“Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing
to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our
brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish
and exhort you in your faith,”
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2
Many years ago I interviewed with a manager from another department within the company where I work. One of his selling points for the position was that he sought an individual to mentor as his successor. As he approached retirement, he wanted to select the individual to whom he would pass the baton to carry on his work. In this case, the offer was being made to me. In our work, whether in the marketplace or in ministry (keep in mind I see work as a ministry), we all want the opportunity to invest (develop, train, and equip) in the person that will follow after us.
It is good to hear churches putting discipleship (equipping brothers and sisters) as a ministry value of the church. Discipleship can be defined as going through discipleship study, reading a book for discussion, teaming up doing outreach, and meeting one-on-one or in a small group. I’ve been a part of all of these at one time or another, and all have contributed to my spiritual growth. The other side of the coin is the application of these experiences to my spiritual walk. I’m grateful they have pointed me toward Jesus and how the gospel transforms me to be more Christ-like.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, we see Paul and his team staying behind in Athens while they sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check on the status of the church there. Reports have come back that the church was enduring afflictions (v3) and being tempted by the Devil (v5). In sending Timothy into this situation, Paul had confidence in what the Holy Spirit had entrusted to Timothy through his discipleship (training). Paul considered Timothy to be his son in the Lord (1 Cor 4:17), and highly admonished him in verse 2 as God’s coworker. We also see this again in 1 Timothy 6:11, with Paul calling him “O Man of God”. We can see here that Paul loved and placed confidence in Timothy; he recognized Timothy’s call and qualifications as a leader to minister and exhort the Thessalonians.
Timothy brought back a report of a church that endured affliction while their faith remained steadfast which brought comfort to the apostolic team. I believe 1 Thessalonians gives us a picture of discipleship training put to work. Timothy had traveled and ministered with Paul’s team on several occasions. The formal Pastoral instructions, the first letter addressed to Timothy, came more than a decade after 1 Thessalonians according to most theologians. But Timothy had the advantage of working beside Paul as he served churches. In short, discipleship is investing in others, equipping them to do the work that Christ has called them to do. It’s not just a program that has a nice ring to its name to look good in the announcements. I’ve had the privilege of traveling with Neil Silverberg through the years, watching him serve churches through the gifts the Holy Spirit has given him. I think of this as “on the job training” and consider myself blessed to have been a part of serving these precious churches.