1 Thessalonians 5:12,13: God’s Leaders in the New Testament Church
In the first chapter, the Apostle thanked God for this church, which was an example to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia and because their testimony had reached across the country. If such a testimony was to continue, certain basic responsibilities to the church leadership, within the leaders themselves, and within the church as a whole were absolutely necessary. (1 Thessalonians 1:2,3).
The leaders are not named, however, one thing is apparent, this church was not left without pastors to minister after Paul and his team were gone. We know that there were elders ordained over the church at Ephesus, and over the churches in Crete (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5), and that there were bishops and deacons at Philippi Philemon 1:1, and there is every reason to believe that similar officers would be appointed in every newly organized church.
There may have been some friction developing toward some of the church leaders. So Paul admonishes them to, “recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” (Verses 12,13). Pastors need to be properly recognized as God’s appointed leaders, who are concerned about our spiritual welfare. Therefore, remember that and live at peace with them, and esteem them, and love them because they are concerned about you.
Christians are to recognize (appreciate) their leaders, and leaders are described in three ways.
1. “Those who labor among you.” Leaders are recognized not by their title but by their service. A title is fine; but only if the title is true and if the title describes what that person really is before God and man.
2. “And are over you in the Lord.” Leaders are recognized as being ‘over’ the congregation in the sense of ruling and providing headship, as a shepherd is over the sheep. This describes a clear and legitimate order of authority.
3. “And admonish you.” Leaders are recognized as those who admonish the congregation. To admonish means ‘to caution or to reprove gently; to warn.’ Morris says of this word, ‘While its tone is brotherly, it is big-brotherly.’” –David Guzik
Verse 12a: “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize (appreciate, honor, respect)…”
“Recognize them. Be aware of them. Do not take them for granted. I know of churches where pastors are treated as hired servants; they are there to respond to the whims of the board of the church or the vote of the congregation. They are treated with little or no respect and at times are severely mistreated. That is a shame. Here the apostle is saying, ‘Get to know your leaders. Understand that they are people and do not ignore them.’” –Ray Stedman
“Recognize,” means to have respect for their office, and treat them accordingly, “I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men” (1 Corinthians 16:17,18). “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). The Thessalonian church being newly planted, the ministers were novices which may account for the people treating them with less respect.
Verse 12b: “…those who labor among you…”
“Labor,” in Greek is kopiao; the word labor implies diligent work, causing weariness, as 1 Timothy 5:17, “…who labor in the word and doctrine…” which shows the nature of the work of the ministry, it is hard work; they have the work of preaching, teaching, and overseeing the ministries of the church, to exhibit great effort and exertion, to the point of sweat and exhaustion.
“Kopiao does not stress the amount of work, but rather the effort. A man’s reward from God is proportional to the excellence of his ministry and the effort he puts into it. Excellence combined with diligence mark a man worthy of the highest honor.” MacArthur
Pastors spend hours working in difficult and sometimes demeaning work. Counseling is particularly tiring. Preparing lessons and sermons takes many hours every week. Contrary to what some people think, it is not true that pastors work only one day a week. The ministry is a very demanding job.
It takes the average minister about 15-20 hours to prepare a sermon, add to that another 15-20 hours if he teaches a adult Sunday School class, plus more preparation if the church has Sunday evening services. At one church I pastored years ago, I preached at 8:30am on Sunday, then taught an adult Bible class at 10am, then preached again at 11am, and again at 6pm. Needless to say, I was ready for bed on Sunday night. That’s why most ministers take Monday off! Unless he has members in the hospital, counseling appointments or a wedding or a funeral on Monday
Verse 12c: “…and are over you in the Lord and admonish you…”
The Greek word for “over you” is proistemi, it literally means those who are put or placed before you or over you, to preside, lead, or direct. It has the basic meaning of “standing before” others and, hence, the idea of leadership. It describes one who presides over others, and exercises a position of leadership (rule, direct, be at the head of). The same word is translated “rule” in 1 Timothy 5:17. It implies the superintendence of the elders or pastors over their respective flocks…in the Lord.
Verse 13a: “…and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”
“Esteem” in Greek is doxazó, meaning, to set a high value on; to prize; to regard with reverence, respect, glorify, honor, bestow glory on. In this present context Paul is calling for saints to make a conscious judgment of their leaders after deliberate weighing of the facts, for example, their diligent labor even to the point of exhaustion among them. The present tense calls for the flock to continually esteem regard their leaders, “very highly,” literally, beyond measure!
“In love,” in the sphere or atmosphere of unconditional, giving love as is seen in Spirit filled believers.
Verse 13b: “Be at peace among yourselves.”
This is not a suggestion but a command for this to be their lifestyle. The believer's mindset is to be one of continual, complete dependence on, and yielding to God's Spirit Who alone makes possible for believers to live at peace with one another. There may have been some conflict in the church about their leaders. Perhaps that is why Paul is writing to them, to correct the problem.
So please allow me to leave the verse by verse exposition of this passage to bring a message about leadership in God’s Church.
Most denomination churches have either a Congregational, Presbyterian or Episcopal form of church government (polity):
Congregational or democratic: The congregation as a whole makes all of the decisions for the church. This form is not found in the New Testament! This form of church government, places the pastor or elder in the position of being led or directed by the sheep he is supposed to be leading. Most Baptist, Pentecostal and some Independent churches claim to use this form, but careful examination will usually find a dictatorship in place.
Presbyterian: This form places of the decisions of the church into the hands of a select group of elders who oversee the pastor, who, in turn is over the congregation. The problem again is that this system pus God’s appointed leader under those he is supposed to be leading.
Episcopal: A bishop, or someone similar in stature oversees the churches, appoints pastors, sets policy and guides the vision of the local congregations. This leaves no room for the leading of the Holy Spirit in the local congregation.
The New Testament form of church government is very simple, it is not a complex bureaucracy. Committees and subcommittees are virtually nonexistent. Basically, the pastor is responsible for the local congregation. He is responsible to hear from God, responsible to love, care for and feed the flock of God, the church. He is the one who will answer to God for the church in which God has called him to serve. Church organization is de-emphasized, only enough organization that is needed to run the day-to-day church affairs is instituted. The pastor, with other spiritually qualified leaders, guides the church as they are led by the Holy spirit.
Who’s in charge around here? How many times have we heard that in our lifetime, and in the church? Multitude is the number of churches through the years that have been torn apart by that question! I know of pastors, needless to say that I was one of them who have wished they could be a Moses watching the earth open up and swallow the dissenters.
Who are the leaders in the New Testament church?
First, the pastor, poimen in Greek, meaning “shepherd.” The tasks of a shepherd in Bible times were: to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep; to defend the sheep from the attackers; to heal the wounded and sick sheep; to find and save lost or trapped sheep; and to love them.
The word poimen is found 16 times in the New Testament. The word “pastor is only in Ephesians 4:11 where it is translated “pastor/teacher, which is one office, “also termed “teaching elder” or “ruling elder.” “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). BTW: “Honor” in Greek is time, meaning, a price paid, value, wages, worth, which indicates paid leaders in the church.
“Elder” in Greek is presbuteros, denoting an older person, a mature person having seasoned judgment.
“Bishop” in Greek is episkopos, translated overseer.
Poimen, pastor, presbuteros, elder and episkopos, oveseer are interchangeable in the New Testament, only their function is different.
Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos), to shepherd (poimen) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
1 Peter 2:25, “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
1 Peter 5:1,2, “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly,[a] not for dishonest gain but eagerly.”
Note that all three terms (poimen, presbuteros, episkopos are used interchangeably in this verse. All three terms are used for the same church leaders, and all identify those who lead and feed the church, yet each one has a unique emphasis.
From God’s viewpoint every pastor is an elder and every elder has a pastor’s heart.
“Each is to be a guardian of souls, one who watches over their welfare. The superintendent, head or overseer of any Christian church. Those who presided over the assemblies.” –Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
From the earliest beginnings of the church is was clear that a group of mature, spiritual leaders was designated to have the responsibility for the church. Every believer is indebted, directly or indirectly to these special called, gifted leaders that God has ordained to lead the church. Through their teaching, preaching, writing, exhortation and other ministries, they lead the lost to Christ, edify (build up) the saints, and encourage believers to, “walk worthy” (Ephesians 4:1).
“The pastor teaches, though he has to solicit his own classes. He heals, though without pills or knife. He is sometimes a lawyer, often a social worker, something of an editor, a bit of a philosopher and entertainer. He’s a salesman, a decorative piece for public functions. And he is supposed to be a scholar. He visits the sick, marries people, buries their dead, labors to console those who sorrow, and to admonish those who are in sin, and he tries to stay sweet when chided for not doing his duty. He plans programs, appoints committees, when he can get anyone to serve on them, spends a considerable amount of time in keeping people out of each other's hair. In his spare time he prepares sermons and preaches them on Sunday to those who don't happen to have any other engagement. Then, on Monday, he smiles when someone without a clue, chides, ‘What a great job–––Only has to work one day a week.’” –Source unknown
The pastor is to care for and feed the flock (1 Peter 5:2). Poimen emphasizes the role of caring and feeding, although the idea of leadership is inherent in the picture of a shepherd. To qualify as a pastor, one must have a shepherd’s caring heart. His special calling is “equip” the saints (Ephesians 4:12). He does this by preaching the word of God… “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
The pastor is the one. “To whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow. Such ministry fulfills its God-ordained purpose for ministry, and unifies the church in Christian faith and knowledge.” –Thayer
The pastor-teacher, ruling elder, is the visionary servant-leader, who is to be the voice of God to the people of God in a specific location. His primary function is to feed, train, equip, admonish, encourage, lead, protect and care for the flock of God.
The sum total of the pastor’s responsibility is:
•Determine church policy (Acts 15:22).
•Oversee the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).).
•Rule, teach and preach (1 Timothy 5:17).
•Exhort (encourage) and convict (Titus 1:9).
•Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-3).
•Disciple (train) others to be leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).
•Care for the spiritual welfare of the church (1 Peter 5:2).
•Equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11,12).
•Warn, and lead the flock to maturity (Colossians 1:28; 4”12)>
Here’s somebody’s idea of the ideal pastor:
The ideal pastor is difficult to find. But if your church is fortunate, you may be able to secure his services. Since he is the ideal pastor, it won’t cost very much – he lives by faith. Yet he can be counted upon to tithe heavily and still be able to afford a large house in which he will regularly entertain the entire congregation. He loves the older folks of the church, visiting them regularly. Besides this, he spends all of his time with the young people. The glow on his face reveals his secret. He’s spent many hours on his knees before God. However, he’s always available to anyone who drops by for a friendly chat. What’s a half-hour out of his schedule since he only works on Sunday anyway.
The ideal pastor loves to disciple new converts and gives full-time attention to calling on the elderly, sick, and shut-ins. He has a model family, is always in the church office when you call and is busy at the hospital, just looking for a soul to comfort. He would never miss a church function, and attends every function sponsored by the ministerial association. In addition, he meets all his neighbors and civic leaders within the community and wins their hearts too.
The ideal pastor has a worldwide ministry through television, radio, tapes, and books and he travels extensively preaching the Word, but is never absent form any church function. And he still has time, however, to listen to everyone’s problems and wants to be updated on the progress of your bunions and backaches.
The ideal pastor is only 29 years old and has been preaching for 30 years. He preaches sermons that win the hearts of the lost and inspire the minds of the mature. He produces miracles like Jesus, teaches faith like the Apostle Paul, evangelizes like Billy Graham, has the eloquence of Spurgeon and the fervor of Moody. Yet he is so profoundly simple that even preschoolers are blessed. Teenagers take notes on his sermons.
The ideal pastor comprehends the complexity of church finances, has mastery of the church budget, and never talks about money. He is a strong believer in holiness and church discipline and never speaks a stern word to anyone.
The ideal pastor is easily spotted. Just look for the man dressed in the latest style suit and color coordinated shirt and necktie. He found it at the bottom of the missionary barrel, but knows how important it is to impress well-to-do newcomers with clothes that say "success" and "achievement."
The ideal pastor is tall, short, lean, and husky, with brown hair and blond hair. He has a deep, resonant voice which, because it is quietly loud, pleases everyone and is audible to the hard of hearing. He can sing, lead music, and delegates authority to everyone. Besides this, he helps each layman and does all the things other people are too busy to do. In short, he keeps the entire church and each family running smoothly.
You are probably sure by now that you don’t have the ideal pastor. Take heart! You can easily re-shape your present pastor. He should listen to what you say, after all, he is God’s servant. On the other hand, if you happen to have the ideal pastor, just wait a little while and you won’t. He’ll be confined to a room at the hospital. –Modified slightly from The Evangelical Beacon
The pastor’s qualifications:
“Blameless, totally dedicated to one woman, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, gentle, not violent, not quarrelsome, not greedy for money, not covetous, one who rules his own house well, not a novice, has a good testimony with everyone, not accused of dissipation or insubordination, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, a lover of what is good, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word” (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Here's a good formula for praying for your pastor:
•Pray for your pastor's relationship with God. That he would be a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).
•Pray that he would be a man of the Word. Psalm 119:11: “Your Word have I treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Pray that he would choose God's Word to guide his every step. Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a good man are established by the Lord, and he delights in His way.”
•Pray that he would experience a growing and deepening relationship with God in prayer. James 4:8: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
•Pray that he would be a Spirit-filled man of faith and love. Ephesians 3:14-19: That He would grant your (pastor) to be strengthened with power through His Spirit…That he may be filled with all the fullness of God.
•Pray that he would be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).
•Pray that he would intercede for his people and instruct them with confidence and without fear.
•Pray that he would know the hearts and needs of God's people and would be able to minister to them accordingly (1 Samuel 12:23; Romans 10:9,10a).
•Pray that he would have a fruitful ministry (John 15:16).
•Pray that he would be sensitive to the Lord, as he prepares and delivers God’s messaage.
•Pray that his relationship with his family would be loving, unselfish, respectful, understanding, honoring, guiding, and harmonious. (Ephesians 5:25,33).
Pastors are needy people! They are God's chosen leaders to move his kingdom forward. Faithful, intelligent intercession will release them to be all God wants them to be.
A Pastor's Prayer:
I do not ask that crowds may throng the temple,
That standing room be priced;
I only ask that as I voice the message,
You may see Christ.
I do not ask for churchly pomp or pageant,
Or music such as wealth alone can buy;
I only ask that I voice the message,
He may be nigh.
I do not ask that men may sound my praises,
Or that headlines spread my name abroad;
I only pray that as I voice the message'
Hearts may find God.
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).