“This is one of the great challenges of pastoral ministry, and therefore, of preaching too. We need to grow in sensitivity to the people we care for, and we need to grow in discernment too. Some of us will tend toward a harshness with others that will bruise and harm many of the sheep. Some of us will tend toward a tenderness toward everyone that will actually be unhelpful to some.”
In pastoral ministry, there is a great need for the right diagnosis of sheep. Just as a medical doctor cannot ignore the person in front of them and assume the same treatment will be equally effective for all, so the pastoral worker cannot assume all need the same type of care.
In John 11 Jesus arrived at Bethany after Lazarus had died. Martha and Mary both approached Jesus with exactly the same words, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus did not reply with identical statements. He gave Martha practical hope, but Mary emotional empathy. Jesus knew the people he was caring for and treated them as individuals.
In 1Thessalonians 5:12-14, Paul gives instructions to the church, that they should respect and esteem the leadership. And he gives instructions to the leadership. There are people who are idle – they need admonishing or exhorting. There are those who are fainthearted and discouraged – they need encouraging and comforting. There are those who are weak – they will need your devotion and help. And every one of them will need patience.
It would be profoundly ineffective to admonish the fainthearted, help the idle, or to encourage the weak. The fainthearted need care not rebuke. The idle need a change of perspective, not help to carry on as they are. The weak need practical help, not words.