Generational Transference in the Bible: The Early Church (part 2)

Generational Transference Passing

Pastoral leaders “focus flexibly on the future.”[1]  Consider the adaptive leadership transference practices of Barnabas who, as an encourager of next generation leaders, came alongside a converted Saul of Tarsus[2] and alongside a disillusioned John Mark.[3]  Barnabas, the son of encouragement, built them up when others would not.  He entrusted them with vision for their role in the mission of the church, mentored them in ministry, and also promoted leadership opportunities for them among the established leaders of the church.  And his encouragement was contagious.  The early church was full of flexible leadership opportunity for people full of God’s Spirit.[4]  

In writing to Titus, for instance, Paul reveals a pattern in which a younger leader is encouraged to serve and raise up another generation of leaders within their congregations.  Paul intentionally left Titus in Crete in order for Titus to equip other leaders for local churches in every town.[5]  Primarily, Titus was to live with a heart and life reflective of deep spiritual discipleship.[6]  Secondly, Titus was to teach and train the churches inter-generationally to live in community and ministry-mindedness according to their diverse circumstances.[7]  Thirdly, Titus was given ministry leadership in order that a new generation of godly leaders would be raised up to encourage future generations.[8]  Such a “future-orientation” pattern is a common impetus for generational transference in the early church.

Further principles of generational transference of ministry leadership can be derived from the richness of relationship and practice between Paul and Timothy.  In relational and actualized circumstances, Paul considered Timothy to be the successor of his leadership.  He describes Timothy as a “son” who has “proved himself” because “he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”[9]  Paul was Timothy’s mentor, but in many respects they were also complete peers, sharing the accountability of
character, the responsibility of ministry leadership, and the task of generational transference.  They fruitfully ministered alongside one another first in Lystra and then from “town to town”.  Eventually, Paul intentionally gave Timothy the high-level responsibility of pastoring in Ephesus.[10]  As with Titus, Timothy’s primary purpose was to live according to the formation of his heart after God.[11]  Upon the foundation of strong spiritual character, Paul could then commission Timothy to train up the next team of leaders who would accept the ownership of ministry leadership in the years to come.  He was to equip “older” men and women as well as “younger” men and women.[12]  Paul imparts to Timothy the goal of creating an environment among the Ephesian believers whereby the church as an intergenerational community, functions interdependently, and exists to be equipped to serve God’s mission.

Paul valued the interconnected responsibility of each person in a church as a member of Christ’s body.   The church “grows up” together.  Each person is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.”[13]  The church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”   Older and younger alike have an onus to serve Christ in the context of Christian community.[14] 

To the young Timothy, Paul instructed, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”[15]  He also instructed Timothy to show respect and exhortation to an older man as if he were his father, to treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.[16]  He urged Timothy to care for widows and orphans.[17]  And he encouraged Timothy to exercise leadership always. As J. Oswald Sanders noted:

“In an era when a man of under thirty years of age was not normally considered worthy of much recognition, Timothy’s youthfulness was a distinct handicap.  But that did not prevent Paul from giving him responsibility and encouraging him not to be dismayed by his age.”[18]

Just as he had been selected by Christ and encouraged by Barnabas, Paul then selected individuals like Timothy and Titus who were then to impart leadership to godly leaders within the congregations who were, in turn, commissioned to raise up emerging leaders themselves. The process became continual and perpetual. In this way, Paul effectively patterned generational transference of ministry leadership

[1] Dale, Robert.  Leading Edge: Leadership Strategies from the New Testament (Wipf & Stock), 83

[2] Acts 9:27

[3] Acts 15:39

[4] E.g. Paul, Silas and others transferred leadership to Lydia in Philippi. Priscilla and Aquilla transferred leadership to Apollos, etc.

[5] Titus 1:5

[6] Titus 2:1,7-8

[7] Titus 2:2,3,6,-10,15

[8] Titus 1:5-9

[9] Philippians 2:22

[10] 1 Timothy 1:3

[11] 1 Timothy 4:7,12; 5:11-14

[12] 1 Timothy 4:12-13; 5:1-16

[13] Ephesians 4:15-16

[14] Titus 2:1-8

[15] 1 Timothy 4:12

[16] 1 Timothy 5:1-2

[17] 1 Timothy 5:3-16

[18] Sanders, J. Oswald.  Paul the Leader (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1984), 181

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