Many of us ministering in small towns are surrounded by devastation and despair. My state, West Virginia, is leaving a legacy of alcoholism, depression and heroin addiction. [Source] Sound like where you are at? What will it take for the Gospel to leave a greater legacy in our towns than despair and devastation?
Church planters have a tendency to be focused on what is new, innovative and cutting edge—but I believe that a legacy worth leaving comes only by investing in an ancient, unchanging and timeless gospel.
Both my finance classes in college and my experiences have taught me that slow and steady investments pay off in the long run, while get-rich quick schemes are sure to crash and burn. Yet too often in church planting we can be mesmerized by get-big quick schemes. A gospel legacy of permanence is not enamored with what will make the biggest splash today, but with what will last for the long haul.
Second Timothy is a letter designed to instill legacy and permanence, as Paul the spiritual father shares his last words to Timothy, his spiritual son, before facing impending martyrdom. Knowing the baton of his legacy is being passed on, in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:8, Paul instructs Timothy to continue making three seemingly ordinary investments for the long haul.
Ordinary Investment #1: Continue Believing the Scriptures
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings (2 Timothy 3:14).
If we long to see a Gospel legacy that surpasses our lifetimes, we must continue firmly believing the Scriptures. There will always be irreverent Bible teachers who underestimate the Scriptures, and there will always be new methodologies that overestimate their own importance. The inherent danger in hard places is that, over time, our own hearts would stray from trusting in what we learned and believed in the Scriptures.
In the last year, I have seen too many pastors swerve from the Scriptures and no longer believe the very Gospel they have devoted their lives to proclaiming. What good is our legacy if, at the end of our lives, we ourselves no longer hold to the Gospel? Continue believing the Scriptures.
Pastors, you have every reason to do so! The Scriptures are the only means God uses to make anyone wise for salvation through faith in Jesus (3:15b). The Scriptures were breathed out by God (3:16). The locus of power and authority in your ministry does not reside in your position, personality, prospectus, or the approval of your audience, but in the God-breathed Scriptures alone.
The value of your ministry’s legacy will not measured by the size of the platform you create, the number of churches you plant, or the record of tweetable one-liners you produce; the value of your ministry’s legacy will be measured in direct proportion to how well you handle and submit to and continue in the Scriptures.
Ordinary Investment #2- Continue Preaching the Scriptures
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word… (2 Timothy 4:1a)
With Paul’s death looming and his legacy beginning, he packs more weight into this one charge than any other: preach the Word. Because Jesus is the judge of all mankind, because Jesus has appeared in the flesh to accomplish redemption and will appear again to accomplish restoration, and because Jesus has already and will yet bring his Kingdom in our devastated places as it is in heaven, there will never come a day when it is no longer missionally effective to preach the Scriptures (4:2a).
A legacy worth leaving is made when a minister continues investing in preaching the Scriptures for the long haul—correcting, rebuking, encouraging and explaining—and continues making this investment with patience (4:2b). There are some deeply ingrained patterns in our communities that are good and glorious, and there are others that are unjust and unrighteous. Broken legacies built over centuries may take several generations of patient perseverance in presence and preaching to experience lasting renewal and change, so do not lose heart.
The metric of good Bible teaching is not the flattery your audience feels, but the faithfulness to the Scriptures your audience hears as you patiently rebuke, reprove and encourage in the Scriptures and then get down and join them in the trenches to do the work and fulfill your ministry (4:3-5).
Ordinary Investment #3- Continue Following Those who Died Faithful to the Scriptures
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Paul’s life and ministry is ending. The baton is being passed from one faithful church planter and spiritual father to his spiritual son.
Who introduced you to the Gospel? Who introduced that person to the Gospel? Who planted the church where they first heard the Gospel? We are reaping the harvest of the Gospel legacies that were sown long before us. We have faith in Jesus today because men and women took the Gospel they had received and traveled across land and sea risking (and often giving) their very lives to deliver it to the place where we heard the Word and believed.
We are the benefactors of the blood and sweat and tears of our spiritual fathers and mothers. For that legacy to continue, we must take our place as spiritual fathers and mothers who love the appearing of Jesus and love our communities enough to plant roots and faithfully share the Gospel.
No one-time monumental decision will invert the broken legacies of our towns, but the slow and steady repetition of daily investments in these ordinary means of faithful Gospel ministry will leave a legacy in the most devastated places.