Robert and Rosa wanted to join the church. Both professed trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. Robert was older in the Lord. Rosa had come to a saving knowledge of Christ within the last year. They had been attending several months and wanted to take that step of membership.
In talking with them the pastor discovered they had the same address, although they were not married. He suspected from that they were living together. Sure enough, they were. In visiting them at their home, the pastor probed their relationship and their understanding of God’s design for their sexuality.
Pretty soon, it dawned on them what the pastor was getting at. Robert became angry. Rosa was confused.
What do you think? Did the pastor have any business getting into something so personal with this couple? Should he have just kept his nose out of their affairs?
What is the job of a pastor? The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” If we explore his role in Scripture, we see that he is to provide for and protect those in his charge, and prepare them for life. He helps them to be productive citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
That description sounds very much like that of a parent to his child. And that is exactly how the Apostle Paul characterizes the pastoral role in his letters.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul takes on both roles—mother and father. Rather than making demands that the new believers of this church plant take care of him, he says this:
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7–8)
Pictures of our own mothers or our wives as mothers might spring to mind. Paul did not deal roughly with the believers or make demands, even reasonable ones entitled to him as an apostle. Rather, he dealt with them gently, patiently, sacrificially, tenderly. They were his children in the Lord. He nurtured them in the Lord, as a mother would her children.
Paul also dealt with them like a father. He says a few verses later:
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess. 2:11–12)
Paul describes himself as an involved father, who doesn’t just bring home the paycheck but is intimately engaged in his children’s lives. Each of his children. He stresses that he exhorted and encouraged and charged “each one” of them. Like Jesus knew each of His sheep by name, so the apostle knew his flock as individual sheep—what made them tick, what their needs were. He knew the condition of their souls and was able to minister to them in real and relevant ways.
Paul’s goal for each of his children in the Lord was their spiritual growth and maturity. He was with them to help them walk in a manner worthy of their calling, as he says here in chapter two, verse 12. He expands on this later in his letter (see also Eph. 4-6 flowing out of Eph. 4:1).
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4:1–2)
What approach did Paul take in his parenting? He lays out for us three tactics by which he sought to influence his children for the sake of Christ. One, he was an example to them: “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:10) In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul urged the believers to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1; cf. 1 Pet. 5:3)
Two, he instructed them in the Word of God. That’s what’s behind his exhortation and encouragement in verse 12. No doubt, he employed the practice he lays out to Timothy of teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). His letters are teeming with instruction.
Finally, but no doubt preeminently, Paul prayed for the flock. His letters are filled with rich prayers, recorded for our benefit (see Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Col. 1:9-14). He begins his letter to the Thessalonians on the note of prayer:
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:2–3)
Pastoral ministry is parental ministry. That becomes plain to us as Paul lays bare his pastoral heart. The goal of every pastor is summed up in this parental metaphor: “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19)
So, back to Robert and Rosa. Did the pastor have any business getting into something so personal with this couple? Not only was it the pastor’s business, given to him by the Chief Shepherd, it would characterize his relationship with each of them as church members. The pastor had both the right and the responsibility to delve into the personal lives of his flock, as a parent does his children. He keeps watch over their souls (Heb. 13:17). He does so not to lord it over but to be that faithful parent who follows the Lord Jesus as do they.