When Pastor Paul becomes Persecutor Saul

Over the last seven years working with college and seminary students in various ministry capacities, I have had the privilege of meeting many young men who are serving the Lord in their first ministry positions. For any young minister, his first ministry position is full of excitement, fear, and, if he is anything like me, plenty of mistakes and failure.

Part of the excitement for many of these young men comes from the thought of sitting under the teaching and ministry of a pastor or leader whom they respect. The thought of learning under and walking in a mentoring relationship with a pastor or leader who is a seasoned veteran in the ministry is as intriguing to these young men as the ministry position itself. Yet, unfortunately, the vast majority of these young men have returned to me months later in despair, informing me that the excitement they had for their position has dwindled, partly because they found their pastor to be distant and unavailable.

In the New Testament, a great example of an intentional relationship between a mentor and mentee is found in Paul and Timothy. Paul regarded Timothy as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) and wrote numerous letters to Timothy encouraging and instructing him in his ministry.

Paul, though he now stands as the example of effective ministry, was once an enemy of the church and of the spread of the Gospel. He was known as Saul. I fear that, in many cases, today’s pastors are relating to young staff members more like Saul related to early believers than like Paul related to Timothy.

In Acts 22, Paul recounts many of his failures from when he was known as Saul. Three examples I have seen of a “Sauline” relationship between pastors and their young staff that appear in Acts 22 are:

1. Approving of stone-throwers

In Acts 22:20, Paul states, “And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.” Though I have never seen a pastor approve a public stoning of a young minister, I have seen pastors allow church members to unjustly throw “verbal stones” at young ministers. Though a pastor may never speak a negative word himself, his silence is approval enough of the derogatory remarks being made about these ministers. These comments, and lack of support, can be devastating to young ministers, and all too often, these “verbal stones” chase them out of the church and out of the ministry entirely.

2. Committing men to prison

In Acts 22:4, Paul says, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons.” Pastors do not often take their young ministers to prison, but they do commit them to solitary confinement. For the young minister, fellowship, community and spiritual encouragement can be difficult to find. For the first time, he is responsible for leading others toward spiritual growth, and he may not have anyone working to encourage his own spiritual life. A pastor who ignores the unique spiritual needs of his young staff members essentially places them in solitary confinement, forcing them to figure out ministry and spiritual maturity on their own. For many a young minister, this has led to ministerial and spiritual burnout. They have little ability to accomplish their ministry task of encouraging spiritual growth in others when they are not growing spiritually themselves.

3. Practicing pride

In Acts 22:3, Paul states, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.” This testament of Paul is strikingly similar to Philippians 3, wherein Paul reminds the church that he was once a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Though Paul no longer boasts in this, context indicates that Saul boasted greatly in these things. Saul’s resume was a source of personal pride that he did not mind flaunting in front of others. Unfortunately, many pastors treat their LinkedIn profiles and personal resumes as pride-builders instead of Kingdom-builders. They like to let their staff know of their great successes, banner years, and ministerial milestones, and they go to great lengths to explain why these things should lead their staff to respect and follow their example. Unfortunately, this prideful attitude makes them unapproachable, and instead of garnering them respect, it becomes an area of jealousy or anger for their staff.

These examples I have chosen from the life of Saul are purely illustrative, but I hope they highlight the importance of the problem. If we want to see the next generation pursuing Christ, then we need a new generation of Christian leaders. If pastors fail to train and encourage their young staff members now, we may find ourselves lacking leaders when the next generation rises up and takes their place. As pastors and leaders, we cannot sit idly by and force the younger generation to figure things out on their own. Instead, we must take an active role in their spiritual development.

The best way for pastors and leaders to combat the problem of Saul is to heed the message of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:1-2:  “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Based on this text, we must commit to two things:

1. Being strengthened each day by the grace of Christ

If you are strengthened by the grace of Christ every day, two things will become evident to you: your desperate need for grace, and the need to give grace to others. A pastor or leader consumed with the grace of Christ is much less likely to exhibit pride before his staff, because he knows the only place he can boast is in Christ. The pastor consumed by grace also longs to give grace to others. The result is that, when a member of his staff makes a mistake, instead of allowing the church to murmur about it, he corrects the staff member, works to quiet any murmurings, and encourages unity within the church.

2. Entrusting the Word to others

Paul instructed Timothy to pass on to other faithful men the instruction he himself had received. As a pastor, you should hold this same mandate close to your heart. The Lord has given you insight and wisdom, and He has allowed you to walk a path of ministry that would be of benefit to younger ministers. Investment in your staff and in your leadership, and sharing with them what the Lord has done in and through you, should not be an inconvenience but a joy. Commit every day to teaching and instructing those whom the Lord has placed on your staff for their benefit, the benefit of your church, for the benefit of the next generation, and ultimately, for the growth of God’s Kingdom.

These are only two small suggestions of ways to begin mentoring the next generation. A great resource that provides several practical steps for pastors and leaders is this recent LifeWay pastoral ministry resource from Southwestern alumnus Mark Dance.