Paul’s Pastoral Landscape, Is it Like Ours?
An alarming trend to give up
The American pastoral landscape today is bleak. Fewer and fewer men are committed or sold-out to serving Christ. By committed and sold-out, I mean willing to go through the greatest of difficulties, and not give up. I’ll take it a step further and say, there is an unwillingness to go through those difficulties with Christ-like humility and honor. It might be ministry did not turn out the way you expected; maybe you did not end up in the “hotspot.” Whatever the situation and circumstances, I am concerned by what I see. I want to make an appeal to us today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Christians.
We are aware Paul wrote; 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as Pastoral Epistles. These letters were written to express God’s desires and plans for the pastoral role. But what about some of Paul’s other letters? Do they contain any pastoral wisdom? I think so. As Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, chapter 2 vs. 9-13 he provides some indirect pastoral exhortation. I think accepting and applying these truths can help reshape the American pastoral landscape.
1. 1. They labored with sweat and tears
In verse 9 Paul talks about their “labor and hardship.” Paul refers to their wish to diligently work to provide for their physical needs. The church could not pay them. In fact, they were not there to collect a paycheck. We should notice it was Paul’s decision to not take money, not a congregational vote to not pay. Paul and his associates knew Thessalonica was where God wanted them to minister. They desired to be there, and that is a far cry from many pastors today! They were not looking for a new place to go. They were not waiting on something bigger and more “affordable.” When Paul and his counterparts knew God’s plans for them included ministering in a specific place, they did not let money hinder their progress.
According to v. 2, they were opposed, but that didn’t stop them. They worked bi-vocationally to live, that didn’t stop them. They worked “night and day,” that didn’t stop them. We need to get the notion that we are working to get paid out of our minds! We must see ourselves as laborers for the Kingdom.
2. They persisted faithfully to the “cause”
In verse 9, we see that they faithfully proclaimed the Gospel of God. There was one focus for Paul; the Gospel, pure and simple. They didn’t’ water it down. They didn’t back down in the face of opposition, but in fact the suffering they faced in Philippi prepared them for faithfulness in Thessalonica. Their ministry labor encompassed the Gospel. I wonder if we got back to the simplicity of the Gospel, and everything we did centered on the Gospel, if we might see a different scene in the pastoral role.
3. They conducted themselves soundly
In verse 10 Paul indirectly gives pastoral exhortation in the area of conduct. He describes their conduct among the believers as “devout, upright, and blameless.” When you live shoulder to shoulder, and are working in the midst of he people day and night, you cannot hide. Your conduct, demeanor, attitude, and such will be noticeable.
The word Paul uses for devout means holy, separate from selfishness and sin.
Upright or righteous pictures moral correctness according to what God commands.
Lastly, blameless does not mean perfection, but godly habits.
They weren’t after money, fame, popularity, or the next big thing. They were hard workers, and faithful to the call/task of making disciples. EVERYTHING they did, they did in a way that honored Christ.
4. They considered themselves as father figures
In verse 11 Paul becomes fatherly in his indirect exhortation, be describing the way they used to instruct the believers. Paul’s and his associates demonstrated a strong fatherly love. They “exhorted, encouraged, and implored” as a father to his children. They walked along side the believers in the midst of distresses, joys, sadness, and hope. They supported them during difficult times. He corrected them when they were wrong, and he praised them when right. Do we do that with our congregations?
He also provides the purpose for that type of actions, so the people would walk in a way worthy of God. This is a difficult task, especially for someone who did not have a godly, Christ-centered father. But that doesn’t negate the responsibility to lead and guide in that way. It just means, there are qualities that one must learn and grow in.
Paul’s words to the believers in Thessalonica offer us with much wisdom. His indirect exhortation of pastors describes for us what he did, and how he led. He tells us in 2 Thess. 3:8-9 that they lived this way as a “model for you; so that you would follow our example.” May we learn from these truths, and seek to lead our people well!