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More Midnight Meditations on 1 Thessalonians

by Joe Pursch on October 6th, 2011

Help Wanted: An Affectionate Pastor

In First Thessalonians 2: 17 and following, Paul speaks to these believers with such deep affection. We know that they had developed an inferiority complex in regard to whether Paul really loved them or not, perhaps because he had not returned to see them after being forced out of their city by persecution. But what they didn’t know was that Paul and his team had tried repeatedly to return to the church in Thessalonica, but they had been opposed by the Enemy himself. And so Paul takes a moment to let them in on this untold story of his devotion to them as a pastor. It’s important to realize that Paul had only been a pastor to these dear people face-to-face for a few short weeks, and yet he has this true affection for them. He had planted many churches and was caring for many others, but he still had the Spirit – powered concern for these people that enabled him to write these words.

Who Wants a “Problem Church”?

The thought that moves into my mind as I read this is that churches are never to be seen by pastors as “opportunities”, but rather as obligations. What I mean by that is that too often today in our professionalized ministry, we look at churches from the standpoint of how they treat us as leaders or for what they can produce for us as organizations. To put it another way, we try and avoid “problem churches.” We become more enthralled by the churches that have “potential”. I find that kind of thinking completely alien to the philosophy of ministry that the apostle Paul lived by. Instead, the great apostle allowed the problems of this young church to become his problems. In fact, he gave these new Christians the high honor of knowing that they would be his source of greatest joy when he stood before the Lord Jesus in eternity. This little church, with its unschooled new believers still trying to shed the old habits of pagan sensuality, still struggling with emotional immaturity and doubts, this humble assembly was going to become a source of honor for the great apostle to the Gentiles. Makes us wonder if there are really any such things as “little” churches. Here we learn that even the littlest church can produce the greatest of rewards in the life of a faithful shepherd.

Leadership or Shepherdship?

Gain a picture of the apostle’s great heart in this epistle, and you will learn that he was a shepherd before he was a leader. Today in ministry training, we so emphasize the role of “organizational leadership.”, as though we would find the idea of leadership scattered all through the epistles. Problem is, we really don’t find that to be true. The major key sounded in the life of God’s pastors in the New Testament was not leadership, it was shepherding. There is a dramatic difference in the two ideas. Leaders produce results; shepherds produce disciples. Leaders drive organizations; shepherds feed sheep. Leaders are powered by their vision; shepherds are called by love.

Paul goes on in the third chapter of this epistle to tell these new believers why he longed to return to them: to fill in what was lacking in their teaching. He didn’t want to return in order to take care of them and protect them from suffering, or to lead them into any kind of major achievement. He wanted them to receive one thing from him: doctrine. He knew that they were suffering personal unrest precisely because they had not received sufficient doctrine from him and his team right after they have been brought to Christ.

The Desperate Need for Doctrine, Then And Now

We know this because in the Book of Acts we find described the fact that Paul and his team had only a few short weeks to disciple these new Christians in Thessalonica before they were purged from the city by persecution. And so these young believers didn’t have a clear understanding of the experience of death as it related to Christians, or a clear confidence in the Second Coming of Christ. So now when some deaths had been experienced in their young church and some false teachers had created confusion about the return of Jesus, the believers in Thessalonica were in trouble. The solution for their trouble was deeper doctrine, and Paul longed to return to them and to deliver just that.

Today we get involved in arguments as church leaders over what is most important for believers to learn: relevant principles for living or deeper doctrine. If we were to bring that question to the church at Thessalonica, I think we know what their answer would be: the deeper doctrine of God’s Word.

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