1 Thessalonians 2:1-13
1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain,
2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi ,as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in spite of great opposition.
3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery,
4 But just as we have been approaved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak not to please mortals, but to please God who tests the heart.
5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came to you with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed;
6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others.
7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.
8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
9 You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaim to you the Gospel of God.
10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.
11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children,
12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, and when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Before we begin: October was Pastors Appreciation month! And I want to express our thanks for the many gestures that made us feel valued and appretiated as ministers in our congregation. We, our family, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the lovely cards, for the many hugs, words of encouragement, and meals that we received. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be part of such a caring church family.
The text that we just heard is one of the texts for today from the Common Lectionary. This is a text that will be preached in many congregations around the world. For those of us who are in Christian leadership this is a frightening text – because it places us in front of a mirror, and challenges us to check our motives for doing ministry. This text has forced me personally to “sit and listen to what the preacher says”. It is a message from a great Christian Leader to all those who would be Leaders are tested and approved by God.
Have you ever received an e-mail message that urged you to pass it on to so and so many people on your address list and within a few days you will get a big surprise? Well, here is one that reached me by e-mail some time ago: It’s called, THE PERFECT PASTOR: Results of a computerized survey indicate that the perfect pastor preaches exactly 15 minutes. He condemns sin, but never upsets anyone. He works from 8 a.m. until midnight and is also the janitor. In his free time he raises a model family. He makes $100 a week, his family is well dressed, he drives a new car, and gives $50 a week to the poor. He is 28-years-old, and has been preaching for 30 years. He is wonderfully gentle and handsome, loves to work with teenagers and spends countless hours with seniors. God tells him directly when a church member is sick or needs a word of encouragement. He makes 15 visits a day to church families, shut-ins and hospitalized patients, and is always in the office when needed. If your pastor does not measure up to these standards of perfection, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their pastors too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. In one week you will receive 1,643 pastors. One of them should be perfect.
Of course we laugh about these ridiculous expectations that are obviously meant to be humorous. However, the Bible makes no apologies for setting high standards for godly leaders. Interestingly it is often the high expectations of church members as well as the unrealistic expectations that we place on our ourselves that put a heavy burden on ministers families, on their health and even on their emotional and spiritual life.
As I was preparing for this message I was very aware of my Pastor’s Evaluation that is going on right now. And I was wondering how this sermon based on a text where the Apostle Paul seems to be tooting his own horn would be received. I believe that any evaluation, if it is to be meaningful and helpful, needs to be honest and well thought through and surrounded by discerning prayers. The persons filling out the evalution need to ask hard questions about what is best for the congregation. Does the person being evaluated perform the tasks that are in harmony with the overall values, goals and vision of the church? Do the gifts match the needs? What about the charakter of the individual? And the integrity, honesty and competence for the tasks facing the congregation?
You see, these don’t necessarily go hand in hand. For example, I may be a wonderful person, with a good charaker and positive attitude, solid in my understanding of the Bible, and on and on, but lacking the competence to deal with the bigger picture of leading change in a growing congregation.
The Prophet Ezekiel (34) gives us a view of incompetent leadership: “Thus says the Lord: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.
Also, Jesus warns the crowd and his disciples in Matt. 23:2-3 about the leaders of the Jewish people saying, “the scribes and pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; (ie they have the authority over you given from God) therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”
These are serious accusations of Leaders in biblical times. But these challenges are just a relevant today. As leaders - and now I want to open the picture a bit, whether you are an ordained minister or a deacon or a layperson called to a position of authority and leadership in the church - we need to check ourselves against the calling that we have received from God. Are we representing God, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, in our positions of leadership?
I need to ask myself, Am I being true to the call that I received from God to serve this church? In the midst of the 500 voices from the congregation expressing countless expectations of the pastor, leave alone the hundreds of voices from our society pushing and pulling in different directions, am I still hearing the voice of God through the static? Or have I learned to say the right words and do the right deeds and in the process “bind up the wounds lightly”?
What about you? Are you the kind of leader that God calls you to be? Are you in it for God’s glory and the building up of His Body? Or are you a leader for any number of impure motives? These are heavy questions that we must ask ourselves before God.
However, in seeking to be faithful to our call as leaders we must be careful that we don’t fly off the other end. Ronald Weinelt, a minister for 35 years and founder of a support group for Pastors said, "A lot of us pastors are making ourselves sick and crazy trying to figure out how to score with [a certain sector of the congregation]. Many pastors function around some addictive patterns: "workaholism, perfectionism, control, success-orientation, domination by statistics, or a need to be caretakers, people-pleasers, fixers, and rescuers. We are addicted to being good. The fulfilled life of a godly leader needs balance our duty to God, to ourself, and to others. I personally am thankful for the caring people in our church who occasionally ask me how I am doing spiritually and also encourage me to look after my health and my family, as well as the needs of the congregation.
My own human tendency has often been to try and help others find and fix their problems – to play the role of a rescuer. I find it helpful to remind myself from time to time that “I am not the Savior” – Jesus Christ is! Through my gifts and training I can help people to identify the roots of some of their problems – but I can’t fix them. That is God’s department. God is the one who changes lives.
(OK, my 15 minutes are up. But I still have a sermon to preach. So, at the risk of being shipped off to another church I’ll continue).
In 1 Thess 2:1-13 the Apostle Paul gives us a healthy model for Ministry and godly Leadership in the church. In my ministry I have found Paul’s example worthy of immitation. But, I must confess that I am not always the perfect model of a godly leader that God wants me to be. And so I encourage you, to look up to Jesus as the perfect model of a leader.
The occasion for this chapter was the slander and accusations that Paul received from well respected leaders in the early church who said that he was only out for personal gain. So Paul reviewed his ministry to silence these attacks and to protect the work the Lord had accomplished through him.
In his own defence he appealed to what they know about him (1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 4:2). His ministry, his life, his motives, and methods were above reproach. The church was witness and God was also witness of this (2:5).
Paul stated “that our coming to you has not proven to be in vain”. In other words, his ministry had resulted in changed lives among the Thessalonians. I sometimes ask myself this question, “is Jesus Christ changing the lives of the people of Springfield Heights through my ministry here?” I believe that “the Pastor is a fool who gauges his success by the number of people who shake his hand after church saying “Good Sermon preacher!” The real test of our ministry effectiveness and leadership is whether lives are being changed to the glory of God. Competent leadership that comes from God is not gauged by whether we “meet everbody’s individual needs”, but rather “are we faithfully speaking the Word of God and equipping others for godly ministry”? The same test also applies to all leaders in the church.
Paul points out that he has shared the Gospel with them under great opposition. The work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in the Christian faith is often a great spiritual struggle. As such, godly leaders are in the business of walking with fellow sinners in their struggles against the prince of darkness. This struggle calls for hard work. Their goal must be set on things above and not the things of this world. They must be willing to suffer with others and experience their spiritual growing pains with them.
Therefore, godly leaders must be committed to listen to God’s heartbeat in the midst of all the worldly noise that surrounds them. Their character, motives for ministry and methods of doing God’s work must be deeply rooted in the Word of God. Paul maintains that his motives and methods were pure, seeking only to please only God, rather than people. So also, we must lead in such a way that God finds pleasure in our work. God tests and knows our heart. And, in all that we do we must be mindful that we will give an account to God, the righteous judge and not to people.
Paul recognises that he speaks these words in the presence of him “Who examines our hearts”. God is “the one who constantly tests our hearts.” God is my and your heart tester. He knows our heart, he weighs our motives, and searches us. What a challenge. Our ministries must be considered and examined in the light of God’s standards, and not man’s or even our own standards. We are all accountable before the Lord.
Paul was not in the ministry to get his name into the history books or to be patted on the back by people. Rather he was motivated by a desire to hear the words of his Lord and Master saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Neither are we supposed to be motivated by our needs of human approval.
And yet, faithful godly leadership is 100% dependent upon the prayers of those who follow their leadership. As the prayers of the people so goes the leadership of their leaders. A leader, whether it is the pastor, council member, deacon, music leader, Sunday school teacher, usher, ladies group leader, youth leader, or any other, is dependent upon the prayers, encouragement and wisdom of the group under their leadership.
But, we must be careful not to confuse flattery with encouragement. We all need encouragement, but flattery makes us ineffective as instruments of God’s transforming power in the world.
Today’s message has challenged me to ask some hard questions about my leadership in our congregation. I have tested my motives against the call that I have received from God and the church. And I know that God sees things that you can’t see. I know there are areas in my life that I need to work on and I ask for your prayers. Specifically, I ask for your prayers in the areas of self-care and my family life in the midst of the demands and pressures of leading a growing congregation.
I also want to challenge you – those of you who are leaders with pure and godly motives, and I know there are many of you – to lead as God would have you lead. Not out of a sense of need – to prove something to yourself or the to others, or even out of a sense of guilt, or some feeling of inadequacy, but as an act of worship to God. May God, who tests our hearts, be pleased through all we do to his glory and honor.