Studies in I Thessalonians: Marks of a Faithful Pastor, Part 1
What makes a model, faithful, exemplary pastor? Like many areas of contemporary church life, much confusion reigns in the congregation as to how to answer this question. Even among pastors, distractions, discouragements and detours abound. Entertainment culture mandates he be smooth, attractive and most of all, funny. Business culture says he must be a strong leader who can fill the pews and grow the bottom line. Celebrity evangelical culture says he must have some published books under his belt and be popular on the conference trail.
But do any of these things necessarily describe a faithful pastor in God’s eyes?
As we move into chapter two of I Thessalonians, we get a glimpse into Paul’s pastoral heart. From this faithful man, we learn much about being both shepherds and sheep, both what to look for and how to pray once you find him.
The longer I study this epistle, the more I’m ready to dub it the fourth pastoral epistle. Not because Paul writes to a singular pastor like Timothy or Titus but because he says so much in chapters 1-3 about being a pastor to these dear saints that becomes timeless principles for the church age.
Like often the case, Paul’s motives and actions have come under fire from gospel opponents. So he mounts something of a defense of “you yourselves know.” Four times he reminds them of what they observed in his own life (2:1, 5, 9 and 10). Faithful pastoring involves a careful and ongoing godly example.
In making this defense, Paul sets forth timeless marks of any model pastor or missionary.
Mark #1 A faithful pastor shows up armed with the gospel, not empty handed (2:1-2).
He steps into each ministry moment locked and loaded and I don’t mean drunk! He’s ready for spiritual warfare not Pat-a-Cake. He’s not empty-headed or empty-handed. He doesn’t blabber on without content or substance. The gospel gives him gravitas, not levity.
A faithful pastor doesn’t give mere history lessons, political discourses or patriotic speeches. He’s not a motivational speaker disguised as a preacher. Rather, he announces and proclaims and explains the exclusive way to God through Jesus Christ alone!
He’s unrestrained with God’s good news of full and free salvation for condemned children of wrath. He’s called to preach Christ crucified and risen, not man glorified by his own moralistic feats!
A faithful pastor must be bold in God, not in his knowledge or seminary degrees or experience; confident in the Sovereign, not his own force of personality. As all true gospel preaching brings opposition, yet he must be bold despite this resistance, yet never mean-spirited or impatient.
He must resist the “ministry as a career” temptation, for he is not a professional among cultural elites. Rather, he’s a little “p” prophet of God armed with the gospel, God’s power unto salvation!
Mark #2 A faithful pastor is tested and approved by God (vv.3-4a).
Like a C.P.A. is tested before being licensed. Like medical boards before she can hold herself out as a doctor, so a faithful pastor must be approved by God before he is allowed to practice spiritual medicine on others.
A true pastor is never self-appointed or self-called and rarely even self-educated. Christians should be leery of maverick, unaccountable church planters, missionaries or pastors who do their own thing without any accountability structures in place.
If the gospel is a newspaper, pastors are not the writers or publishers. We are not even editors. We are merely delivery boys who handle a priceless treasure in God’s house and safely deliver it to the doorsteps of men’s hearts.
Being approved by God, you won’t find him ensnared in aimless wordiness. He’s not a theological airhead. He knows immanence from transcendence and imputed from imparted righteousness. He knows Micah from Malachi and Ephesians from Colossians and Law from Gospel. He’s a man of the Book.
Nor does he speak from personal impurity. His preaching doesn’t give vent to a mind filled with filth or worldly matters. He’s not preaching to look good to the ladies. (You laugh, but it happens).
Nor does he preach from a heart of deceit. He’s not cunning, tricky, misleading or guilty of giving people false hope or flattery. He’s not always talking of heaven while leading people to hell.
To sum up, his message is not dumb, dirty or deceiving, which of course is an apt description of false teachers.
Mark #3 A faithful pastor speaks to please God, not man (v.4b).
How much tom foolery does this alone eliminate? A faithful man of God speaks to please God, not make friends or grow a crowd of fans or followers. He’s not about stroking the inflated egos of the VIP’s in the church or community. He does not tickle ears to keep donors happy or sell the gospel to the highest bidder. He’s not about making sinners feel good about themselves while they stay in their sin and refuse to yield to King Jesus. He preaches to help sinners feel good about Jesus!
He speaks to please God and only God because no one else ultimately matters. In this he imitates Christ.
The kind of pastorate that Paul modeled looks like this. He showed up armed and ready to unleash the gospel because he was tested and approved by God and lived to please God and not man. To say it another way, a faithful pastor has the proper content, a personal call and a right motive.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight