On the assumption that you pray at least occasionally for your pastor or church leaders, what exactly do you ask God for on their behalf? Perhaps you pray for them to preach and teach God’s word boldly, clearly and fearlessly. Or if they’re somewhat long-winded and in the habit of over-running on a Sunday, you might pray unceasingly for them to receive the gift of brevity! Maybe you pray for spiritual wisdom and insight as they lead others or for protection over their marriage (or purity and self-control in their unmarried state).
Hopefully, your prayers do at least go beyond the “Lord, please bless Pastor John” or “Lord, please be with the elders as they meet tonight” type of request. Not that our heavenly Father cannot or will not answer general prayers such as that, of course. But it’s much better to be more specific when we pray for other people, not least because we may then spot how God is answering our prayers and working in their lives.
One of the best ways to give focus to our intercessions is to root them in biblical truths. Praying in line with scripture also instils confidence that we’re asking according to God’s will. So Paul writes to Timothy that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Clearly, Paul is teaching a timeless truth. Those qualities are to mark out the Lord’s servants in every age. So you could turn those verses into a prayer for your leaders (or indeed for yourself!). Ask God to work by his grace and enable them to be:
Having served as a pastor myself for 10 years, I know how tempting it is to get drawn into heated arguments. Particularly when you come up against false teaching or have to challenge divisive behaviour, or if you’re sharing the gospel with entrenched unbelievers. But a pastor with an argumentative spirit sets a bad example for the church and dishonours the name of our Lord who is “gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Timothy is to charge the believers in Ephesus “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2:14). But the congregation won’t take their young pastor’s instruction seriously if Timothy himself is prone to arguing with people. “Let no one despise you for your youth”, urges Paul in his earlier letter, “but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
This is not only about setting the right example, however. No, even on a purely practical level quarrelling about words (or indeed about anything else) simply does no good and only ruins those who listen. Pray, then, that your church leaders will have daily grace to be self-controlled and to resist that instinctive human desire to want to win an argument at all costs. Ask God to enable them to set an example for the whole church in the way that they speak, both publicly from the pulpit and in private conversation.
Kind to everyone
Set in direct contrast to the negative “not quarrelsome” are four positive attributes that Paul says the Lord’s servant must display. So pastors and church leaders “must not be quarrelsome, but [instead] kind to everyone, able to teach …” etc. Being kind (or gentle), then, is the antithesis of being quarrelsome. And if you think back to a conversation you’ve had with an argumentative person, you’ll know that. As you reflect on the experience, I don’t imagine you’ll have memories of a lovely, kind, gentle person. No, it’s more likely that words such as aggressive, arrogant, or harsh will come to mind.
But church leaders have a particular responsibility to show indiscriminate kindness. Note how Paul makes a point of saying that the Lord’s servant must be kind “to everyone.” The implication being that kindness is to be shown even to difficult people. To those who themselves might love to dispute contentious issues, or have prickly characters, or court controversy. Responding kindly to people like that is unlikely to come naturally. So pray that your leaders will overflow supernaturally with the spiritual fruit of kindness (Galatians 5:22).
Able to teach
This is one word in Greek and carries the meaning “skilled in teaching.” For Paul to state that a pastor or church leader should have this skill might seem like an extreme case of stating the obvious. Surely an ability to teach the Bible – the Living Word of the Head of the Church – is a given? And yet it’s staggering that so many churches today appoint leaders who sadly aren’t equipped to correctly handle the Word of God and don’t appear to have a God-given ability to preach and teach it. So they rely on an endless stream of funny (or often not so funny!) stories and anecdotes or take a lucky dip approach to the Bible by plucking a verse completely out of its context, or chronically misinterpret and misapply passages and make them say what God clearly never intended them to say.
Paul considers an ability to teach the scriptures to be absolutely essential for the Lord’s servant. He “must” be able to do it. So he urges Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But why is teaching so crucial? Indeed, why is divine approval reserved for the pastor or leader who correctly handles God’s word? Well, we get a clue back in Paul’s first letter. He urges Timothy to stay in Ephesus so that he “may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).
False teaching is and always has been one of the greatest dangers that threaten the life, health and growth of the church. Right thinking leads to right living. But conversely, wrong thinking leads to wrong living. Dodgy doctrine deceives and damages Christians. And in its very worst forms, it can even keep people from coming to know Christ. So do pray consistently for your pastor and church leaders to grow in their ability to teach. And to have wisdom and courage to charge people “not to teach any different doctrine.” The spiritual well-being and future of your church depend on it.
Patient in enduring evil
The pastor who refuses to get drawn into quarrels and is kind to everyone, yet shows a determination not to be diverted from the primary task of preaching God’s word and a willingness to challenge false teaching, will not be universally popular. In fact, in some quarters this kind of church leader may well become exceedingly unpopular. And some people will react in very ungodly ways. This shouldn’t surprise us. People reacted badly to Jesus for doing those exact same things – “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
I believe this is probably what Paul has in mind in saying that Lord’s servant must be able to patiently endure evil. A Christian leader should set an example for the wider church through an ability to patiently endure all kinds of evil (sickness, persecution, ridicule etc.). But specifically in the context of this letter, by the patient endurance of so-called ‘friendly fire’ that might come from within the church. The insults and criticisms from quarrelsome, difficult or divisive people. Or the strong reactions from false teachers who don’t appreciate being challenged or silenced. Or the withering looks and unkind comments from people who feel ‘got at’ by the preacher, who is simply fulfilling a God-given mission to preach the whole counsel of God without partiality.
Sometimes, of course, pastors and church leaders act in ungodly, ungracious or unkind ways and have only themselves to blame for the evil that they then endure. But often the criticisms, insults, opposition, or even hatred directed their way will be completely unmerited and unjustified. Pray that they’ll have grace to patiently endure, drawing on the example of Christ for strength. Christ, who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Gentle in correcting opponents
The opponents in mind here are not merely people that the pastor doesn’t see eye to eye with or those with whom he has a personality clash. In fact, they’re not really personal adversaries at all, but rather those who set themselves up in opposition to sound (healthy) gospel truth. Those who teach different doctrines. Or perhaps unbelievers, who haven’t as yet responded to the gospel and are opposing or persecuting those who preach and teach it.
So why is gentleness so important in correcting such opponents? Surely a short, sharp, strong rebuke is much more likely to be taken seriously and have the desired impact. Well, no. Not in God’s economy. For the Lord’s servant, “correcting his opponents with gentleness” is the order of the day. This is important for two reasons. First, because church leaders have a responsibility to reflect the Father’s likeness, the one who gently and lovingly corrects and disciplines his children (see Hebrews 12:3-11).
But secondly, the Lord’s servant understands that those who oppose the truth have been “captured by [the devil] to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). And that no amount of arguing, quarrelling or shouting them down will change that situation. No, it’s only through gentle instruction that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). Pray then that gentleness will mark out your pastor or church leaders, even as they engage with people who oppose gospel truth and those who proclaim it. Pray that they will trust God’s word to do its work, and rely on the Holy Spirit to bring about the deep conviction needed so that their opponents “may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil” (v 26).
I’ve outlined here just one way in which you can intercede for those in your church entrusted with leadership responsibilities. There are, of course, many other scriptural truths that you could pray through. But do pray for your leaders. And do pray with purpose. To lead the people of God is a great privilege, although at times a difficult task with many challenges. Your prayers could make all the difference.