I have been reading the letter of 1 Thessalonians this past week. It has been extremely helpful to see crucial areas of pastoral leadership that must be present in all pastors. Here are nine defining foundations of pastoral leadership from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Every pastor has foundations that define their ministry. However, these foundations are not always biblical? What are these biblical foundations? For these answers let’s look at what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
1. A PASTOR LEADS BY PRAYING FOR HIS PEOPLE.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:2
The Apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonians “constantly.” Prayer must be the foundation of pastoral ministry. God does not just want you to pray for your church, but for the individual people of your church. Shepherds don’t just protect their flocks corporately, but individually as well. Pastor, consider praying for every person in your church by name once every week. If your church is large, divide the names amongst the elders and staff of your church. You will be surprised, how much, through prayer, you will learn to be thankful for them. You can’t truly shepherd people for who you don’t take the time to pray. Will you pray for every person in your church?
2. A PASTOR LEADS BY MAKING THE GOSPEL CENTRAL.
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” – I Thessalonians 1:4
Paul centered his writings and teachings on the gospel. This was not an “extra” or “add on” thing that Paul did; the gospel was the main thing that Paul did. Pastors must faithfully preach the gospel to their people week in and week out. The finished work of Christ must be the theme of every sermon, lesson, and program. If Pastors fail to make the gospel central, something else will take the gospel’s place. There is always a center or purpose for everything we do. The Pastor must faithful lead and remind his people about Jesus and the gospel. In many churches the gospel is only given so that unbelievers would be saved. However, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is for believers as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul “reminded” believers of the gospel. If you don’t lead your people to a central understanding of the gospel for everyday life you are not shepherding them well. What are you making the central theme of your ministry?
3. A PASTOR LEADS BY HAVING PURE MOTIVES
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 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. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6
It is obvious that pastors enter the ministry for all sorts of reasons. There are many pastors who shouldn’t be leading churches, but they still do. Many pastors are forced to resign for greed, immorality, deceitfulness, etc. Many use ministry as a platform to further their career, education or popularity. Some even lead their churches as effectively as some politicians lead our country. Some lead from a bully pulpit mowing down anybody who dares to disagree with them as if they are the final authority on all matters. Paul didn’t come with flattery to impress or as a way to make a buck. God does not call pastors so that they could become famous; He has called them to shout His fame. Pastors need to check their motives for ministry or get out of ministry. What is your real motive for being in ministry?
4. A PASTOR LEADS AS A MOTHER NURSES HER CHILDREN.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:7
The genuine care that Paul displayed for the Thessalonians is so refreshing. Pastor, the people God has given you are not statistics on an attendance sheet. They are the children of God whom He has redeemed with His own blood. A pastor must take care of God’s people as a nursing mother cares for her babies. What does a baby need? A baby needs love, gentleness, care, and a diaper change. May you never be guilty of seeing people as a statistic to inflate your pride, but to lovingly care for them as a mother feeds her babies. Are you providing “motherly care” for the people God has entrusted to you?
5. A PASTOR LEADS BY INVESTING HIS LIFE INTO PEOPLE
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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Real ministry always involves sacrifice. If a pastor is not willing to sacrifice his time, energy, or resources then he needs to quit. This is not to say that personal or family time is not important, but a pastor must readily be available. Paul was so “affectionately desirous” of the Thessalonians that he was ready to not only give the gospel, but also himself. A pastor never clocks out and calls it a day. A pastor ought to put in many more hours than he is compensated. He does this not out of compulsion, but for the sake of his people and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are too busy to be with people then change your career. God has called you to serve people not your ego. Likewise, pastors should be calling their people to invest into their communities, neighborhoods, for the sake of the gospel. Are you investing your life into people or just a paycheck?
6. A PASTOR LEADS AS A FATHER WHO EXHORTS HIS CHILDREN
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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
Paul said the he was like a “father with his children” to the Thessalonians. He was a “father” by exhorting and encouraging them. Pastors need to be ready to say hard things to their people. These things may not always be received well, but they must be said. A good father gives wisdom, guidance and direction to his children; a pastor is no different. He encourages them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” A pastor must have the courage to say the things that need to be said. A father wants the best for his children so a pastor must want the best for his church. Don’t be cowardly to call out sin, but drive people to see the value and beauty of Christ. Are you willing to counsel your people to do what’s right and call out what’s wrong?
7. A PASTOR LEADS BY RECOGNIZING THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE.
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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
The single greatest responsibility given to pastors is the charge to “Preach the word!” I am grateful for Paul’s repeated emphasis throughout his epistles for pastors to do so. God has not called us to be “life coaches;” He has called us to be preachers of the Word of God. Paul was thankful that the Thessalonians received the word as the “Word of God.” This is important because they valued the authority of Paul’s message. It was also important for Paul to understand that the “word of God, is “at work in you believers.” Pastors can tell jokes, stories, and have thrilling object lessons. However, the only real power and authority we possess is found in God’s word. A pastor leads his people by the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I believe the best way to accomplish this task is the expository preaching. Don’t rob your people of the depths and beauty of God’s word.
8. A PASTOR LEADS BY EMBRACING SUFFERING.
“that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
There is no escaping the difficult and hard days of ministry. Ministry is an exhilarating experience, but it does have its ups and downs. The worst thing a pastor can do is to hide from those down days. I have learned that it is helpful to be transparent and let others see into my weaknesses. Paul never painted a rosy picture of the Christian life. His writings are full of suffering, imprisonment, beatings, and hardships. However, Paul always showed us the sufficiency of God’s grace in the midst of all suffering. Pastors needs to be honest and open to their people about their private lives. The most powerful sermon illustrations I have ever given have always been how the Lord has worked in my own heart. How can you serve people who are suffering if you don’t share how you have suffered? How can you help those who are struggling if you never share how you struggled? Pastor, whatever your sufferings or struggles are embrace them for God’s glory. Are you willing to be open and transparent before your people?
9. A PASTOR LEADS BY CELEBRATING SPIRITUAL GROWTH.
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7
Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate a real win in ministry! Celebrate what God is doing in people by His grace. Make a big deal about it in private and in public. Talk about spiritual growth from the pulpit and your writings. Have your people share testimonies about what God has done in their lives for God’s glory. Paul was quick to point out to the Thessalonians the good report he had received from Timothy. Don’t blow the massive opportunity to celebrate spiritual growth in your people.