Look at 1st Timothy 3:1 with me again: “The saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The task of pastoring is a noble one. The pastoral office is a noble office. There is a dignity to it. God has established this office, and he has set it apart and given it this dignity.
Friends, it is good for our own souls and for the souls of others to work to maintain the nobility of the pastoral office. As soon as we start denigrating this office, refusing to esteem it as we ought, we put needless obstacles in the way of our benefiting from our pastors. If you think little of the pastoral office, then you will not value preaching, and you will not value the Sunday gatherings. If you think little of the pastoral office, you will not value the counsel of your pastors, the example of your pastors, the exhortations and admonitions of your pastors. In other words, so much of the good that God seeks to do in your life through your pastors will be hindered.
So I want to frame our study this way: How can we continue to protect the nobility of the pastoral office? Especially in a day when the pastoral office is being constantly denigrated both by church members and pastors themselves?
Here are seven answers to how we can protect the nobility of the pastoral office.
Here is the first answer: We should treat the office of pastor with respect by taking great care not to put someone in the office who is not qualified. There is a reason God gives us 1st Timothy 3:1-7! Notice the warnings that are there. Notice in verse 6 that putting a man into the pastoral office before he is ready can ultimately lead that man to hell. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” That’s serious. Look at the next verse: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” When you put a man who Is unqualified into office, you put his soul in danger!
Look at 1st Timothy 5:22. There Paul says to Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others…” This shows us several things. First, Timothy, who was already serving as a pastor in Ephesus, was to lead the way in appointing other pastors. Its’ because of verses like these that we don’t believe pastor search committees are the best ways to bring on pastors. Rather, those who have already been appointed and shown to be qualified are to lead the way in appointing others.
But this comes with a heavy responsibility. Paul seems to be saying that by hastily appointing someone to be a pastor, Timothy himself would have a part in the sins of that pastor. Timothy will bear some responsibility for the damage that is done by putting a man in office recklessly.
Second, we should treat the office of pastor with respect in the way we install pastors into office. In the New Testament, it appears that church leaders would lay their hands on him as a sign of their solidarity with him and support for him. Moreover, this was a way of blessing him, calling for God’s grace and power to be at work in him. Paul not only speaks of this in 5:22, but also in 4:14. There he reminds Timothy of that day when the council of elders laid hands on him. For the rest of his life Timothy would look back on that day and remember the sacred task to which he had been called.
This was done in a public way. By having a special time of installation through the laying on of hands and asking God to bless, the church showed that this was a big deal. This is how it should be with us. When we bring a new pastor into the leadership of our church, the whole church ought to gather. This ought to be a day of celebration and rejoicing, a day of thanksgiving to God and a day of great prayer for the future. It is no small moment, because this is no small office. Christ’s ministers are a great gift to His Church.
Third, we should treat the office of pastor with respect by relating to our pastors in love. Look with me at 1st Thessalonians 5:12-13 and let’s spend a few moments here. Here is what we read: “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.”
Here, Paul is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, and he addresses specifically the relationship that church members are to have with their pastors. There’s a few things I want us to note here. The first thing to notice is that Paul calls these church members brothers. The word is adelphoi, as in the word Philadelphia. It refers to siblings – to brothers and sisters. Though he is an apostle, with authority over these believers, Paul addresses these Christians as fellow members of the family of God.
This is important to remember as we think about the relationship between pastors and church members. The sharp distinction between clergy and laity that claims that clergy are somehow cut off and different from laity is simply unbiblical. Pastors and church members are all part of the same spiritual family, and all have their gifts and callings. Though pastors are over others by virtue of their office, at the end of the day they are still brothers in Christ to their church members. Thus, Paul told Timothy in 1st Timothy 5 to treat older men in his church as fathers, older women in his church as mothers, younger men in his church as brothers, and younger women in his church as sisters. Mount Hermon, we are a church family – we are united with a bond that will last into eternity. Our earthly families are temporary, but this family isn’t. We are to treat each other as family members, full of love and honor for one another.
The second thing to notice here is that we are to respect our pastors. The word used here is an interesting one: it literally means “to see”. It was used not of seeing with your physical eyes, but of seeing with your mind. Sometimes we’ll say, “Oh, I see what you mean.” That’s the kind of “seeing” this word refers to. It means to take notice of, to acknowledge
So the point is that we as Christians are not to take our pastors for granted. We are to take note of them, the work they do, and the service they offer to our souls. We are to know our pastors. And this is not a shallow knowledge, but a knowledge that comes from having conversations with them. Christians should regularly talk to their pastors, coming to them with their questions and issues of conscience. Their counsel and thoughts are to be sought after. Over time, a mutually caring relationship should form. Certainly our pastors can do us little good on a personal level if we don’t really know them. Similarly, we can do them little good if we do not know them.
We are to acknowledge the office that pastors have, and show appropriate respect because of the dignity of that office. We are to remember that pastors come to us as ambassadors of Christ, and are weak, fallen, but true instruments in the hands of Christ for our good. We are to know our pastors as brothers in Christ, but also as under-shepherds to whom we owe esteem and honor.
To help us, Paul draws our attention to the work of pastors. He reminds the Thessalonian Christians that their pastors are laboring among them, overseeing their souls, and admonishing them. The word labor is meant to remind us that the work of pastors is just that – true work. Any pastor who is fulfilling his calling will be able to testify that the work he does is labor – happy labor, I hope – but still labor. Moreover, there is an added weight to the work because it is a work of authority. Souls are entrusted to their care. The stakes are high. If pastors fail at their work, it isn’t the same as failing at some other work. If a lawyer loses his case, or a doctor misdiagnoses a condition, those failures are significant and not to be demeaned. But if a pastor fails at his work and leads those people under his care away from Christ, the consequences are eternal. On top of this, pastors have the difficult task of being responsible to bring correction to souls. How many of us like being corrected? How many of us enjoy having our sins pointed out to us? To do this work, and to do it with genuine love, often brings a lot of inner-stress and heartache. In light of all these aspects of a pastor’s work, Paul encourages us to take note of our shepherds.
He then says that we are to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. To esteem them simply means that we hold our pastors in high regard. We are to do this in our own hearts and minds, and we are to do this in our speech and behavior. Even when we have disagreements with our pastors, we are not to speak in a way that dishonors them. We are to honor them in the way we speak of them before others. We should seek to intentionally speak highly of our pastors before our children and grandchildren, so that they will learn to esteem this office.
Paul could have simply said that we are to esteem our pastors, but instead he adds the double emphasis – very highly. We are not simply to respect them, but we are to respect them to a great degree. This is to be a serious matter to us. We are not to take the name of the LORD our God in vain, and pastors serve us in God’s name. We are to show no tolerance, then, for a disrespecting of our leaders. We are to go to great lengths to protect the dignity of the pastoral office.
We are to do this in love. That is really the key of what I want us to see here. There is to be a real love that is shared between pastors and church members. The relationship is not to be a superficial, formal, shallow one, but a relationship of genuine care and concern. Our pastors are we to rejoice with us when we rejoice and weep with us when we weep. We are to rejoice with them as they rejoice and weep with them as they weep. Love should be at the center of a church’s relationship with its pastors.
Why? Again, Paul draws our attention to the work of pastors. The weightiness of the work, the importance of it for our souls, these call us to love our pastors. These men have taken on the obligation of helping us make it safely to heaven. They’ve taken our concerns as their own. They are devoting their time to praying for us and to preparing messages or Firm Foundations lessons that will edify and encourage us. If I know myself, I know that being a shepherd to me cannot be very easy – especially since my flesh doesn’t even want a shepherd. Therefore, any man willing to take on this difficult task ought to have my love.
And then, Paul adds this last thing: Be at peace among yourselves. Do you want to know one of the most important ways that we can bless our pastors, honor them and show them love? It is by being at peace with one another. When church members are divided, striving against one another, doing one another harm, it makes a pastor’s work to be a terrible burden. It tempts a pastor to be devoid of joy in his work, and instead to be plagued by sadness and anxiety for the sheep under his care. And so, Paul calls us to bless our pastors by being at peace with one another. So all of this is an example
Fourth, we should treat the office of pastor with respect by submitting ourselves to our pastors. Look with me at Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Imagine two shepherds, each caring for a flock of sheep. One flock of sheep is very submissive to its shepherd. The sheep come when he calls, go where he leads, enter into the sheepfold when it is time to rest at the end of the day. That shepherd is happy, singing with joy as he leads these faithful sheep. The other flock refuses to come when its shepherd calls. He tries to lead them, but they won’t follow. The sheep constantly bite and attack one another. At the end of the day, the shepherd is running this way and that, frantically trying to gather all the sheep into the sheepfold. This shepherd is unhappy, frustrated, stressed. My question is this: which sheep are likely to be best served? Which sheep are likely to have the most benefits, be the healthiest and happiest?
How do we submit to our pastors? First, realizing that pastors are first and foremost men of the Word, we must come to be fed. Don’t be like sheep on a hunger strike. Pastors spend hours and hours in prayer, study, preparation to care for you through preaching and teaching. Nothing discourages a pastor more than seeking to care for sheep who won’t eat. Come to the worship services. Come to Sunday School classes and the Wednesday night meetings if you are at all able to do so. Empty rooms discourage the few who come; full rooms encourage not only the pastors but all in the church. It’s the sign of a healthy flock
Don’t just come, however, but come eager to receive. Come hungry, ready to be served. Pay attention. Take notes if it helps you. Please understand, I am well aware that listening to a sermon often requires hard work and discipline. It’s so easy for us to get sidetracked in our thoughts, caught up in what we need to get done in the coming week. Sundays, however, are rest days. They are days for putting those thoughts away and feasting on God’s truth. Come ready to feast, and feast well. Don’t come sit at the table and then just pick at the food. Devour it! Talk about it with your family after the service. Discuss it with others. Pray about what you have heard. Meditate on it. Trust me, this makes pastors joyful!
Of course, what makes pastors most joyful of all is when they see real change occurring in the lives of the people they serve. When Christians actually believe and obey what they are being shown in the Word of God – nothing makes a true pastor happier. Godly pastors do not exist to preach their own ideas – they love the Word of God and long to see others conform to it. When Christians live obediently, putting into practice what they are hearing – there is just nothing sweeter than that.
Fifth, we should treat the office of pastor with respect by caring for the needs of our pastors. Turn with me again to First Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘the laborer deserves his wages’”.
Paul uses the phrase “double honor” here. All pastors are worthy of honor because of the office they hold. There is a kind of honor and respect that is to be shown to all pastors, even those who are not fulfilling the office well, because of the nobility of their office. We often here people speak of public offices this way. We should honor the president because he is the president, even if we disagree with his policies and the decision is making. There is a base honor that all pastors are to receive.
But certain pastors are to be given double honor – honor not only for the nobility of their office, but for the way they are fulfilling that office. Those who rule well – they lead and oversee the church well – these are to be worthy of this honor. What’s more, Paul particularly singles out those who labor at preaching and teaching. When a pastor takes the Word of God seriously, and gives his all into preaching and teaching well, serving up truly nourishing and sumptuous feasts to God’s people – that pastor is to be worthy of this double honor.
There are lots of ways that we can show honor to those who lead us. In verse 18, however, we see that the kind of honor Paul has particularly in mind is the kind that shows itself in the practical care of pastors. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, which told Israel that they were not to muzzle the mouth of an ox when the ox is treading the grain. Oxen eat grain, and it would not be right to make the ox work in and among the grain and yet not be allowed to eat of it. The ox’s work among the grain will serve the family; the family ought to make sure the ox is well-served as well. The other verse Paul quotes actually seems to be a statement of Jesus when He was sending the 72 followers out to preach the gospel. Jesus told them that as they went from city to city, preaching the gospel, it was right for them to be welcomed into homes and to receive the food and hospitality of the people they were serving. They were not to feel guilty for doing this; it was right for these folks who were being served by the disciples to have an opportunity to care for them. In fact, if they came to a town where the people would not receive them, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on to the next town. Jesus said that those towns that would not take them in would fare worse on the day of judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah.
So the laborer deserves his wages, and it is a very poor testimony when churches fail to meet the needs of their pastors. As we look forward to bringing on a lay-pastor, the circumstances will be different than in caring for a "full-time" pastor. A lay-pastor is typically supported at least in part by other work. In many cases, a lay-pastor already has a full-time job that supports him and his family. But that doesn’t mean that a church has no obligation to that man. Churches should always keep close tabs on the financial and material needs of their pastors, and be quick to jump in when there is a need.
Sixth, we should treat the office of pastor with respect by praying daily for our pastors. Pastors bear a huge responsibility. Not only are they responsible for the continual study of God’s Word, the preparing of messages, preaching and teaching from the pulpit. They are also responsible for providing counsel to those who are hurting and struggling. Pastors bear the weight of not only the concerns of their own families, but the concerns of many, many others that are brought to their attention. Pastors are given the sacred duty of helping prepare Christ’s Bride for the great Wedding Day. If we really understand the gravity of the pastoral office, we will pray often for our pastors. If we understand the role they are to play in our spiritual growth, and the danger we are in if they do their job poorly, we will pray! When we remember that our pastors are just men, with limited gifts, limited understanding, limited strength, and their own sins and foibles – we will pray!
Seventh, we should treat the office of pastor with respect in the way we fire pastors. There are two points to be made here. The first is made in 1st Timothy 5:19: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” The point is that we should exercise caution when we hear bad reports about our pastors, and not believe every accusation we hear. Pastors are particularly vulnerable to slanderous attacks simply because they are public figures. We are to be charitable to all people, and we should never assume the worst, but rather, presume the best until the worst has been proven to us. Be that way towards one another, not just pastors. Don’t be quick to assume the worst about each other, but in Christian love hope the best.
The second point is made in the following verse: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” The point is that when a pastor does continue in sin, it is not to be taken lightly. The pastor needs to be dealt with in a way that lets the whole church know that sin is dangerous and deadly. Pastors who abuse their office by living in sin and refusing to repent are disqualified by 1st Timothy 3:1-7 and should be removed from their positions (and in most cases the membership of the church. cf. Matthew 18:10-20) The dignity of the pastoral office means that when a pastor has dishonored that office, he should be disciplined in such a way that shows to everyone the high honor of that office.
Now, what does all this have to do with Jesus? Pastors are simply instruments in the hands of Christ whereby Jesus washes His Bride and prepares her for Himself. So ultimately pastors should be for us arrows pointing to Christ. If pastor is faithful and serves us well, we should see this as an expression of Jesus’ love for us – it is Jesus who by His Spirit is working through that pastor to bless you. So let us love our Savior, and praise Him, for being so good to us.