Guarding the Deposit4 min read

On more than one occasion, someone in the community has asked me what I do for a living. Here is how the conversation invariably goes: “What do you do for living?” “I am a pastor.” “Oh, so you’re like a youth pastor or something?” To which I respond: “No, I am just a youthful pastor.”

When visiting parishioners at the hospital I typically go to the information desk to verify that I have the correct room number. The receptionists are perpetually shocked that a person of my age could be a pastor. One of them even told me: “Wow! You are way too young to be a pastor. You’re just a boy!”

I was performing a wedding at a congregation in the midst of a prolonged vacancy. At the rehearsal, the mother of the bride pulled me aside and said, and I quote, “I am glad that we have a young pastor doing the wedding and not some moldy, old pastor.”

Since my ordination, I have heard the following statement about a dozen times: “We just love the youthful excitement of a young pastor.”

These stories coalesce around a common theme: The pastoral office has been confused. Some assume that a pastor must be old in order to be effective. Others assume that a pastor must be young in order to be relevant. And some want their pastor to be an impossible amalgamation of young and old at the exact same time.

Some want an old pastor teeming with experience and wisdom. They want the pastor to simply keep traditions going. They want him to maintain the rule of semi-assigned seating in the pews, preach nice sermons, and keep the coffee brewing.

Some want a young pastor full of energy and ambitious goals. They want a pastor to be the CEO who can fearlessly get the congregation into the black. They want him to be an energetic motivational speaker building people up to live their best life now. They want him to be young and cool sporting a soul patch like all the other Millennials.

People are sometimes unclear about what a pastor is supposed to do.

And there are days when even pastors are not sure what they are supposed to do. Should I create new programs to fill up people’s schedules? Should I strive to maintain the traditions that reach back to the beginning of the congregation? Should I be Tweeting at my confirmation students?

Pastors are sometimes unclear about what it is they are supposed to do.

Our understanding of the pastoral office rightfully flows out of Scripture. We are fortunate that God’s Word is not unclear about what a pastor is supposed to do. In Paul’s epistles we hear about a young pastor named Timothy. I am convinced that Timothy’s stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23) were a result of congregants calling him ‘Little Timmy.’ Constantly being confused with a member of the youth group would cause any pastor a level of anxiety.

Thankfully, Timothy had an older and wiser father in the faith to help him curtail the self-doubt brought on by the pastoral office. Paul left this young pastor with a piece of advice: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20 ESV).

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Timothy was not tasked with guarding the congregation’s endowment. He was not instructed to preserve potlucks, pipe organs, or attractional church programs. Timothy was not there to form a praise band or decorate the youth room.

Timothy was a pastor called to guard the Gospel. He was charged with protecting the message of Jesus Christ. He was to pass it on to later generations in the same condition as when he had received it. It did not matter whether Timothy was young or old. It did not matter whether Timothy had a soul patch or a beard. Paul wanted Timothy’s ministry to be about one thing: The Cross of Christ.

What mattered most was and is proclaiming the Cross of Christ. Timothy was to guard with his life the proclamation that all things are made new through Christ’s death and resurrection. The old life of death and decay is over; the new life of love and restoration has begun in Christ. Guarding this deposit was the crux of this young pastor’s ministry. And guarding that very same deposit is the crux of any and every pastor’s ministry.

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About the Author

Rev. A. Trevor Sutton serves as Associate Pastor at St. Luke, Haslett. He is in the Writing & Rhetoric graduate program at Michigan State University. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Okemos and have two daughters.

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