April 2, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Pastoral ministry
Possibly because of some tension between the leaders and the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul wrote to the church and included this apostolic instruction for the congregation:*
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, ESV)
Before we consider the implications of this passage for church members in relation to their pastors, let’s turn our attention to what is revealed about pastoral ministry in this passage.
The term for “labor” here is not a glamorous one. John Stott suggests this phrase pictures manual toil, work so heavy that it requires strenuous effort and makes you sweat.** It’s no surprise that many pastors who transitioned into the pastorate from successful and demanding careers will tell you that pastoring is where they have experienced the heaviest work.
Pastoral ministry should never be romanticized. It is heavy labor. One hour in the pulpit is like eight hours with a jackhammer. But the labor extends beyond what we see on Sunday mornings. Labor includes 15–25 hours of sermon preparation, labor in often painful counseling settings, labor in prayer, labor to protect the church doctrinally, labor to build the church relationally, labor to maintain the church functionally…The list could continue, but my point is that pastoring is heavy labor. Biblical pastoring is not for the lazy.
But these verses also reveal the attitude the church should have towards its leaders.
Paul writes, “esteem them very highly in love,” which is to say, hold them in esteem to the highest degree possible as a genuine expression of love. In honoring and esteeming their pastors, no halfhearted or reserved esteem was sufficient, no reservations tempered by suspicion of their authority.
And there are objective reasons for this esteem. These pastors were to be esteemed for their character and their work. This was not sentimental or superficial support; this was something superior—off-the-charts esteem and love between a congregation and their pastors, rooted in an appreciation of the character and labor of pastors.
This affectionate esteem was to be directed toward those laboring “among you.” This is not esteeming someone else’s pastor, but esteeming your
pastor. We are all too vulnerable to take our own pastors for granted.
I understand the natural inclination to take our own pastors for granted. It’s easy to esteem someone else’s pastor. It’s easy to honor the guest speaker. It’s easy to esteem the featured speaker at a conference. It’s easier to honor the well-known author. Yet honoring the pastors “among you” is Paul’s directive to the church in Thessalonica. And for good reason.
I was once reminded of this ordering of priorities. I had delivered a message on this very point at a conference. At the conclusion of the meeting a man approached me and said, “C.J., I really appreciated hearing you preach this evening. But you are no Mike Pierson.” I laughed and applauded his statement and here is why:
Mike Pierson is his pastor.
And he was right—I am no Mike Pierson. I am not his pastor, I am not caring for his soul, I am not teaching him God’s Word each week, and I am not accountable to God for this man. I’m just a guest speaker at a conference. Therefore Mike Pierson should be held in the highest esteem possible—not me.
Mike is one of hundreds of men I know, just ordinary pastors within the churches of Sovereign Grace Ministries. These men labor diligently and faithfully each day serving those entrusted to their care. But there is nothing ordinary about these men (or anyone serving in pastoral ministry). I consider these men extraordinary! I think their work serving the local church is the most important work being done today.
These extra-ordinary men are my heroes, men I deeply love and respect, men I seek to learn from.
Meet Ordinary Pastors
Over the past few weeks we ran a series of blog posts so that you could “meet” men like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, David Powlison, and Thabiti Anyabwile. These are men I deeply love and respect. Each of them gave very insightful answers to our questions.
But for the next few weeks we will be meeting “ordinary” pastors, men laboring faithfully in local churches, men who are worthy of the highest esteem.
Join us as we meet “ordinary” pastors.
: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor
* For more on this see Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians
(IVP, 1984), p. 102; and John Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians
(IVP, 1991) p. 119.
** John Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians
, p. 119.