Thank you for having me here this morning. I’m in a great position right now. I get to preach from a text that encourages the congregation to respect and care for their preacher. Now I can get away with that since I am only a pulpit supply; a hired gun, if you will. And no, your pastor did not pay me to preach this message. I picked the passage myself. You can read along in your bibles, 1 Thessalonians 5.12-15.
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”So the Apostle Paul writes to the church.
- The challenge is that one can always find fault with a pastor.
- If the pastor is young, he lacks experience; if his hair is gray, he’s too old to relate to the young people.
- If she has five or six children, she must be too busy to pastor; if she has none, you wonder if she’s a feminist.
- If he preaches from a manuscript, he has canned sermons and is dry; if his messages are extemporaneous, he isn’t deep enough.
- If she uses too many illustrations, she’s neglecting the bible; if she doesn’t include stories, she’s too erudite.
- If he preaches the truth and condemns wrong, he’s cranky; if he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s a compromiser.
- If she preaches all the time, the congregation gets tired of hearing her voice; if she invites guest ministers, she’s shirking responsibility.
- If he can’t please the majority, he’s hurting the church and should leave; if he tries to make everyone happy, he has no convictions.
- If she drives an old car, she shames her congregation; if she buys a new one, she’s setting her affection on earthly things.
- If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary; if he gets a small one, they say it proves he isn’t worth much anyway.
Quite a dilemma, don’t you think? It’s tough being in ministry today given the many and varied expectations prevalent in a typical congregation. One especially has to be a bold preacher to tackle texts like these. Or a guest preacher. Even then it’s a bit risky – you might never invite me back. Yet despite the dilemma, I want to do just that. And I’m going to apply the umpire’s axiom. I’m simply going to call it as I see it.
Let’s jump right in, verse 12. Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonika. Brothers and sisters in Christ (I’m paraphrasing), here’s a two-fold word of instruction if you want to learn how to “pastor” your pastor. First, respect. Respect your leaders. Second, verse 13, hold them in highest regard. Let’s flesh out what these verses mean.
The term respect literally means “know their worth.” In other words, recognize that leaders are worthy of honor. Now this principle applies to all people in positions of leadership. The office of pastor, moderator, president, chairperson – whatever the title – has a certain amount of inherent authority that goes with it. We are to recognize that worth and so respect those in leadership roles; hold them in high regard.
Paul then describes these leaders in terms of their function. Speaking practically, people who lead the church – ie, pastors, deacons, elders, elected officers – have a three-fold job description. Leaders are those who 1) work hard among you, 2) are over you in the Lord, and 3) admonish you.
First, the phrase work hard. The term here is labor. Hard labor. Strenuous labor. If this congregation is anything like ours, then I would guess that you have some very hard workers in this church. It takes hard work because there’s a lot to do. Most people have no idea the amount of effort and support that goes on behind the scenes to enable weekly ministry. What, do you think the lights go on and the doors unlock automatically every Sunday? Church doesn’t just happen – it is birthed through labor.
I want to take a moment and acknowledge the many leaders in this congregation who invest their finances and personal resources in this ministry. Not to mention the hours upon hours of time donated to the cause of Christ. I don’t know many of you, but I thank you. You are important players in the Kingdom of God. You are building up the body of Christ and are therefore making an eternal difference in people’s lives. Your work is worthwhile.
Church, we are to respect our leaders because they work hard among us. Second, we are to respect our leaders because these godly women and men exercise authority over the congregation. This seems self-evident. Leaders are called to lead. Leadership is based not only on spiritual giftedness, but is, as previously mentioned, inherent in the position itself. Now just because you have a title doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader; but the office deserves honor and respect.
You see, your pastor is not only called to preach and teach, he is called to exercise leadership authority over the other leaders. In a sense, he is the lead elder among equal elders. Here’s an example of what that might look like.
Just over a thousand years ago there was one unified and organized church. Following the administrative divisions of the Roman Empire, the church was zoned into five geographic regions. Now each region, or diocese, was headed up by a bishop who led his particular branch of the church from an important metropolis. The five cities were Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem and the bishops there were called patriarchs.
What’s interesting is that each patriarch had equal authority in the church. They formed a leadership team, in other words. However, one bishop was recognized as the leader of the five. That patriarch was the Bishop of Constantinople and he was called the first among equals.
Gradually, the Roman Empire split politically into the Western Empire, which was ruled from Rome, and the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. And in the year 1054 the church split as well. The patriarch of Rome, who was the leader of Western Christianity, separated from the other patriarchs. He became pope or ruler of what is now called the Roman Catholic Church, while the four other dioceses formed the eastern branch of Christendom and became known as the Orthodox Church.
Today the Orthodox Faith is a confederation of many national churches but is still ruled by a council of patriarchs, a leadership team if you will, who all have equal authority. And the patriarch of Constantinople continues to be “first among equals.”
That phrase aptly describes the relationship that the elders – or deacons – enjoy within the local church. God has called a group of people to exercise authority over the church. The pastor is not a pope, he or she is first among equals, submitting to godly elders but also leading them.
What type of leadership, what type of authority are the elders called to exercise? The word Paul uses carries with it the idea of care-giving. The style of leadership has to be that of Jesus, a servant leader – one who cares for people and shepherds the flock through service. The congregation is to respond with respect. Church, we can learn to “pastor” our pastor and elders by respectfully affirming their leadership.
We are to respect our leaders because they work hard.
We are to respect our leaders because they are over us in the Lord, that is, they exercise authority through a care-giving style of ministry.
Third, we are to respect our leaders because they have been given responsibility to admonish us. To admonish means to rebuke and warn against bad behavior and its consequences. One of the scariest jobs for a pastor is to lovingly confront another brother or sister in Christ about something they are doing wrong. Who are we to point fingers? it might be said. Doesn’t the scripture say to be cautious and take the plank out of our own eye before picking the speck out of someone else’s?
Yes. Exactly. Work on the plank, but admonish one another and speak the truth in love. We don’t judge motives, but leaders are called to discern the implications of someone’s actions and graciously confront what they believe to be wrong or sinful behavior. Your pastor is called by God to do that.
Again, 1 Thessalonians 5.13 reveals our response. We are called by God to hold our pastor and other leaders in high regard in love. Not only because of the hard work they do but also in order that they might do better and more effective work in the future. See what it says at the end of verse 13? “Live at peace with each other.” Leaders and laity, work at living in peace, in harmony, in cooperation with each other. This is the will of God. And it will result in many blessings.
Now does this mean that the pastor is always right and to get along you have to go along? Not at all. I think most pastors would readily admit that we do not have a direct link with God on every issue. Even though the general population seems to think we control the weather, we in fact do not. Have you ever asked your pastor to pray for sunny skies for a special church function? Whenever I’m asked to pray for something like that I always respond, “Hey, I’m just in sales, not in management.”
And as “sales reps” leaders can get it wrong. But so can members of the congregation. We all need to admit our mistakes when we make them, pick up the pieces and move on in love. Live in peace with one another, leaders and laity. How can you pastor your pastor? Show respect and hold him or her high regard.
The Apostle Paul next turns his attention to the relationship that the church has with each other. Verses 14 & 15. There’s a place for pastoral ministry where the pastor is the leader and exercises authority over the congregation. But there is also a place for one-another ministry where brothers and sisters in Christ have responsibility toward each other. Indeed, we are called to pastor one another.
In verse 14 we see three groups of people who especially need the church to help them in their Christian walk. These are folks who seem to have “extra care required” stickers on their luggage. Handle with care. The three groups are the idle, the timid, and the weak. What are we to do with these folks? Not wish that they’d just go away; not hope that they go to another church. We aren’t to ignore them or resent them.
We are to, first, warn the idle. To warn means to show real concern and express it verbally. The word idle implies undisciplined, disorderly even. The idle are people who never seem to “get with the program.” Those who are idle, according to Paul, are the loose canons in the church. They aren’t team players, they refuse to work in a positive, edifying way. They engage in friendly fire, wounding others with or without realizing it.
How do we warn those who seem to “break ranks” with the church body? The answer was given by Jesus and recorded by Matthew, chapter 18.15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (NIV)
The scriptural procedure is to go one on one with that person to verbally warn and gently demonstrate to him or her the damage they are causing by their actions or attitude. Is it easy? Not very often. Is it effective? Many times. Is it the right thing to do? Yes.
First, warn the idle.
Second, encourage the timid. Those who lose heart and are easily discouraged, we are to encourage, comfort, console. Some people need extra care during seasons of their lives – during the death of a spouse, perhaps, or loved one; during the time between jobs; during major transitional periods or emotional/relational trauma. We need to surround this person with love during this season of despair.
Others need comfort and encouragement on an ongoing basis. When I was a pastor in Pennsylvania I would speak with a person in our congregation every week for about 15 or 20 minutes on the phone. This person had a timid soul. It was very draining but that is what God is calling us to do – to care for one another at all times, not just when it’s convenient or rewarding. How do we encourage the timid? That’s a sermon in itself, but some suggestions include spending time with them, praying with them, sharing scripture, phone calls, post cards, occasional meals or evenings out. Be creative.
Warn the idle. Encourage the timid. Third, help the weak. The word help actually means hold fast, hold on to, hug even. Keep safe the weak – the weak in faith, the weak in commitment, the weak who stumble morally and struggle with sin.
Our tendency is to keep sinners like that at arms length. Our temptation is to kick them out and forsake those who’ve blown it. Take a hands-off attitude. Surely, we are to discipline those who persist in sin. But the weak? We are to be a hospital to them.
A young woman in our congregation is getting married to the man with whom they’ve already had two children. This is a good thing. They’ve been together for a few years now and have decided to publicly exchange vows of fidelity. During the wedding shower, this woman, with tears in her eyes, confided in my wife that a number of friends and family members had asked her why they were getting married now? Why go through a marriage ceremony at all, why not just go to the Justice of the Peace? The implication: Getting married in the church with a pastor and bridesmaids and groomsmen and flowers and music – that’s for perfect people. Why are you pretending to be perfect?
It’s been said that the church is the only army that shoots its wounded. So often this is true. We have wounded people walking among us today and yet we ignore them; we tell them to shape up or ship out. That’s like saying first lose 50 pounds and then you can start a diet. Ridiculous! Don’t scorn them; hug them instead. Hold on to them, help them take those tiny steps of faith, aid them in their weakness. Pastor those in need.
The Apostle concludes this short list of instructions with the command, “be patient with everyone.” The idle, the timid, the weak – practice patience. Be the mature big brother or big sister. Take the hit, receive the hurt, return a hug, practice forbearance, endure.
Verse 15 gives the flip side of the coin. Not only are we to be patient with everyone, we are to actively work for their good. Be kind to each other. Church, we have the responsibility to self-monitor here. When opinions differ, when emotions run high, make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong. Retaliation in attitude or action is sin. It’s not allowed, it’s out of bounds.
Putting it positively, end of verse 15, Paul says we must always make it our aim to advance the best interest of others. The NIV phrase, “always try to be kind” is too weak. Give it the old college try. No. The Greek says “always follow the good in regard to others.” Always be on the look out for ways to practice kind acts.
Now is that an impossible command or what? It sure is . . . if we’re depending on our own strength and resources. It’s only by the grace of God that we can overcome pettiness and bitterness and resentment and jealousy and greed and gossip and every other expression of our sinful nature; and replace it with kindness and gentleness and patience and goodness and love and joy. “Mission: Impossible” if left to our own device. “Mission: It’s Possible” if we rely on the Holy Spirit.
We’re on the same team, dear church. Our goal is at the same end of the field. Our objective: To become like Christ, to become mature disciples of our Lord. We don’t have time for petty squabbles. We’ve got work to do. There’s a lost world at our doorstep that needs to know about the love of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of God the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
God has chosen us to share the gospel message and to live that gospel message. This means we are to live the gospel in the context of the local church where leaders lead and shepherd the flock and where the laity respects those in authority and is empowered to serve one another in love.
This week, look for one of the four areas in which you can be a pastor to someone else. You’ll probably be in a situation soon where you’ll be able to . . .
- show respect for your pastor or a church leader;
- warn an idle brother or sister in Christ;
- encourage a timid soul or discouraged heart;
- or help, come to the aid of, someone weak in the faith.
Be on the lookout this week for your divinely appointed opportunity to practice kindness, to “always follow the good in regard to others.” To the glory of God. Amen.
Copyright 2006 Lyn Perry
First preached First Baptist Church, Wichita, KS
Permission granted to reprint with acknowledgment of copyright.