‘Bullies need not apply!’ I’m not sure those 4 words have ever made it into a ministry leadership ad, but perhaps they should. Diotrephes of 3 John v.9-10 isn’t the only leader “who loves to be first.” The myriad of reasons for dismissing leaders from their position throughout 2000 years of church history has included ‘behaviour unbecoming to a Christian.’
In 1 Thessalonians 1:6b-9, Paul communicates the deep love which he, Silas and Timothy had for this fledgling group of Christ followers. It’s interesting that he speaks of the missionary team as ‘apostles,’ probably not strictly in the ‘apostolic’ role prescribed in Acts 1 and to which Paul was added, but rather ‘foundation layers’ (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-13) establishing the church within a new community where Jesus Christ had never been known.
How do these ‘loving leaders’ describe their conduct in the recent evangelistic foray into Thessalonica?
“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone, while we preached the gospel o God to you.” (1 Thess. 2:6b-9)
Apostolic authority is clearly delineated elsewhere in the New Testament. There are moments when Paul asserts that authority and carries out discipline under the authority of Jesus Christ who commissioned him. But here, though he could have been a burden, and leveraged his authority and that of Silas and Timothy on the young believers, he opted for a more loving way.
- Godly leaders are gentle. He uses the illustration of a mother caring for her little children. I’ve watched my wife and my daughters up close and other moms at a greater distance caring for newborns. Newborns are needy and demand constant care. Many a mother has had interrupted sleep for years in the care of their clan. Though exasperated at times (a normal response under exhaustion), the gentle touch is evidenced repeatedly. Soothing talk, calming touch, a graciousness which marks those with a deep love. Remarkably Paul claims to model his leadership after this prototype.
- Godly leaders are sacrificial. Leaders don’t just ‘hit and run’ but share their lives, interrupt their own schedules and at times lay down their lives for their flock. A God-given love marks these shepherds who are caring for a flock entrusted to them. Consider Acts 20 where Paul speaks of ‘the flock of God.’ No pastor ‘owns’ the flock. No leader is to be a ‘controller’ of the flock. Shepherding care requires protection, feeding, loving care to sheep who are smelly, dirty and often wandering away.
- Godly leaders are hard working. The words ‘toil’ and ‘hardship’ speaks of deprivation. Leaders don’t punch clocks. Long after the day has ended, the shepherd takes with him, in his heart, the concerns he has discovered in that day. ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ may not only be a useful Christmas carol, but a model of the kind of leadership God seeks for His people.
- Godly leaders are gospel centered. Twice in this paragraph, Paul speaks of sharing and preaching the gospel. This is not his good news, but God’s, and Paul has faithfully passed it on. If you think the gospel is some human invention, read Galatians where Paul rigorously defends the divine origin.
So perhaps 4 questions to be put to prospective and current leaders arise from this text.
#1 Are you gentle in your treatment of others? #2 Are you willing to sacrifice time and energy for God’s people? #3 How hard are you willing to work in your ministry? #4 How central is the gospel to your life and ministry?
Ministry isn’t easy. Read the account of the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd of the flock and you’ll find the perfect example of gentleness, sacrifice, diligence and gospel-centredness. Undershepherds aren’t left in a vacuum. They have Jesus Christ to follow!