This message represents an unusual approach to sermon prep and delivery. Jim Singleton and Matthew Kim, both professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, teamed up to write and give this sermon for a chapel at Gordon-Conwell. Their text was Philippians 2:19-24 and they were addressing primarily a group of future pastors.
Their tag-team approach isn't as strange as you might think. After all, the text is all about friendship and partnership in the gospel. So their unique approach to preaching this text certainly reflects the theme of the passage.
Here's how they described some of the behind-the-scenes process of this sermon:
Our tag-team approach to preaching gave listeners an opportunity to hear a unified message but from two completely different people with different voices and personalities. It also helped us to think outside the box as to what preaching can look like in today's context.
Our passage was delineated by main points and verses where we each tackled a verse or two. Obviously we alternated so that one person didn't speak for extended periods of time. We gave ourselves one month to work on our individual sections.
We practiced the sermon on our own and formally walked through the sermon once prior to the service. It helped to have each other's manuscript in advance. Rehearsing it a few more times would have helped but was difficult to do with our respective time constraints.
Looking back on our experience, it would have been beneficial to sit down together for all of the exegesis instead of splitting it up. One of our goals in doing a joint sermon was to visually demonstrate the unity of Christ by having very different Christians (i.e., racially, ethnically, age, and regional backgrounds) stand together in the pulpit. It was a fun experience and something that opened our eyes to the type of collaborative partnership that's available to us because of the gospel.
Matthew Kim (M) - Hello I am Matthew Kim and I moved to Boston with my family from Colorado in June.
Jim Singleton (J) - And I am Jim Singleton and I and I moved here with my family from Colorado in July. (And very few people move here from Colorado and its 320 days of sunshine.)
M - I am Korean-American.
J - And I am Texan-American.
M - I am married to Sarah (with an h).
J - And I am also married to Sara (no h)
M - I am a father of three.
J - I am a grandfather of two. I had my first church job in the summer of 1975, and was ordained in 1983.
M - And I was born in 1977, and began serving churches in 1999.
J - But we are both thrilled to be here today and to deliver this sermon together. I think we look like the next great detectives on Hawaii 5-0.
M - We want to reflect today on the heart of a pastor from a passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians. We will be reading from Philippians 2:19-24.
Welcome Timothy because he genuinely cares for you.
M - While Paul is stuck in prison he has the desire to send someone to them, both for encouragement and for accountability. But who will he send—it would be his young protégé, Timothy.
Here, we get an insider's view of an ancient recommendation letter for Timothy, one of Paul's most stellar young ministry colleagues. What does Paul have to say about Timothy?
Paul says that Timothy possesses the heart of a pastor and is one uniquely qualified to encourage the Philippians. In verse 20, Paul says concerning Timothy: "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your [the Philippians'] welfare" as the NIV renders it. I prefer a literal translation of verse 20: "For no one have I equal-souled who genuinely about your affairs will care for." It's a bit Master Yoda-like but we get the point.
Do we have such an interest in others? If so, what does it truly look like to have genuine interest for the welfare of your congregation? I'm reminded of the insightful quote from leadership expert John Maxwell who said: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
But, how can we follow in Paul and Timothy's example? One verse comes to mind: Luke 9:23 where Jesus said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."
I confess that I struggled at times in the pastorate because of my secret wish that pastoral ministry could still be a comfortable life and I'm probably not alone on this. I wanted the best of both worlds: to serve God and to live comfortably too. I had bought into the lie that since I was giving up my life to be a pastor God would reward me with continuous ministry and financial blessings. As I listen to pastors today and seminarians preparing for ministry, could it be that we want to be pastors but we also don't want to sacrifice or suffer too much? Could it be that we want the title of pastor but we don't want to lead by example? Could it be that we want to serve only when it's convenient for us and for our family? Do we genuinely care for others like Paul and Timothy did? In order to genuinely care for others, we must die to ourselves daily.
I think I've experienced genuine concern from a pastor. I was one of those Asian American kids who wasn't good at a particular subject—math. Math stopped making sense once I got to geometry when we weren't talking about numbers anymore. We probably won't do this in a worship service again, but I'd like for you to repeat something after me: Not all Asians are good at math.
When I was in high school Pastor Danny tutored me in math. It wasn't part of his job description. But he would often stay with me until I got the concepts right. On a few occasions, we even stayed up late because it just didn't click in my brain. But he patiently walked me through problem by problem. He could've been sleeping, but instead he showed remarkable concern for my well-being. He was a pastor who showed genuine concern for others.
I also think of Pastor Michael who called me on my birthday, sent me a card, and even mailed a care package to let me know that someone from back home cared about me. He had many others to care for in the congregation but Pastor Michael was a pastor who possessed genuine pastoral concern for his people.
With God's help, we can be pastoral servant leaders who genuinely care for others. But, Jim, Paul reminds us in verse 21 that we can get in our own way.
Pastors often get stuck on themselves.
J - After describing Timothy's heart, Paul makes a fascinating side comment about the other young pastors whom he considered sending to Philippi. To use a Texan image, it is as if he looked into the corral to see which horse to saddle and realized that only one would really care about the Philippians. The others, meaning the other young associates of Paul, are still thinking mostly about themselves, and would not keep in mind the interests of the Philippians. That means that there were a host of people Paul could have sent to Philippi, but outside of Timothy the others were not ready—not quite cooked. Are you ready for ministry on this issue? Is your heart un-self-centered?
Seeing this verse makes me pause to imagine what would have happened if I had been in the corral—or if Matt had been in the corral—or any of us. What if Paul had looked around and evaluated who to send. Would Paul have sent Rick Lints? Might Paul pick Gordon Isaac? Would David Gill be ready? How about Andrew James? Lita - surely Lita? But are we genuinely interested in others? Or is our focus still upon ourselves?
It was actually hauntingly ironic to me when Matt and I ended up in an ad for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary that ran in Christianity Today. After failing to ever get on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I actually began dreaming that I might just get on the cover of Christianity Today. I would pastor a church that would be so remarkable that there I would be big news. There would be a feature article on me right between one of Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. The title of the article would be "This Young Pastor Has It!!" Thankfully that never happened. And then I had to laugh when the ad with Matt appeared not on the front of CT, but on the inside back cover and Gordon-Conwell had to pay for it.
Many of us pastors do love attention and applause and notice. We are not famous for our humility, or for taking back seats. There is always a tendency to focus on ourselves.
Paul is commending a different kind of pastor. Subtly he is pointing to a new model. He's pointing the Philippians to Timothy, someone who is genuinely interested in their welfare. Something in the relationship between Paul and Timothy actually opened a place in Timothy where he became different.
Paul and Timothy had a father/son type relationship in gospel work.
M - As we enter Holy Week, we know that the gospel (Christ's death, burial, and resurrection) is what binds us together. The gospel also bound Paul and Timothy together in a unique father/son relationship. Paul writes about it here in verse 22, "But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel."
I've had a few different "spiritual fathers" who have mentored me in the faith. But, one father stands out above the rest—Dr. Scott Gibson. Scott, to this day I don't know why you took a genuine interest in a young 22-year-old Korean American M.Div. student from Chicago and poured your life into him. But for that I'm eternally grateful. Thank you for being my spiritual father and partner in the gospel by encouraging me when I was down and keeping me accountable at all times. I can only attribute your investment in my life to God's unmerited grace. So the question is: Where do we get such a father figure? We obviously ask the Lord for one but I also want to mention that Jim Singleton secretly confessed to me that he's volunteered to be your spiritual father, for any takers. He'll make a really good one.
J - In verse 22, Paul refers to the relationship with Timothy as a son to a father. Paul dares to use such a familial picture for a ministry relationship. Fathers and mothers in the faith are huge gifts and can begin to model this unselfish heart of a pastor. Two years ago this week one of my spiritual fathers went to be with the Lord. Bill Johnson spent 20 years shaping me. Bill was a psychology professor. He got up early on Sundays to listen to me practice sermons, a 7 A.M. sermon. Then he would offer helpful insights. Eventually Bill started doing research with me on whatever text I was preaching. Later, after I had moved, Bill would watch my preaching via a live stream from his home. I remember one week after watching me, he asked, "Were you mad at the congregation today?" "No", I said, "I was just exhorting them." He said, "It sounds like you were mad at them?" He was right—and he was patient—and he helped me see myself and helped me grow. And Bill Johnson invested 20 years of his life shaping me to have the heart of a pastor.
Paul knew he had helped to shape Timothy's life and he was confident he could send him to Philippi. We never grow past needing a spiritual parent—but especially now for so many of you.
Paul had relational hopes of seeing his people again.
J - Paul closes this paragraph in verse 24 by saying, "I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also." He has a desire to see these Philippians himself for he has them in his heart. I have left four congregations now—and all of them are deep in my heart. I love every opportunity to see them again. That is how ministry is when you are really interested in them.
M - What idols (wounds or lack of models) do I have that prevent me from keeping the gospel and the people the central focus of my ministry?
I pray that God would free us from the burdens of our own selfish ambitions.
We hope you will remember this one idea: Pastors genuinely care for others and genuinely care about the gospel.
J - And I pray that we might present ourselves to be the next generation of Timothys and Teresas for the Lord's service. What do you need to release to the Lord today to be genuinely interested in others? What is it that can keep you stuck on yourself?
This morning I am sensing we might need some healing prayers—healing us from self-centeredness. I am going to ask you if you need release in this area to simply come to the front as a symbol of your need. Simply stand or kneel here and in a simple way ask God to free you. I will ask some of our leaders, the spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith, to quietly pray release over you. And if the leaders want the e same prayer—then students you pray for us. The rest of us will begin singing to the Lord, asking in song for God to touch us.
Matthew D. Kim is Professor of Practical Theology and the Hubert H. and Gladys S. Raborn Chair of Pastoral Leadership at Truett Seminary, Baylor University.