Timothy. Now it was his turn. He was charged with faithfully embracing this “good deposit” of “sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13-14), running his leg of the race with it, and handing it off to faithful men who could pass it along to others. 2 Timothy 1-2 contains five weighty charges to pastors who’ve been entrusted with this same stewardship—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Nurture the gospel (2 Tim. 1:6-7). Paul told Timothy to “fan into flame” this stewardship he’d been given. The state of the pastor’s own heart and affections, as well as his personal love for the gospel, must be shepherded first. General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once sent this message to those under him: “The tendency of fire is to go out; watch the fire on the altar of your heart.” Anyone who has tended a fireplace fire knows that it needs to be stirred up occasionally. Pastors must ever nurture the blazing Spirit God has given them by protecting their personal worship, intimacy with God, and awestruck wonder of His glory and grace. We must never get over the gospel!
Own the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-12). Paul also told Timothy to step up and take personal ownership of this stewardship. Exhortations like “do not be ashamed” and “share in suffering” indicate that this gospel stewardship isn’t something to be approached passively or handled from a distance. It must be personal because the stakes are high. The gospel is the “power of God” for salvation that originated “before the ages began.” That means it’s big and important. Pastors can’t afford to treat this gospel as a mere theological tenant or cerebral sermon subject. It must be part of them, in their hearts, something they’re willing to die for because its message is of One who died for all.
Live the gospel (2 Tim. 1:13). To “follow” this health-giving gospel is to hold fast to it and never let go, to keep it close so that it defines and determines the life of the possessor. The gospel must grip the life of the pastor to the point that he is known by it—he is a ‘gospel man’ as well as a gospel preacher. It shapes his ethic and integrity, both in his public ministry and his private life. Of Ezra it was said that he “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Before we preach the gospel to others, we must let it so order our steps as pastors that it shapes our every step and our every thought as obedient servants of Christ.
Protect the gospel (2 Tim. 2:14). Paul told young Timothy he was responsible to “guard the good deposit entrusted to” him. The language reminds us of something stowed away in a safety deposit box for long-term care. While pastors should never hide the gospel from others, they are responsible as stewards for protecting and preserving it. Such a stewardship takes on at least two forms—protecting it from those who would edit, twist, pervert or otherwise undermine it, and preserving it by working hard to curb the tide of rampant biblical illiteracy among contemporary believers. Pastors must instruct, catechize and equip God’s people in the Word of the gospel!
Perpetuate the gospel (1 Tim. 1:15 – 2:2). Gospel stewardship is more than spiritual mentoring. It’s extending the gospel from generation to generation by making disciples who reproduce and multiply. So Paul said to “entrust [the gospel] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” More than just nurturing various qualities of wisdom, skill and spirituality, the disciple-making pastor reproduces himself in others specifically to extend the gospel to subsequent generations. His task is teaching others to know the gospel and be able to articulate it, to lead a faithful few in his ministry to value the gospel above all else so they can pass it on to others who come behind them.
We’ve only been given one zone—one life, one ministry—in which to make a good exchange of this gospel baton. At Southeastern Seminary we’re committed to training pastors who will be good stewards of this gospel that has been entrusted to them. Success for them will not be determined by how fast they run, how big their churches are, or how many people they preach to each week. Success will be determined by their faithfulness to deliver the baton so others can take it from there. We want to help pastors make a steady handoff to a stable target by delivering this gospel with which they’ve been entrusted to faithful men who will be able to run the next leg and hand it to others.