The Pastors Workshop
The Pastor as Father: Several Surprises
The Second Surprise: Fathers Taking a Back Seat to the Father
It is also surprising to note how Paul and his colleagues summarized the content of their urging, encouraging, and pleading. In their fatherly role, they wanted the Thessalonian believers to "lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory" (2:12). The pastors did not call their flock to be worthy of or to imitate themselves. They did not emphasize their own authority, but rather the authority of God who alone calls people into his kingdom and glory. This is particularly striking given the fact that, in the Roman world, the father had complete authority over his children's lives. Yet Paul and his colleagues refused to portray themselves in this way because they knew that God alone was the authoritative Father of his Thessalonian children.
The picture of the pastor as a father that emerges from 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 seems to fit well with what many of us, clergy and lay people alike, assume to be the role of the pastor in a church. Urging, encouraging, and pleading sounds a lot like preaching and teaching. Yet, we would miss two of the main surprises in this passage if we wrapped things up here.
The Third Surprise: Father to "Each One" Personally
For one thing, we must note that Paul & Co. claim to have "dealt with each one of [the Thessalonian believers] like a father with his children" (2:11). The phrase "each one of you" (hena hekaston hymon in Greek) suggests a more personal and intimate kind of pastoral work than can happen in a sermon or lecture. Paul and his co-workers assume a one-on-one context here. They exercised their fatherly efforts, not just by teaching groups of Thessalonian Christians, but also by getting to know them personally and caring for them individually.
Do you think of your pastoral ministry in this way? If you work with youth or small groups, or if you're the designated pastoral care person, then you are probably comfortable with the one-on-one dimension of fatherly pastoral service. But what if you're the preacher? And what if your congregation numbers in the hundreds, or even the thousands? How can you be expected to be the "father" of "each one" of your congregation?
Having once pastored a church with 750 members, not to mention 300 children and a few hundred regular attenders, I realize that not every pastor can care personally for every person in the church. I actually had an elder who once suggested that I should do this every thing, which would have required more than 1,000 appointments if I were to meet with each person in my church once a year. So, believe me, I'm not trying to lay some guilt trip on pastors concerning how they need to care personally for everyone in their churches. But, I am concerned that some pastors see their primary ministry so much in terms of speaking to large groups that they miss an essential element of biblical pastoral practice. Moreover, the effectiveness of a preacher is enhanced if that preacher spends time with individuals in the congregation and community, getting to know their actual struggles, fears, dreams, questions, and victories.
In sum, the surprises of this passage suggest the following for us:
Surprise #1: As we urge, encourage, and plead with our flock, let us avoid the kind of harshness and domination that was common among popular philosophers in the first century A.D., and is sometimes common among preachers today.
Surprise #2: In the exercise of our authority in ministry, may we never forget that our authority is always secondary, always contingent, always derived from God who is the ultimate Father of his children. Moreover, though we are to be living examples of the Gospel in action, let us remember that we are helping our people to respond to the call of God by living a life in imitation of him. Pastoral ministry is first and foremost about God, not us. We should always seek to point people to God.
Surprise #3: Though some of us will rightly focus our efforts on preaching and teaching large groups of people, may we never lose touch with individuals. May we never stop relating to people as a father with each one of his children.
So, there you have the surprises of the paternal imagery in this passage . . . except for one. You may have noticed that I wrote, "we would miss two of the main surprises in this passage if we wrapped things up here." Then I went on to focus on one surprise, that of individual fatherly care. But I left one surprise dangling. It is, perhaps, the biggest surprise of all in this text. I'll pick it up in my next article for the Preachers Portal.
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.