I’m preaching my way through 1 Thessalonians at the moment. It’s a good length for the spring term. It’s not too intellectually demanding but, as we’re finding out, it’s challenging in other ways. Last week the challenge was felt particularly by me. But also by our small group leaders, kids’ ministers and others involved in pastoring.
In chapter 2:17-3:13 Paul is on the defensive. He has to explain why he’s not been back to visit the church he planted through his short term evangelistic mission (Acts 17). The implicit accusation from this young church plant seems to be that because he left in a hurry and hasn’t been back since that he simply doesn’t care. It’s an understandable conclusion. It’s just wrong. As Paul goes on to show. His response gives us a glorious insight into the emotional life of a genuine gospel minister. This is what it ought to feel like to lead a church family.
Paul’s pastoral care amongst them was marked by four features.
First, it was personal (2:17-20). Paul was into people. They were his pride and joy. That’s why he made every effort to try to see them. They mattered to him. They were what gave him greatest pleasure. He knew that in eternity the thing that he’d be most proud of was them. So he was a people person. He longed to see them because he knew there were some things that can only be done in person. He invested in people. He poured his life in people. They’d last for eternity. But isn’t it the case that much of what we make our lives about simply won’t. For example, the Bible study we do with our kids will matter infinitely more than whether they got into Cambridge or the local Grammar School.
Secondly it was sacrificial (3:1-5). It’s hard to think of anyone that Paul would have found harder to give away than Timothy. He was one of his cloest friends and his best ministry colleagues. But needs must. And their needs were greater than his. He was struggling to come to terms with the rampant idolatry of Athens but they were under satanic attack. And so he sent Timothy to encourage and establish them in the faith. That was costly. It’s worth asking where the costs are in our ministry. I suspect there are many. But that’s normal. What’s abnormal is the comfort and ease that we crave!
Thirdly it was emotional (3:6-9). Paul was ‘in bits’ for the time when he had no news of their progress. Literally it was killing him, which was why he was able to say ‘now we really live’ when Timothy brought back good news of their progress. It was as though he’d received a new lease of life. Ministry is an emotional rollercoaster. Beware of the instinct for self-preservation. There are times when, to protect myself from the hurt that sometimes comes with caring too much, I’ve kept my distance and become a little professional rather than personal in ministry. But I’m afraid that, like loving kids, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
Fourthly it was prayerful (10-13). He may have been away from them for months but not a day went past when he hadn’t prayed for them. Ouch! In fact it was even more impressive than that. Paul said that night and day he’s continually been praying for them. Do you pray for those in your small group? Have you got a list somewhere that you work your way through? There’s surely no greater indication of our love for those we serve, is there?
Most of us will read this and ought to admit that we’re found wanting. But it’s what we’re aiming at. It’s what we’d like to be. It’s what our church, our family and our Christian mates need us to be. So let’s press on. And pray.