Paul told the Thessalonians, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, and 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” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message paraphrase:
We ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part.
Please give me a few moments to share some insights about three key thoughts Paul expressed: 1) honor, 2) overwhelm with appreciation and 3) get along.
Many congregations have seen spiritual pain, hurt and wounds. Pastors and wives are often caught in the middle of “hand-to-hand” combat. They are unable to leave the field of battle, for it follows them everywhere. Families have broken up over doctrines. Friendships have ended because of grace. There have been ugly scenes of hostility and animosity, with emotions fractured and nerves frayed. Walking in the warfare have been pastors and their spouses, attempting to comfort, soothe, encourage, uplift, direct and gently admonish.
Many pastors have realized that they had to “go back to school.” I have sometimes joked that we should contribute to writing a book, Everything We Knew Was Wrong. The title would be an exaggeration, as everything was not wrong. But we do need to grow in what we know. Pastors have had to face members and acknowledge that some of what they had taught was in error.
It is not an easy thing to face this. Some of us, like Jonah, initially tried to run from what God was showing us. Each of us has our own story. It has not been easy to face the fact that we all have many things to learn.
Meanwhile, pastors have to stand before congregations and teach. We thank God that so many men and women yielded to the Holy Spirit and did not allow pride, vanity and ego to cloud their judgment. I thank God for faithful people who have taken care not to inflict their own uncertainties and difficulties on the flock.
Pastors, elders and their families have taken a stand for truth. And in some cases lay members took a stand for truth when the former pastor did not. I think of the symbolism of that old hymn, “Faith of our Fathers.” In many cases we have all continued to stand up for Jesus “in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.”
It is not easy to be ridiculed, or to be shamed because you believe in and accept Jesus Christ. It is not a pleasant experience to be the object of rumors and slanders simply because you believe that grace makes us free from legalism and human traditions. It is not easy to be characterized as a permissive liberal. It is not easy to be blamed for problems, dysfunctions and unbiblical practice and teaching, especially when you were not directly responsible. Peter reminds us that such suffering is Christ-like, part of the Christian calling:
It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this end were you called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21)
It is fitting that we honor Christian soldiers who displayed courage under fire. A big “Thank you” to all of our members, men and women of God, and especially our pastors and spouses who have endured criticism because of the cross of Christ. We salute the bravery, humility, love and dedication of the men and women who stand for Jesus Christ in the face of opposition. We honor you.
Overwhelm with appreciation and love
The work of pastors is often compared to that of shepherds. Shepherds lead, prod, take care of, watch out for, nurture, rescue and direct the sheep. As shepherds, we work under the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). A shepherd’s work can be hazardous and grueling. The powerful story of rescue and salvation in Luke 15, of leaving the 99 to find the one who is lost, motivates all men and women of God. But we must always remember to give thanks and appreciation to those who sacrificially give of their lives so that others might be saved.
“Pits” are an oft-used metaphor in the Bible. Salvation is often pictured, in both the Old and New Testaments, as rescue from a pit. The land of the Bible was filled with natural and man-made pits, some of which were used as cisterns to capture rainwater. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers. Daniel was placed in a pit with a den of lions. Jeremiah found himself in a cistern and narrowly escaped death in a muddy mire.
There are many present-day pits into which the people of God may fall. There are the pits of drunkenness and drug addiction. There are pits of unemployment, illness and disease. There are pits of immorality, of anger and hatred, of lying, deception and greed. There are pits of self-pity and victimhood. There are pits of depression, despair and discouragement. When we are asked how we are doing, many of us have described our condition as being “in the pits.”
God lifts us out of those pits. God saves us. Jesus walks among us, as our Shepherd, to lift us and carry us away from the pits into which we fall. Pastors and ministers constantly find themselves ministering around the edges of pits into which the people of God have fallen. We need to thank those who courageously and self-sacrificially give of themselves that we might be pointed to the One who can lift us out of the pit.
You may remember the words to a song that was popular many years ago:
Love lifts us up where we belong,
on a mountain high,
where the eagles fly.
Love lifts us up where we belong,
from the world we know,
up where the clear wind blows.
When some say, “what’s all this love-stuff you are preaching?”, we should remember that it is God who first loved us. And his love should flow through us. We need to express our appreciation to those who express this love toward us, which they can do only because they know that Jesus has saved them. As Bill Leisner expressed, “Most pastors are not looking for rewards here on this earth, but they need to know we are behind them in what they are doing. A little help from you can go a long way in telling your pastor that you are grateful for all he has done for you.”
We want pastors to know that we appreciate and love them. At our denominational office, we hold up our pastors in prayer constantly. We appreciate them and pray that God will richly bless them and their families. Dedicated pastors who are in love with Jesus are valuable resources to any denomination, and God has seen to it that we have our share. Thanks to each and every one of you. We love you and admire you.
Beyond getting along
We get along with each other fairly well. But we all need occasional reminders so that we can continue the good work, and even improve in the areas in which we sometimes fall short.
We are all members in ministry. God has given us all gifts, and we are a priesthood of all believers. That is why we are instructed: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
We are given gifts in order to minister and to serve. That means it is not appropriate to “inflict” our gift on someone else. We should not think ourselves superior or better than someone else because that person doesn’t have our gift (at least in our estimation). We should honor and look up to one another. Treat every believer as the child of God that he or she is.
Our fellowship had a history of falling into pits. In addition to the personal problems that beset us all, we have fallen into many spiritual pits of unbiblical practice and teaching. We have seen what legalism can do and how it traps and enslaves. We have experienced the fruits of despair and bewilderment of prediction addiction. We know about the arrogance and vanity that results from exclusivism, thinking that we are the “only true church.” We have seen what false doctrinal understanding does. We have experienced the disillusionment of being taught a false view of history, majoring in conspiracy theories and fables.
We have also seen members fall into the pit of experiences, feelings and manifestations. We do not condemn these brothers and sisters, but we must point out that many of these manifestations do not edify. Instead, many of these “gifts” can become a new legalism. Some members are told that they are inferior, they are not as deeply converted, they are not walking as closely with God as they could, simply because they have not had a particular experience. Such teaching is not biblical.
The Bible tells us to get along. We are not in the business of exalting ourselves or our own gifts. We exalt Jesus Christ. He is the one who lifts us up out of the pit into which we have fallen. In order for us all to “get along,” the pastoral ministry must point out the “pit-falls” of erroneous teachings and all that goes with them. We do this not because we wish to criticize or condemn, but in order that we all get along.
Pastors should not be territorial. It is hard for a pastor when someone decides to attend another congregation, whether that be of our denomination or another. We usually take this as a loss, and we might take it personally. But we must understand that individuals can have appropriate reasons for moving to another congregation. Sometimes individuals move for good reasons — and sometimes not-so-good reasons.
If members are moving to an unhealthy church that does not preach Jesus as central to the gospel, then we as pastors should be rightly alarmed. If individuals are moving away from a church that preaches from the Bible and are moving to one that (for example) discourages prayer in order to emphasize manifestation and experience, then we as pastors are obviously concerned.
As Christians we all need to be reminded that there have always been many different forces at work against the church. In whatever era or age that Christians have lived, there have been plenty of controversies competing with the gospel. Worship music is a hot button for some. Spiritual gifts is controversial for others. Some like to debate the Hebrew calendar, as if it is relevant for today. Others feel that it doesn’t matter which day you worship on (as long as the worship service is held during the daylight portion of Saturday). There are many reasons that can cause us not to get along.
We could all contribute to what would be an endless list of reasons that we should not get along. But Jesus has called us to peace. He has called us to get along. We are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19). “One in Christ” is an apt description of the church of God in the world.
Our most singular distinctive as the church of God is that we do not stand for secondary distinctives. We stand for the plain and main teachings of Scripture. One of the major identifiers that Christ gave for authentic Christians is love — “by this shall all people know that you are my disciples.”
As we get along, let’s remember to honor our pastors, ministers and families, and to overwhelm them with love and appreciation. Let’s remember our brothers and sisters in other denominations. Let’s also pray for those whose growth is restricted by erroneous teachings.
We love you all, and we pray without ceasing for you. We are here to serve you and want to hear from you about how we can do that more effectively.
Thank all of you for the love and appreciation that you send to us. We are all one in Christ, and we thank God for what he has done in our lives collectively and individually. We hope that you are growing closer to our Lord and Savior as the days and weeks go by. Let’s be diligent about being the men and women of God that he has called us to be. Let’s labor to make our fellowship a healthy and dynamic church, one that is filled with the love and excitement that Jesus Christ gives to his body.