Editor’s note: In our Christian journey, as we root and grow in the grace and word of the Lord, the natural result is that we will bear fruit (Isa 37:31; Jn 15:5; Rom 7:4). And the more we come to know God, the more we will be compelled by Christ’s love to offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). Serving the Lord as part of the body of Christ, as part of His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), becomes our duty and purpose. Therefore, the topic of succession is essential for the youth, as they prepare themselves to take their next steps in the ministry and assume more responsibilities. Here, we ask Preacher Peter Shee for his advice to the youth—the future pillars of the church.
The Bible has many examples of mentors and their successors, such as Moses and Joshua, and Elijah and Elisha. Is there a Bible passage that you would like to share on the theme of succession?
Paul’s second letter to Timothy, one of his successors, offers many valuable insights on this theme. It contains one of the most relevant verses to any discussion of succession:
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)
The epistle focuses principally on Paul’s mentorship of Timothy, but if we look closely, the verse reveals four generations of succession—from Paul to Timothy and other witnesses, to another group of faithful men, who can teach others. It is worth noting that Paul saw his mentors as forefathers and Timothy as his son (2 Tim 1:3; 2:1). The work of the ministry is a family business.
That’s an encouraging way of looking at it—how intimate our relationships as co-workers can be. What lessons about succession can we learn from 2 Timothy?
We can start with the verse I just shared, 2 Timothy 2:2. Many witnesses heard Paul, but Paul was writing only to Timothy. Today, are we just witnesses who don’t contribute? Perhaps there were other believers around Timothy, but not many were suitable to succeed in the ministry. It is like a pyramid: Paul commits the gospel to Timothy, who commits it to more people, who each commit it to even more. But how many faithful men would Timothy have been able to find? Likewise, we may have difficulties finding successors or co-workers. But first, we can reflect on whether others will find us faithful to succeed in the ministry.
Only adjusting our external behavior is insufficient. It is also about our internal state. We need purity built upon the doctrine and God’s holiness to fulfill our ministry. Paul lists the moral degradation that will happen to people in the last days (2 Tim 3:1–7). A lack of knowledge of the truth leads to sinfulness because they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Doctrine and behavior go hand in hand.
Succeeding to the ministry is not easy. Timothy faced challenges in his environment. A few times, Paul begins his encouragement to Timothy with the phrase, “But you” (2 Tim 3:10, 14; 4:5). Paul highlighted the corruption of Timothy’s peers, whom Paul even described as evil (2 Tim 3:13). Thus, when we take up the challenge of succeeding to the ministry, Paul declares that we must be like soldiers and athletes: focused and disciplined (2 Tim 2:3–5). We must be disciplined in pursuing righteousness and the things of God.
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Tim 2:4)
Finally, just as Timothy observed Paul, we can observe older servants of God and carefully follow what they do well. My peers and I have to reflect on 2 Timothy 3:10–11. Have we been good examples in doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and afflictions?
You will notice that these lessons all relate to the challenges involved in succeeding to the ministry.
I suppose these challenges that Timothy faced are what we also encounter today.
Yes. How many youths—both brothers and sisters—want to enter the full-time ministry? Sisters may not serve in the same capacity as brothers, but they can serve full-time too.
Or think about striving for holiness. How many of your peers are virgins before marriage? Our behavior has to be different! Remember the imperative: “But you.”
We can also ask ourselves: Have I suffered for Christ? What’s my worst experience of suffering for Him? Have I ever been spat at while preaching? Another preacher once had someone crush an evangelistic pamphlet right in front of him. Not many of us have suffered much for Christ. God has been very kind and patient in training us, but He has not tested us yet. We have not suffered. We are far from ready. We must be prepared for people to insult us! And we cannot react with our fists—we need to respond like Jesus and Paul. How do we gently and humbly correct them (2 Tim 2:24–26)? How do we toughen ourselves up, when we are so comfortable, so that we can stand when fierce persecutions come?
Succeeding to the ministry is not about what challenges you face now, but what challenges you will take up. Anyone who wants to live as a godly person will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12; 2:3). Enduring persecution is part of doing God’s work.
What if I feel like I don’t have the necessary gifts to take up the challenges involved with succeeding to the ministry?
When we say that we can’t do this or that for the Lord, we are lying against the truth! Once we are baptized, every member is a functioning member. The Lord does not put us in the body of Christ without gifts (Rom 12:4–8). We may feel that we are not gifted, but this is untrue. Hence, Paul reminds Timothy “to stir up the gift of God which is in [him]” (2 Tim 1:6). Whether we think we have the capabilities to serve God or not is in our mind. Paul points out that God gives us not a spirit of fear, but of a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). This sound mind helps us to think according to what God wants.
How were you mentored when you were a youth?
I would accompany a brother to Bible studies held at different districts and school campuses a few times a week. Back then, Singapore had one church. The youth were leading Bible studies for adults! They were examples to the believers (1 Tim 4:12). I learned a lot from observing others and through doing God’s work in situations like these. We also influenced our peers and younger ones to love God’s word. Hence, more and more youths attended at least one of these district Bible studies each week. Now, they are God’s faithful workers in church.
On this note, there were some youths slightly younger than me who called themselves the Timothians. They were very evangelistic. Their Intermediate Youth class grew, and grew, and grew! They were a strong group of youths. About half of them were truth-seekers, many of whom got baptized and serve actively in the church today. We need a strong youth core—it is vital for the church. These members don’t have to be in committees.
What is some other advice you have for the youth today?
Forging relationships with the ones coming up behind us is very important, so the youth need to connect with the children and younger youths going through the religious education (RE) system. Before you look at the RE teachers, look at yourself. How committed are you to the word of God and to attending fellowships? If you are an RE teacher, look at your RE class. Are they strong? Do they have RE at home? We have to start young because the world is already influencing them! One RE lesson a week is not enough to keep the world at bay. It’s an uphill task, but all youths—not only the ones who are teachers—need to make friends with our RE students. If you love the word of God, look out for these younger youths. Be a positive Christian influence.
Why did Paul ask Timothy to look for faithful men who can teach others (2 Tim 2:2)? Because being able to teach the word of God is essential for succession. Teaching is not just about being an RE teacher. Teaching God’s word is about using the Bible and our lives to inspire others to be good Christians.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)
Dividing the word of truth is splitting God’s word into smaller portions that people can understand. We may be good workers, but are we able to teach?
We should influence and encourage one another in the love of God’s word. How can we be good Christian influencers? We cannot only be task-oriented; we should be people-centered. We cannot keep to ourselves if we want to encourage others in the word. Connect with church brethren across age groups, and keep friendships going.
In the future, if you become a worker of God serving on a committee, don’t abandon the youth. They need mentorship.
Thanks for sharing your advice, Preacher Shee. Any final words for us?
No one forces you to be a Christian. Once you are a Christian, you have no choice but to serve in the ministry. The ministry and Christian living have no dividing line. In following Paul’s ministry and doctrine, Timothy followed Paul’s manner of life (2 Tim 3:10–12). Take up the challenge. Be strong and of good courage!