A young woman came into my office several years ago and conveyed to me that she had never been a part of a healthy church. Her father was a pastor and was mistreated and disrespected. She saw “church people” act very self-centered. She had come to the place where she never wanted to go to church again. She had never experienced strong biblical loving leadership and a congregation that honored and respected their pastors. Unhealthy churches can not only be stressful and unpleasant, but worst of all they dishonor the Lord and give a bad witness to the world. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians and gives them instructions on how to cultivate a healthy church. His first and primary concern was to describe the expectations and responsibilities of how a pastor is to relate to the congregation and how the congregation is to relate to the pastors. Paul writes:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
The Shepherd’s Responsibility
The Shepherd Pastor is called by God to care for the sheep of the congregation. He has three responsibilities in his calling. He is responsible to 1) labor, 2) oversee, and 3) admonish the congregation.
Labor: The pastors and elder leaders of the church are called to labor diligently. The word here for labor describes great effort and exertion to the point of sweat and exhaustion. Contrary to what some jokingly say, the pastor must work more than “one day a week.” He is responsible for preaching, teaching, caring, admonishing, counseling and so much more. The pastor has a high calling to diligently minister in the church and work hard (acts 20:18-20). Every pastor must have a servant’s heart ready to pour out his life night and day for the sake of the Gospel (1 Thess 2:9).
Oversee: The pastors and elders also have the responsibility to oversee the congregation and the ministry. Paul says they are “over you in the Lord.” The New American Standard translates that phrase “have charge over.” According to God’s design, the pastor has authority in the church to preside, lead or direct the ministries in the way he sees will best accomplish the mission of the church. This does not mean he can do whatever he wants or fulfill his every preference. But the pastors and elders stand in the place of the Good Shepherd and must act as faithful representatives. This is what it means to be over others “in the Lord.” The authority of the pastor is not self-proclaimed. He only has the authority to lead as the Word of God directs.
Admonish: Shepherds are also called to admonish, or give instruction, to the congregation. This instruction is given for the purpose of correcting, and sometimes warning people (Tit 1:9). It is not popular today, but the pastor must speak directly and frankly with those in his congregation. Since he loves his congregation, he should admonish them to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. He must speak “thus sayeth the Lord” and if he is a good shepherd will always point his congregation back to the Word of God exhorting them not to obey him, but rather to obey the Lord.
The Sheep’s Responsibility
The sheep, or congregation, also have responsibilities in the church designed by God. They are called by God to relate to their pastors and elders in a particular manner that would bring honor to the Lord. They have three responsibilities toward their leaders: 1) respect their leaders, 2) esteem their leaders, and 3) submit to and be at peace with their leaders.
Respect: The congregation is called to understand clearly what God expects of their pastors and as a result they are to respect them. This means that they are to appreciate that God has given them a real human shepherd to watch over and care for their souls (Heb 13:17). Respect should extend to attitudes and words spoken. It is common for people to be unkind, critical, or indifferent toward their pastors. This is not honoring to the Lord.
Esteem: The sheep are also to “esteem them highly in love because of their work.” The congregation must have a loving attitude toward all their pastors. They must keep in mind what work they have been called to do. This might mean overlooking some of your pastors’ shortcomings (not sins). Pastors are not perfect and are also on the journey of sanctification, just like the congregation.
Submit & Be at Peace: The third responsibility of the congregation is to submit to and be at peace with church leaders. Since the pastors are “overseers” and have authority, the congregation must be willing to submit and be peaceable. Being peaceable with your leaders means that the congregation is quick to eliminate conflict, strife, and discord and promote harmony so that the church can be effective in fulfilling its mission.
Promoting a Healthy Church
We all desire to have a healthy church. An unhealthy church is a black eye to the glory of the Lord and brings shame on the Gospel. We can be sure that Satan desires more than anything to destroy the Church. He will attempt to put animosity between church leaders and the congregation. The responsibilities that God has given both to pastors and the congregation are difficult. Without the power of the Holy Spirit and much prayer, it would be impossible to accomplish our Lord’s directives. We must all be aware of what the Lord expects of each of us and encourage one another for the Lord’s sake. Let us pray that God would continue to keep our church healthy and strong. I’m thankful for such a wonderful congregation here at Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church who continually “highly esteems” their pastors and elders. Please pray for us as pastors and elders that we will be faithful to our calling. We will pray for you as well.