The Pastors Workshop
The Pastor as Father: Several Surprises
This is the eleventh installment of Dr. Roberts' "Master Class for Pastors." The first parts are the Introduction, "Who Are Your Partners?" "The Impact of Thanksgiving," "How Do You Talk About Your Church?" "Understanding Your Cultural Context," "Nine Stereotypes for Pastors," "Pastoring is Always Personal," "Pastoring is Always Personal: Is This Good News or Bad News?" "The Danger of 'Clergyism'," "Are You Pure, Upright, and Blameless?"
As Paul and his colleagues write about their behavior among their Thessalonian converts, they portray themselves in a fatherly role: "As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:11-12).
The First Surprise: What Paul and Company Did as "Fathers"
It was common in the Greco-Roman world for popular philosophers to think of themselves as metaphorical fathers to their followers. Since actual fathers in the Roman world were responsible for the education of their children, paternal imagery was common in descriptions of the philosopher. For example, the Greek sage Epictetus, writing just a few decades after Paul, noted that the Cynic philosopher "has made all mankind his children; the men among them he has as sons, the women as daughters; in that spirit he approaches them all and cares for them all" (Diss. 3.22.81). Yet this care was must not to be confused with gentleness. Epictetus continued, "Or do you fancy that it is in the spirit of idle impertinence he reviles those he meets? It is as a father he does it, as a brother, and as a servant of Zeus, who is Father of us all" (Diss. 3.22.81-82).
Thus, one of the first surprises in the use of the paternal metaphor by Paul and his colleagues is their sense of what they did in their fatherly role. They were "urging . . . encouraging . . . pleading" (2:12). These three verbs in Greek (as participles parakalountes, paramuthoumenoi, marturomenoi) do not suggest harshness or an authoritarian attitude. Rather, they reflect a sense of urgency mixed with respect, even kindness. As pastors to their Thessalonian flock, Paul & Co. did not give orders, belittle, or dominate. They did not see their fatherly duty in terms of berating and reviling. Rather, the church planters sought to educate and inspire their followers, whom they regarded not as small children needing discipline so much as budding colleagues needing education and encouragement.
Mark D. Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a retreat and renewal ministry in Texas. He blogs at Patheos and writes daily devotionals at www.thehighcalling.org, and he can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook.