1 Thessalonians 2 is a fascinating chapter for helping us think through what ministry should look like, because in the space of just a few verses Paul compares himself to a father, a mother, and a child. He employs all three of these ‘family roles’ as part of his description of faithful ministry, thus suggesting a model to us that repays some careful thought.
Not too long ago, we celebrated Mother’s Day in my country: an important day for gratefully acknowledging a group of people in our society who are often under-acknowledged and under-thanked! But I’m also very conscious that it can be painful day for many, for a whole host of reasons. So, when writing a letter for our church’s notice sheet for that day, I wanted to remind people that in Christ we don’t just have our birth mothers but many mothers in Christ (e.g. Mark 10:30). I urged our church members to be thankful not only for those who gave them birth in the world, but also for those who have and who do ‘mother’ them in the faith.
At that point I was tempted to talk about the women in the church family who are like spiritual mothers to us. But there was a passage of Scripture that prevented me: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. There Paul talks about how he, Silas, and Timothy treated the Thessalonian Christians like a “nursing mother taking care of her own children”. So, according to Paul, even men can be like spiritual mothers to the Lord’s people—and on account of that verse I allowed my Mother’s Day exhortation to remain gender neutral.
In fact, 1 Thessalonians 2 is a fascinating chapter for helping us think through what ministry should look like, because in the space of just a few verses Paul compares himself to a father, a mother, and a child. He employs all three of these ‘family roles’ as part of his description of faithful ministry, thus suggesting a model to us that repays some careful thought.
I want to reflect briefly on how he uses each of these three family roles to help us see different aspects of wise Christian leadership. We’ll work through them in reverse order (from how they appear in the passage)—from the most straightforward comparison to the most complex.
1) Like a Father
In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 Paul writes this:
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 own kingdom and glory.
Here Paul focuses on a father’s role in shaping his children’s conduct and behaviour, in particular how a father fulfills this responsibility by the way that he speaks. Paul uses three verbs of speech to try and capture the various modes in which a father speaks to his children to train them to live well: exhort, encourage, and charge. It would also seem that the father’s responsibility carries some sense of authority; he exercises his fatherly authority in the family to urge his children to behave in the way they should.
What we see is that Paul reflects on his ministry amongst the Thessalonians and likens it to the ministry of such a father in his family. With authority, Paul spoke and urged the Thessalonians to live rightly. The way he expresses it is in terms of walking worthily of God.
So, as we reflect on Paul’s description and imagery, we’re left asking ourselves whether the same could be said of our ministry to others, especially amongst those we lead. Are we exercising the authority we have with this kind of concern? Are we using our words (both publicly and privately) to plead with people to live in a way that’s worthy of the God who called them?