Christ Memorial Church launched in 1992 from the back of a green 1976 Dodge Aspen station wagon. That little Slant-Six Chrysler engine faithfully transported hymnals, Bibles, rugs for the kids, and communion elements to a college campus in Burlington, Vermont, for two years. It was a cold church plant (and not just because of the weather).
A thousand decisions had to be made quickly—about recruiting a core group, finding a meeting place, purchasing equipment, choosing musicians, starting ministries, and, perhaps most importantly, deciding what to preach.
We launched the church with 1 Timothy. And I would encourage any pastor, whether planting or replanting, to start by preaching through the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus).
Why the Pastorals? Here are my top four reasons.
1. Church Leadership
A clear leadership structure is foundational to the well-being of a church. And the congregation should be able to get behind it. Teaching from the Pastorals offers the best chance of that happening and guides the congregation in how to identify and hold accountable those who would lead. The Pastoral Epistles address:
- The need for elders (2 Tim. 4:3–4; Titus 1:9)
- The plurality of elders (1 Tim. 5:17, 20; Titus 1:5)
- The role of elders (1 Tim. 3:2, 4–5, 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:1–5; Titus 1:9)
- The qualifications for elders (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9)
- The gender of elders (1 Tim. 2:9–3:7)
- The authority of elders (1 Tim. 3:4–5, 5:17; Titus 1:11–13, 2:15)
- The compensation, discipline, and ordination of elders (1 Tim. 5:17–25)
The Pastoral Epistles present a clear leadership structure through which to build a church.
2. Gospel Purity
The Pastorals protect a young church from at least two gospel errors: works-based righteousness and works-free conversion.
Error 1: Works-Based Righteousness
The Jewish false teachers were promoting a works-based righteousness (1 Tim. 1:6–11; Titus 1:10–16). Paul, himself a trophy of the Lord’s mercy (1 Tim 1:13–16), responds with the gospel of grace. Salvation is by grace, granted in Christ from all eternity and revealed at Christ’s appearing (2 Tim. 1:8–10; Titus 3:5–7). And God desires that all men, both Jew and Gentile, be saved (1 Tim. 2:1–8; Titus 2:11–14). In fact, Paul was strengthened so the proclamation of the gospel might be fully accomplished, that all the Gentiles might hear (2 Tim. 4:16–17). The Pastorals are clear that God freely justifies the ungodly.
Error 2: Works-Free Conversion
But the Pastorals also protect a young church from a mere “sinner’s prayer” gospel that doesn’t result in transformed lives. The true gospel always accords with godliness (Titus 1:1), and justifying faith always produces good works (particularly, the work of brotherly love, 1 Tim. 1:5; also James 2:14–26 and 1 John 3:11–18). This insistence on corroborating works that prove saving faith is found throughout the Pastorals and applied to the entire church:
- Elders must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2).
- Ministers must train for godliness and not be deceived by some ascetic heresy, so that the man of God might be equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 4:1–7; 2 Tim. 3:16–17).
- False teachers have departed from the doctrine conforming to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3; Titus 1:16).
- Godly women must lead lives characterized by good works (1 Tim. 2:9–10, 5:10).
- The rich must be wealthy in good works (1 Tim. 6:18).
- Believers must live godly lives, zealous for good works (Titus 2:1–14, 3:1–8).
The Pastoral Epistles know nothing of a faith that does not result in good works.
3. Heavenly Expectations
The Pastorals also protect the church from a “Your Best Life Now” theology by advocating the hope of a bodily resurrection from the dead (1 Tim. 4:8–10, 6:17–19; 2 Tim. 2:14–18, 4:6–8, 18; Titus 2:11–13). A robust belief that our best life is later enables a congregation (and its ministers) to endure hardship. It engenders a willingness to face suffering and persecution, to “endure all things for the sake of the elect, in order that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it, eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10, 3:10–12). Thus, the Pastorals are perfectly suited to help a young church fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith, knowing that in the future a crown of righteousness awaits all who love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6–8).
4. Mission Focus
The Pastoral Epistles provide a pastor and his young church a laser focus on their mission. And what is that mission? Preach the gospel, in season and out (2 Tim. 4:1–4). This is what Paul taught, and what he did. He made the good confession, fought the good fight, and kept the faith, enduring all things so that the elect might obtain salvation. Paul made disciples of all the nations, preaching the gospel and planting churches from Jerusalem to Illyricum. The Pastorals will guide your church to do the same, to proclaim everywhere the gospel that saves lives by a grace that transforms and focuses hope on eternal glory. Such proclamation must be the focus of every church plant, every replant, indeed, every church.
Church planters face many significant decisions—even what vehicle you’ll trust with all your stuff. But none is more important than what to teach a new flock. And you can’t go wrong with the Pastorals: They will keep your leadership sound, your gospel pure, your mindset eternal, and your mission true.