5 Don'ts of Pastoral Ministry

In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul outlines the character and practices of a godly pastoral ministry. What he writes is a sobering reminder to all pastors, and to churches, of the standards and challenges of the pastoral ministry. His technique for outlining a faithful pastoral ministry is interesting. In vs 3-6 he states five negatives of pastoral ministry, and in 7-12 five positives of pastoral ministry. While Paul wrote pre-eminently about himself and did not intend this passage to be a comprehensive view of pastoralia, the fact that he deals in principles lends a timeless quality to his teaching. Indeed, pastors would do well frequently to re-acquaint themselves with these principles. We want to consider the negatives or “don’ts” of pastoral ministry--all of which are set against the backdrop of Paul’s boldness in preaching the gospel in the midst of suffering (1 Thess.2:1-2). Consider the supremely important context: Suffering in the pastorate tends to fuel the temptation for ministers to run to the “don’ts” of which Paul speaks in 1 Thess. 2:3-6.

First, Paul speaks of the content and motive of his ministry, our appeal does not spring from error or impurity”(3). It seems Paul has both content (“error”) and motivation (“impurity”) in view when writing this. What Paul taught was the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, which is why he found himself in frequent troubles (c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Faithful preaching is what the Christian pastor is called to, and subsequently, suffering for the same message is to be expected. Moreover, Paul addresses the motives for preaching the gospel. Elsewhere (Philippians 1: 12-18), motivation for gospel preaching had been an issue in the church, but not for Paul. He did not preach from impure motives, but was a man called by God to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Second, Paul speaks of the goal of his preaching, “so we speak, not to please man, but to please God” (4). Every minister of the gospel knows this temptation, that of man-pleasing. The minister who has not experienced the displeasure of man is the minister who has not preached the truth. To see visible disagreement with what you are preaching, while you are preaching, is simply, unnerving. The temptation is to curtail or dilute the message in some way, so as to avoid conflict. That however, would be to please man, not God. To fear man more than God is the death-knell of the pastoral ministry. A few years ago I officiated at the funeral of a gospel minister; one commendation made of him was this “he was more willing to offend men than God”. As we preach with sensitivity (not looking for trouble) and clarity, may this be said of us also, as gospel ministers.

Third, Paul speaks of the manner of his preaching, “for we never came with words of flattery” (5). What is flattery? Well, most certainly it is man-pleasing, but ultimately flattery is deception. It is speak well (usually untruthfully) of someone in order that they might think well of you, or not treat you spitefully. Flattery is inherently deceptive and it is impossible to be a flattering preacher and be faithful to the message of Scripture. It is impossible to preach that men are dead in sin, that salvation is of God’s sovereign grace, and that man cannot bring about his own salvation, even co-operatively, if you are flattering your hearers.  And so flattery does not belong in the pulpit. Flattery was a common part of both Greco-Roman popular and legal culture; in short, Paul is saying his preaching was not like the world around about him, not in message, not in manner.

Fourth, Paul returning to his motives, states he was not in it for personal gain, “nor with a pretext for greed”(5). Though a “labourer is worth his wages”, as he would later write to Timothy, and though he could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thess 2:6,9), his ministry was neither about financial or reputation gain. One does not engage the pastoral ministry to indebt people to one’s self, nor to get rich off their backs. Should pastors be paid well? Of course - where that is possible. However, the more money involved in the pastorate, human nature being what it is, the more temptation there is to greed and other associated sins. The whole of a pastor’s ministry must be conducted under the umbrella “he must increase, and I must decrease”.

Fifth, Paul speaks of the goal and motivation of his ministry, Nor did we seek glory from people”. Note that Paul raises this issue several times in his list of negatives, presumably because the pull of reputation is so naturally great in pastors, and only accentuated by the pressures which the pastorate places on such men. It is a solemn warning for each pastor to watch over his heart. Moreover, church members that put their pastors on pedestals and idolize them are not only sinning against God, but doing immeasurable damage to their pastor’s ministry. Glory goes to God. Thanks may go to faithful pastors and ultimately to God, but glory only goes to God.  

Matthew Holst