Leadership is a popular topic. There are tons of books, conferences, seminars, podcasts, and blogs on the topic (This is ironic since I’m about to add to all the noise). We hear of methods, practices, models, examples, and game-plans worth modeling. I know, I have several such books on my shelves at home. This subject has been on my mind lately in a big way, due to me taking on my first leadership position in ministry. I was still striving to figure out my views on the idea of leading in a Christian vocation when I came across 1 Thessalonians 2:3-12.
Now I preface the following blog post with two things:
- I am young and not that experienced, with lots of room for growth
- There is way more to this passage than it being a treatise on pastoral leadership, that’s just my topic for this blog. Read it not as a sermon but as a topical summary.
Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica, a church that he helped birth. They were a church of incredible faith, ever-present hope, and brotherly love. In the middle of his letter to them, Paul gives a summary of how he led them in the birth of the church, and why he led them that way.
First we see in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 some qualities that we shouldn’t have as a leader.
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you known, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6
Paul speaks as to how he didn’t lead or act when they came to Thessalonica to present the gospel. But in his speech we see a condemnation on the type of behavior he’s adamantly asserting he didn’t walk in.
- A leader is not to be deceptive (v. 3). Paul didn’t manipulate or have a hidden agenda. He presented the gospel in purity and simplicity. We will see later in this passage why he was so straight-forward.
- A leader is not to be a people-pleaser (v. 4). It’s easy to sit on the fence when it comes to big decisions, schmoozing both sides, making sure that you’re well-liked by all who are under your leadership. But a leader is not to behave in such a way, flattering for the sake of approval.
- A leader is not to be greedy (v. 5). There’s a lot more to greed than just financial gain. A leader should not be in the business of striving for more power, prestige, control, or praise.
- A leader is not to be authoritarian (v. 6). Paul and Timothy could have made elaborate demands as apostles, but they didn’t for they were not in the business of seeking personal glory. It’s easy to become dictatorship and accountability-less in leadership, especially when you’re put on a pedestal. But a leader is not to be authoritarian.
In all of this, I want us to see Jesus Christ as the better leader. He is ultimately the example, and Paul strove to emulate Christ in everything he did. So when we talk about what makes a good leader, may we look to Jesus.
Jesus was not deceptive, He had no ulterior motives in the things He did. He came boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God, the good news. Jesus was not a people-pleaser. It seems to me that any time the masses were comfortable with Him, He re-defined what it meant to follow God to the point where people were not pleased. Jesus was not greedy, He was not a glory-hog. He was constantly giving the glory to God the Father. Jesus stepped off the throne of glory, and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross.
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. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 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 kingdom and glory. – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12
The unfortunate truth is that far too often knowledge and experience begin to cloud our compassion and love. This is too often the case in the church. Pastors lose their shepherding nature in exchange for a mind saturated with doctrine and theology. Paul shows us in this passage that we don’t need to separate the two. You can have love and compassion while also adamantly teaching right doctrine.
This list of exemplary leadership qualities that follows may make you feel like I’m writing to just pastors. While pastors and those in church leadership should definitely seek to grow these qualities, all Christians are called to emulate Christ in all we do. So regardless of what your vocation is, strive to lead like Christ.
- A leader should be sensitive to the needs of his followers (v. 7). Paul had a mother-like deep care for those whom he led. We too should strive to be sensitive to the needs of those we lead.
- A leader should value those under his care (v. 8). Paul had great brotherly affection for those who led in the church at Thessalonica. Far from treating his subordinates as just that, Paul came to love and have affection for all whom he led.
- A leader should be transparent and real (v. 8-10). Because of the pedestal of leadership, we can hold people at arm’s length. However, a good leader is a transparent one. We should be pointing others to Jesus, not ourselves.
- A leader should be encouraging (v. 11-12). Paul exhorted, encouraged, and supported those he led. Sometimes this came through hard words of hard truth, but it was always in the hopes of drawing people closer to God.
We see this in Jesus. Jesus was sensitive to the needs of His followers. He valued and treasured those who chose to follow Him. Jesus was transparent and real, allowing the disciples into his life in more than just once a week Bible meetings. They lived, ate, and had fun with Jesus. Jesus was encouraging. This came through some extremely hard teachings and harsh words. Yet all that Jesus did was to bring His followers closer to God and God’s glory.
Jesus was the better leader.
He’s worthy of following and emulating.
Lead like Jesus.
In His Name,
- I appreciate any and all feedback, and you can follow my blog via the menu. Also, special thanks to Charles Swindoll’s work on this passage.