What models for ministry do pastors and other Christian leaders (worship, youth, Sunday school, small group leaders) have today? To whom and what must they consciously, or even subconsciously, look to pattern their own leadership after?
Clearly this is imperative. The right model will pass on the right leadership, the wrong will pass on the wrong. And it will, for good or for bad, affect everyone who follows that leader.
John Piper, in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals!” (http://document.desiringgod.org/brothers-we-are-not-professionals-en.pdf?1439242057) argues that pastors are under “quiet” pressure to . . .
“Be as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians. This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the stuffy upper floors but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA but in being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.”
I chuckle at Piper’s remark “the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans”, because over several weeks I happened upon a half-dozen young preachers on TV all wearing blue jeans. The new clerical garb!
In today’s text (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16) Paul provides “a mighty ministry model”. (Nothing to do with jeans!)
Paul is in Corinth (Acts 18:1), concerned about the persecuted new believers back in Thessalonica. Timothy has returned from a personal fact-finding visit with an encouraging report, but also with news of Jewish persecution condemning Paul to turn believers from his gospel. In this section Paul defends himself. From his self- defense we glimpse segments of his “mighty ministry model.”
1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us (2:1-8, ESV).
That’s a word which politicians have made a mockery. But not Paul. And not (hopefully) Christian leaders who follow his model. Three times in this paragraph (verses 1, 2 and 5) Paul refers to what the Thessalonians came to know about him: “that our coming to you was not in vain”, “that they had boldness in our God to declare . . . the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” and having “already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi”, and that “we never came with words of flattery . . . nor with a pretext for greed”. Paul’s life was an open book.
A Christian leader must be transparent. Thereby he encourages others to follow, not just with his words and triumphs, but with his wounds and weaknesses.
Boldness in God.
The Greek word translated “boldness” (verse 2) implies open speaking. Paul and his partners spoke the gospel openly “in the midst of much conflict”. No whispering in the shadows. They were confident of God’s presence with them and provision for them.
Christian leaders in America still remain relatively persecution-free (but the circle is tightening!). Even so, often God’s Word counters what people want to hear. Ever try telling a yet-unmarried Christian couple they must stop sleeping together? We need boldness in our God.
Awareness of Being Entrusted by God with the Gospel.
This concerns motive and method (verses 3-5). Paul’s motive was never deception. He believed he had been entrusted with the gospel—a trust to be guarded and passed on truthfully. His motive was always to please God not people, knowing God tests and tries our heart.
None of us is perfect in how we interpret and preach the gospel. But I cringe when I hear a preacher butcher the biblical text. He does so either because he’s been careless in preparation or is trying to further his personal agenda. Honestly, most preachers I’ve heard carry a way-too-casual demeanor about the text. This is God’s Word! Too often preachers fail to understand they have been entrusted with it and, therefore, approach it without any sense of reverence. If leaders approach the written gospel as just another text book, how will followers treat it?
Gentle with converts, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” ” . . . affectionately desirous of you.” ” . . . ready to share with you . . . our own selves.” ” . . . you had become very dear to us” (verses 6-8). No demands. This is incredible. I’d expect Paul, suffering persecution wounds himself, enduring painful hardships to fulfill his ministry, to lose patience with slow learners, maybe take out his frustration on them. But he reminds them of the mother-like care he gave them and they recalled weeks later.
A female Sunday school teacher may want to show mother-like care; but I haven’t known many pastors over four decades of my ministry who wanted to be known for this virtue. We pastors want to be known as strong (forgetting that gentle, mother-like care is strength beyond the corporate leadership model we often follow). Think of Jesus with the poor, the hungry, the sick. Mother-like care. It’s harder to show that than to preach a powerful sermon!
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (2:9-12, ESV).
Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how he worked hard at his tent-making trade, so not to burden them for financial support. He calls them witnesses to his holy, righteous and blameless conduct. He points to their knowledge of how he exhorted, encouraged and charged the converts “to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” That exhortation “had teeth” only because this is how Paul himself as a “father” lived.
To speak words of exhortation, encouragement and command to live in a manner worthy of our God isn’t so great a challenge (though to do it like a loving father without harshness is!). But it’s much more challenging to conduct ourselves in holy, righteous and blameless ways—and then call on those we lead as witnesses to that conduct!
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last (2:13-16, ESV)
Gratitude When People Receive God’s Word As God’s Word.
How did Paul know his “followers” had received God’s Word as God’s Word. One, he saw the “fruit” of God’s Word at work in them. Two, they become imitators of other followers of Jesus. And, three, they followed despite suffering. For that Paul constantly thanks God.
Many Christian leaders (pastors especially) are occupied with the next step, the next level, more converts, bigger growth. Vision is important—but not to the exclusion of what God is doing now. Ingratitude for God’s work is a mark of unrighteousness and incurs God’s wrath (see Romans 1:21). It’s not the mark of a “mighty ministry model”.
Why a Mighty Ministry Model?
I included mighty in this title not just for alliteration’s sake. I use it to identify the ministry model’s source. It wasn’t Paul’s personal power that created this model. It was God’s through the Holy Spirit at work in Paul. Therefore, model Christian ministers (pastor, Sunday school teacher, etc.) must seek the empowering of the Spirit in prayer and in the Word.
But Paul couldn’t be passive, waiting for that anointing to fall. In mind and heart he—and we who would follow his model—must deliberately aim at that model. That requires rejecting the “quiet” pressure to follow the world’s media and entertainment model. It requires “hanging on our refrigerator” a poster of the apostle instead of a poster of the current celebrity (Christian or otherwise).
Whether we wear torn blue jeans or not, may God empower us by his Word and Spirit to become mighty ministry models for those who come after us!