The Mutual Responsibilities of Pastors and Believers

Dr. Brian Allison

Recently I found a letter in my mail box at the Seminary from the chairman of the pulpit search committee at Parkside Baptist Church in Kenora. The Church is looking for a senior pastor. What impressed me about the letter was that the chairman emphasized the desire to have a pastor who was willing to work with the Church and with the Board. There was an emphasis on corporate harmony and peace. This Church is looking for a pastor who is a team player, and who is willing to work along with the people. That is an emphasis that we find in the passage of concern, 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13, which reads, "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another."

In teaching on this text, I personally feel awkward and uneasy simply because it is talking about pastors of whom I am one (as if you did not already know). So, in one sense, I will be talking about myself, and that is difficult. One may get the impression that speaking as a pastor, I am being self-promoting. Nothing could be further from the truth. I trust that as we work through this passage, you will realize that my motives are right, and not self-promoting.

The pastor's ministry

The verses of concern have three main points: 1) the pastor's ministry and responsibilities; 2) the believer's attitude and responsibilities to their pastors; 3) the need for pastors and their people to cultivate harmonious relations. Let us first consider the pastor's ministry. Notice how the ministry of the pastor is described, "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you" (5:12a). The pastor is one who ought to be exerting much energy in achieving spiritual objectives. We could translate the original Greek as "work hard," or "earnestly toil." The word means expending much effort which results in becoming weary or exhausted. In Luke 5, we read of the account involving the first disciples. We read in Luke 5:4,5, "And when He [Jesus] had finished speaking, He said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.' And Simon answered and said, 'Master, we worked hard [same term] all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.'"

The pastoral ministry is no place for a loafer, an idle person, a lazy person. For instance, I know of a pastor friend who preaches about 5 times on Sunday; to say nothing of his busyness throughout the week. There are those who cynically, and even jokingly say, "The pastor has got it easy. He only works one day a week, and that is Sunday." Have you heard that before? Nothing could be further from the truth. If one has been truly called by the Lord, and hence the Spirit of God and the grace of God are mightily working in him, then he will diligently labour. He will labour in preaching, teaching, counselling, discipling, etc. 1 Timothy 5:17 reads, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard [same word] at preaching and teaching." Again, there is no room for slothfulness in the ministry; there is no room for slackness, not if one is truly called by God. It requires sacrifice – sacrifice of time, of energy, of meals, of sleep – because God has called him to minister to His people.

The pastor's responsibility to rule

Generally speaking, pastors have two responsibilities. First, they are to rule in the Church – "and have charge over you" (5:12b). Another way to translate this language is that pastors are to assume a position of authority over God's people; they are to lead and direct God's people, for whom they will have to give an account. My wife began working about a month ago for a woman who started her own business. This woman is in the business of providing healthcare workers for individual care, healthcare institutions, and senior citizens' homes. Having her own business, she recruits workers, she schedules for employees, she assigns various tasks and duties. That is, this woman manages her business, she assumes authority. This is an illustration of a pastor's responsibility of having the charge over God's people. 1 Timothy 3:4,5 reads, "He [the one who aspires to be a pastor] must be one who manages [same term - 'take charge over'] his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. But if a man does not know how to manage [same term] his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" We find the same term in verse 12 of this same chapter, "Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households." We referred to 1 Timothy 5:17 earlier. The same term is found in this verse, but here it is translated 'rule' – "Let the elders [or pastors] who rule well be considered worthy of double honor."

So, assuming spiritual rule is one of the responsibilities of a pastor who has been called and ordained by God, and has been gifted for service and placed in the Church. This fact does not mean that pastors are superior to God's people, but what it does mean is that God has given them a particular role and position in the Church, and that is to rule.

Pastors are to exercise their spiritual rule in a certain context – "And have charge over you in the Lord" (5:12b). Pastors (or elders, or overseers) are to exercise their rule as those who are spiritually united with Jesus Christ, bound by His Word, and subject to His rule. Pastors assume charge over God's people with respect to spiritual things, matters that pertain to the kingdom. The rule is not universal, but the orbit of the rule is spiritual community life – the new covenant. That means that pastors are not to rule according to their own personal agenda or in keeping with their own personal desires. That is why pastors have to take up the work of prayer in order to know the mind of God, and thus labour in giving good counsel, in making good decisions, in organizing properly, in managing God's people, all for which they will give an account. If one is called to pastor, he is also called to pray. In fact, he is called to a life of prayer, to wrestle and struggle in the Spirit to know the mind of God, fearing implementing his own thoughts, or advancing his own desires. It is a heavy responsibility.

The pastor's responsibility to admonish

Pastors also have the responsibility of teaching God's people – "and give you instruction" (5:12b). Pastors are called to minister and apply the Word of God, to which they are conscience bound. The better translation of the verb 'to instruct' is 'to admonish'. Pastors are called to warn God's people of sin, God's displeasure with sin, and the consequences of sin. What this implies is that there is deficiency in the lives of God's people (that is not to say that there are not deficiencies in the lives of pastors; there is much deficiency). God's people, at no time, can say that they 'have made it', that they 'have arrived'. There will always be lack, sin, and imperfection, against which pastors must preach and admonish; and not because pastors are on some power trip. If you think that pastors, who are called by God, get a thrill out of standing up before God's people and proclaiming in confidence the Word of God because they are on some power trip, may God help you to correctly understand. I remember a spiritual mentor, a well-known preacher, saying on one occasion that there comes a time, just a few moments before he has to stand up and preach, that if he could, he would run. In some sense, when a man who is called by God rises to preach that it is again like the first time for him. One stands in the pulpit with a spirit of 'fear and trembling', knowing that he must represent His Lord and proclaim the sacred and blessed Word of God.

We find this same term 'admonish' in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. We read, "And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly." It is the unruly, the sinful, the backsliding, the wayward, etc. that require this kind of ministry – admonition. I appeal to you – do not resist admonition, do not reject warning, rebuke, and challenge. Do not respond in the flesh, and say something like this, "Who does he think he is?" I will tell you who he is – he is nothing in himself, but he is a servant of God who has been called to preach. He is constrained to preach. As the apostle Paul affirmed, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). This is the experience of every bona fide minister of God. And that is the only reason why I have assumed this pastoral role and am discharging this pastoral duty. Personally, I do not think that I always have the personality that suits the traditional pastor, but God has called me, and gifted me to preach and teach, and thus I must fulfil His calling. Pastors are to labour in admonishing God's people.

Believers are to appreciate their pastors

Now, I do not know how you have been responding to this message thus far. Sometimes there is a tendency to react when one hears about having to be under authority and about having to be open to admonition. Many of us do not like to be under authority. Many of us do not like to be told what to do. There is a tendency to resist and misunderstand when the above teaching is presented. It seems that the apostle Paul knew that. He knew people; he knew the human heart. And so, in addressing this very practical matter – pastor-people relations – he broaches the subject gingerly and gently. Do you notice how he makes an appeal, rather than a demand, when he addresses these Thessalonian believers? He says, "But we request of you, brethren..." (5:12a). The apostle Paul could have said, "But we command of you," but rather he uses the language of entreaty, perhaps anticipating possible reaction.

Believers have two responsibilities presented here. The first responsibility of believers to their pastors is that they should have a proper disposition toward their pastors – "That you appreciate those who diligently labor among you" (5:12a). The literal translation is this, "that you know those who..." Obviously the apostle Paul is saying more than simply to know these men intellectually. He is saying that believers should recognize and acknowledge these men for what God has made them to be – that they recognize and acknowledge their position, their calling, their ministry, their work. That is why the translators, in trying to really capture the nuance and connotation of the language, translated the term 'appreciate'. [Personal address to the U.B.C. believers: "I must say at this juncture that I believe that this Church has done this very thing. Believers here really appreciate their pastors. I say that to encourage you and to commend you. I think back to the month of October when we had 'Pastor Appreciation Month'. You did not appreciate us simply for one Sunday, but (to my embarrassment) you showed your appreciation for the whole month, which humbled me greatly and indebted me deeply to you. So, I want to affirm to you that you are showing appreciation for your pastors, recognizing them and acknowledging them as God's under shepherds, that they do have the rule, requiring a certain response on your part]. If there is a proper appreciation for pastors, then there will be a proper response to the rule and oversight of pastors. Recall the language in Hebrews 13:17 (it takes grace, it takes humility on the part of God's people to respond in this way to God's servants), "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."

Believers are to esteem their pastors

The second responsibility of believers to their pastors is that they should have a proper attitude toward their pastors – "And that you esteem them" (5:13a). The term translated 'esteem' infers evaluative thinking, the fact that one reflects on something and then draws a conclusion. Another way to translate this term is 'to judge'. The mind is actively engaged endeavouring to really understand the situation and come to a decision or position. We find the same term in Philippians 3:7,8, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted [same term] as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that I count [reckon, judge, regard] all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count [same term] them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ." Again, in 1 Timothy 6:1, we read, "Let all who are under the yoke as slaves [because you are Christians] regard [same term] their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against." So, believers are to evaluate their pastors in keeping with their calling and ministry from God, and thus they are to think about their pastors in a positive way. In recognizing their pastor's calling and ministry, they are to respect them. They are to honour them as God's servants.

Believers are to esteem their pastors in a certain way and for a certain reason – "esteem them very highly [respect them exceedingly, and not because of who they are – it does not matter who they are; it does not matter what you think of them as people – and not because of their personal gifts, or skills, or talents, but] because of their work" (5:13b). This is the motivation for esteeming pastors. These ones who have been called by the Lord have assumed (and I know that this may sound somewhat biased) the greatest work in the world. They have assumed the work of the Lord; they are engaged in a sacred service; they labour in the kingdom of God, for the King of that kingdom. And because of what they do, because of their service, because they are the ministers of Christ, God's people are to esteem them very highly.

In so far as God's people esteem very highly God's servants (because of what they do), God is pleased because what God's people, in effect, are doing is esteeming Him. What I am suggesting is that our attitude towards God's ministers reflects and indicates our attitude towards God. How can I say that? Well, if God has called certain men to be pastors in His Church, if God has set aside certain men to be ministers of Christ, if God's Spirit rests upon and infils these men, then the same Spirit Whom God has given His people, and indwells them, must clearly acknowledge and positively respond accordingly – Spirit answering to Spirit. If you have the Spirit of God, you will have the attitude and mind of God. You will acknowledge His work and ways.

Notice the context or sphere in which this respect to pastors from believers is to be expressed – "in love" (5:13b). Some people are difficult to love, but your love is not to be towards a person necessarily, but rather it is to be towards a servant of God. Again, the issue is not who they are as men, but rather that God has equipped them and appointed them, and that for His glory. Thus, God's people are to respond to these appointed servants in commitment, in loyalty, in support – that is what love is. God's people are to be 'connected' with their pastors, even attached to them in an affectionate way, not for their sakes, but for the sake of Christ.

Pastor-people harmony

A good attitude makes for good relations, and the result will be harmony. The apostle Paul concludes this particular thought by exhorting, "Live in peace with one another" (5:13c). This is not a general statement, but rather is a directive and exhortation with respect to pastor-people relations. Sadly, in the Church there is a tendency sometimes for conflict, for tension, for misunderstanding, for offending. Sometimes I wish I did not even have a mouth. It seems that at different times when I have spoken, I have inadvertently offended someone. James 3:1,2 reads, "Let not many of you become teachers [pastors, spiritual leaders], my brethren [why?], knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." Leadership must speak, and thus there is always the danger of hurting or offending. The result may be tension and conflict. So, we have this directive, "Live in peace one with another." Pastors are to have the right attitude towards God's people. They are to conduct themselves in a spirit of humility, meekness, and gentleness. Believers are to have the right attitude towards God's servants. They too are to conduct themselves in a spirit of humility, meekness, and gentleness. If pastors and believers behaved in this way, the church would be such beautiful and healing place. May God give us all grace to pursue this peace.