Becoming an overseer of a ministry is exciting. You begin with ideas of how to create an effective ministry, how to bring people to Christ, how to strengthen those in your care. However, in time, problems arise: numbers don’t increase as quickly or by as much as you would like; you become uncertain of whether you are leading your team well; you feel tired and overwhelmed; you become concerned about what will happen to the ministry when the time comes to take a step back.
I have experienced all these issues since taking the reigns of a youth ministry, a church team that ministers to 11-14-year-olds. And in that time I have experienced the immense value of having a “Timothy” to advise me, to share the struggles and triumphs, and to provide greater certainty for the future of the ministry.1 In short, your Timothy is your second-in-command, your adviser and your protégé—just as Timothy was to Paul. How then has this worked in my ministry? How can you actually get started with your Timothy?
First I ask Timothy about their life, making sure I know what else they’re involved with.2 This may seem like an odd thing to do, but before I give them more responsibilities I want to make sure that I am not going to overburden them. Of course, I usually already have an idea of how their life is going—but I want to be sure. Next I tell them what a great job they have been doing, listing specific examples. Finally, I ask them if they would want to be trained as the team leader, and before they answer I explain the responsibilities they’d be agreeing to.
Initially Timothy has very few responsibilities. Firstly, they are responsible for privately rebuking me when I do or say something stupid. Secondly, they meet with me one-to-one once a term to pray, reflect on the ministry, to learn what I do behind the scenes, to ask questions about what I do, to critique what I do, and to think of new strategies to improve the ministry. Finally, they will have the responsibility of running the ministry on nights when I am unable to attend.
Note that these three responsibilities help minimize many of the leader’s problems I listed at the start. Timothy tells you quickly when something in the ministry is not working so that together you can fix it. They inform you when you are not leading or caring for your team well so that you can apologize quickly and correct your behaviour. Finally, by sharing with them the what, why and how of your ideas and actions, you prepare Timothy (and the team) for a seamless transition when you need to step back from leading.
Once Timothy begins to settle into their role, they can begin to try out other responsibilities you have. For example, you may wish to train them to give youth talks so that you need not prepare them as regularly, and so that students may receive teaching from someone with life experiences different to yours. In my case, Timothy began caring for and training female members of the team, as I felt that I was struggling to properly train and care for all six team members.
Now, whilst finding your Timothy means making yourself redundant in your ministry, it does not mean that you can then sit back and do nothing. You still make the final call regarding significant decisions for the ministry and take responsibility for the results. You must also continue to care for and train everyone on your team. Though my Timothy cares for some members of the team, I still ensure that I take interest in their lives, provide feedback, train them and meet with them to the best of my abilities.
Finally, it is essential that you continue growing in your knowledge of God and learning about leadership and ministry. Doing this will ensure that you can continue to disciple and sharpen Timothy as he continues to sharpen you. When you do reach the point of redundancy, it is necessary to step back to let Timothy take charge and train others. It is then up to you as to whether you take a short break from serving, train another Timothy, or begin a new ministry. Your choice will depend largely on your circumstances.
Having a Timothy does not mean you will no longer face challenges in your ministry. You will still face challenges however, with a Timothy you will not have to overcome them alone.
1. Craig Hamilton explains the Timothy concept and its importance well (though he titles the person a lieutenant) in his book Wisdom in Leadership, Matthias Media, Sydney, 2015, pp. 269-275.↩
2. Timothy is a label, not a requirement that the person be male.↩