Pastoral epistles as letter???

In talking to pastors, I’ve been taking the angle that we should look again to the pastoral epistles to see how a senior mentor talks to a junior pastor. What is important? What are the dangers? What kind of encouragement is given to these folk who labor in difficult venues?

I am afraid we have used these letters to create doctrinal positions (e.g., who should lead the church, the nature of Scripture, etc.) but have forgotten the pastoral flavor of these little books.

Take a look at 1 Timothy. Here’s my brief summation of Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1. Remember. (ch. 1) Keep at your work in loving prideful and misguided people (who probably all think they should be the leader). Remember our humble origins and calling (v. 12). The goal here? Don’t shipwreck your faith.

2. Act (ch. 2-3) Your first act? Pray for everyone and pray for peace. Your second act? Live a holy life in keeping with the position. Out of this instruct your congregation to…

3. Be Wary (ch. 4-6) Deception is happening to other teachers. It can happen to you. So, live in truth and focus on godliness. There are 2 deceptions (financial gain (and fame) and knowledge). Some see both as a path to godliness but they are not. There is an antidote: Contentment! Seek only the glory of God and not your own.


You might ask yourself (and your pastor) these two questions.

1. If Paul were writing to you, what would he put in your letter for you to remember, act, and be wary of?

2. Who knows you and your situation well enough to write this kind of letter to you? If no one exists, why not? And what should you do about it?

Okay, that was more than 2 questions…go ask your pastor!


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, self-deception

4 responses to “Pastoral epistles as letter???

  1. Lightbearer

    Remember, you are yoked to no purpose other than what you discern for yourself; trust no one that would tell you otherwise.

    Act, in all ways, with reason, passion, compassion, wonder, and humor, for they are the foundation of all human experience; trust no one that spurns these gifts for the bland comfort of blind authority.

    Be wary of ignorance and poverty, for they are the root of all evil; trust no one who embraces dogma and fear as virtues.

    This is what I wished my pastor and parents had told me when I was little; it is what (in essence) I have told all four of my children.

  2. Scott Knapp, MS

    Thought provoking………..Phil, your customer!

  3. Lightbearer, there is some wisdom in your points. Blind authority is not healthy–not even biblical contra the opinion of some. Ignorance and poverty are evils. Dogma and fear are not virtues. Dogma cannot be avoided (as your list is a form of dogma). The root of evil is self-centeredness. And that, I think, is the problem I see in your advice to your kids. You leave them to their own wisdom, which is limited, just as yours and mine are. I get the feeling that that world is quite a lonely one (maybe freeing but lonely). Seems no better than the world in the book of Judges (everyone does what is right in their own (self-focused) world.

    I do understand that many, including yourself, have been damaged by authoritarian and fear-mongering pastors. That is sad. Good theology and pastoral care should stimulate thinking, not shut it down.

  4. Lightbearer


    Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful commentary.

    I don’t think I would classify my list above as dogma, as I am quite amenable to altering my beliefs and convictions in light of evidence and reasoned argument, whereas dogma eschews reason and evidence by definition.

    I see self-centered vs group-centered as a diversity issue, with neither side holding the moral high ground. European culture tends to place more value on individualism, while other cultures (Asian, Latino, etc.) tend to emphasize group identity. This recognition has changed how therapists work with clients from cultures different than their own, for example.

    I have seen this clash of group-centered values vs. self-centered values within Christianity as doctrines are interpreted in different ways (abortion, same-sex marriage, ecumenicism, etc.), in the denominational splits and schisms (over 30,000 and growing), in the “I’m worshiping the real Jesus; you’re worshiping a false idol of Jesus” polarization. From that perspective, I can see why you would see self-centeredness as the root of evil. I would say that the root cause of the issue is, bluntly, that everyone involved is personally convinced that his or her opinion on the subject has been personally vetted by the creator of the universe. This would make one less amenable to persuasion and group consensus, and more likely to faction.

    In this sense, everyone is already relying on their own personal opinion anyway, so what I tell myself and my children about relying on their own wisdom is both sound and honest. Another way to look at it: even if Jesus himself appeared before me for a personal Q&A of my questions, I’m still going to have to rely on my own wisdom in order to understand and apply his answers (a dilemma every parent understands 🙂 ).

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