“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).
While the passage above is only two verses long, it offers an extraordinary amount of practical information that reveals God’s will for interacting with church leaders. While it may be easy to critique the idiosyncrasies, personality traits, or perceived shortcomings of a spiritual leader, this passage should make us stop and think before doing so.
For instance, consider the Biblical qualifications for pastoral ministers as found within the New Testament book of 1 Timothy…
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-7).
We should keep these stringent qualifications in mind whenever we are tempted to criticize those who serve within a pastoral ministry. In addition to communicating the Word of God, we should also consider the staggering variety of issues that clergy members must address as representatives of Christ. These include (but are certainly not limited to)…
- Health-related concerns of every kind.
- Matters related to death and the grieving process.
- Marital, family, and single-parent issues, including infidelity, abandonment, child and spousal abuse, elder-care, extended-family relationships, and parenting concerns.
- Addictive and self-destructive behaviors.
- Suicides and attempted suicides.
- Legal, financial, and employment-related concerns.
- Ministering to those who are institutionalized or cannot leave their homes.
- Interacting with governmental authorities, including those that are indifferent, averse, or openly hostile to Christianity.
These are the types of issues that pastoral leaders must face with courage, strength, care, wisdom, compassion. and spiritual discernment. Therefore, we would do well to measure our assessment of church leaders through the lens of Jesus’ message from the Sermon on the Mount…
“… you will be judged by the way you criticise others, and the measure you give will be the measure you receive” (Matthew 7:2 Phillips).