October 10, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 1 Thessalonians 5:14
And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.
All brothers and sisters in the church are urged to care for each other. Pastors can help us do this well. But the task of admonishing, encouraging, and helping is something we all share together.
The devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 contains a series of four short imperatives: 1) Admonish the idlers; 2) Encourage the faint hearted; 3) Help the weak; 4) Be patient with all of them. In the NRSV, these are tasks assigned by Paul and his colleagues to the “beloved.” But the Greek original uses the word adelphoi, which means “brothers and sisters,” with “beloved” implied. The “brothers and sisters” are supposed to admonish, encourage, help, and be patient.
But who exactly are these brothers and sisters? When we see what they are to do – admonish, encourage, help, and be patient – we might be inclined to think these imperatives are for the leaders of the Thessalonians. In our day, these are tasks we associate with what we call “pastoral care.” And those who offer pastoral care are church leaders, pastors in particular. This reading in supported by the fact that only two verses earlier the leaders of the Thessalonian church were mentioned as “having charge over and admonishing” the church members. Moreover, a number of commentators on verse 14 have assumed that it is addressed to the leaders of the church.
But this interpretation seems to read into the text what isn’t there. It would have been easy for Paul and his co-writers to make it clear that they were speaking only to the leaders in a passage that is otherwise addressed to all believers in Thessalonica. But the writers didn’t do this. Moreover, thirteen other times in 1 Thessalonians the word adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” addresses the whole church, not the leaders. It would be odd and confusing if adelphoi in 5:14 meant “you leaders” rather than “brothers and sisters.”
I believe this verse urges all of the Christians in Thessalonica to “admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.” Whereas we might assume that pastoral care is something pastors alone should do, Paul and Co. saw this as something given to all members of the body of Christ. Pastors, as we learn in Ephesians 4:11-13, are assigned the particular task of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” Pastors should teach and prompt the members of the church do things like admonishing, encouraging, helping, and being patient. It is not the job of pastors to do the ministry assigned to all of God’s people, though pastors should certainly share in admonishing and the like.
In our time of history, it’s more important than ever for us to understand that pastoral care is a shared responsibility. Why? Because economic realities are leading to there being fewer and fewer pastors to go around. Many smaller churches can no longer afford even one full-time pastor. Larger churches are laying off associate pastors and others who traditionally carry the pastoral care burden. Thus, even apart from the biblical mandate, if churches are going to be healthy and if individual believers are going to flourish, then the adelphoi, the brothers and sisters, will need to do more and more of what was once assigned to pastors. From one perspective, this might feel like a loss for the church. But, from another perspective, this might actually give the church an opportunity to become more and more the body of Christ envisioned in Scripture.
Can you think of a time when you were the recipient of admonishment? Encouragement? Help? Patience? What was that like for you?
To what extent does “pastoral care” happen in your church through all of the brothers and sisters? Or to what extent is this generally assumed to be the responsibility of pastors and other church staff?
Can you think of a time recently when you offered someone admonishment? Encouragement? Help? Patience? If so, what happened? What was that like for you?
Ask the Lord for the opportunity to offer “pastoral” care to someone today. When that opportunity presents itself, go for it!
Gracious God, thank you for joining us together as sisters and brothers in your family. Thank you for the opportunity we have to serve each other in a variety of ways.
Please help me, Lord, to invest in the lives of my sisters and brothers. As needed, may I offer admonishment, encouragement, help, and/or patience.
Help my church to be a community of people who deeply care for each other. May our leaders equip and challenge us to live as the active, engaged body of Christ together. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Purpose of Ministry.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.