Monday, June 08, 2009

1 Tim. 4:12: Speech

Youthfulness in pastors can be toxic. It can invade the Body, eroding confidence in leadership and breaking down respect and submission. Without trustworthy leadership, the Church of Jesus Christ is doomed to frustrating immaturity in her members and halting progress in her mission. Christ’s antidote for pastoral youthfulness is not found in age or experience. Instead, it’s in exemplary living. Paul ordered young Timothy to set the standard for all the believers of his church. Paul detailed specific areas where young pastors must be example setters, and his very first was in speech.

Paul begins with the tongue, which is another inspired piece of Divine intentionality. Matters of speech mark and plague youth. While Christians of every age must guard their tongues, it seems a symptom of youth to use words with careless flippancy, characteristic thoughtlessness, and clever hubris. Combined with the public and verbal nature of the pastoral ministry, immature speech can be an instant cause of disdain for young pastors.

To cite a common example from the many available, consider Mark Driscoll. If you’re unfamiliar with his name or the brouhaha surrounding him, even a cursory internet search will give you more than ample proof that “controversy” is a mild description of what’s been going on.

(For what it’s worth, I think this sermon by my former pastor, Phil Johnson, is the best exegetical treatment of language from the pulpit I’ve heard to date. I’ve yet to see any substantive argument against his exegesis. In my use of the word, “substantive argument” does not equal “But I really like Mark” or “But he’s doing incredibly effective ministry in an incredibly pagan environment.” And if you want to read what I feel is a very helpful and non-pejorative critique, check out this article at My Two Cents.)

Without adding any more fuel to that fire, I bring up Driscoll for a reason. If nothing else (and there should be “else), the debate focusing on him should plainly warn all young pastors that speech matters. The words we use will be used to judge our youthfulness. And that’s entirely appropriate because God made it that way. If young pastors don’t want to be marginalized or disdained, they must set the standard for speech in public and private. If young pastors want to make much of Christ and the glory of the Gospel, they must consistently muzzle youthful speech and model biblical communication. If young pastors want believers to take them and their leadership seriously, their speech must not only meet but also set the biblical ideal.

At this point it is critical for us to examine the biblical standard for speech. If Timothy was to be an example, he had to know what the model was. Tradition is no basis for determining a standard. Culture, generational preferences, and family tendencies are all unsafe guides for evaluating the speech of young pastors. Exemplary speech is not about following traditional norms for levity or gravity. It’s not about determining the preferences of a culture or subculture and then meeting them. It’s not about avoiding pop words that make older people frown or employing cool lingo that impresses high schoolers.

The standard for exemplary speech is found in our only rule for faith and practice, the entirely authoritative and sufficient Scriptures. Not only does God’s Word dogmatically determine the boundaries for exemplary speech, it also provides all the boundaries needed for pastors living in the 21st century. With just a modicum of wisdom, young pastors should be able to evaluate language in their contemporary setting and successfully apply biblical principles. In the next post, I’d like to share just a few of those principles for exemplary speech.

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