By Justin Langford, Louisiana College
ALEXANDRIA (LBM) — If you are reading this article right now, I have no doubt that you have been impacted tremendously by the ministry of a particular pastor or minister.
Maybe it was a pastor who instilled in you a love for the gospel at a young age.
Or maybe it was a youth minister who invested in your life, taught you the basics of the gospel, and who played an instrumental part in your decision for salvation.
Or perhaps you were in college and the ministries of the local church and BCM challenged you to grow stronger in the faith.
All of us, whether church member or staff person, have a rich heritage of faith.
Deep reflection on this heritage should bring us to a place of gratitude for those who have served well in discharging their duties as a minister of the gospel.
Paul describes the minister’s duty plainly to Timothy in this way: “But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5, HCSB).
Pastors have a high calling and responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.
As biblical scholar Gregory K. Beale put it, they are “the doctrinal and ethical guardians of the church.”
To increase an appreciation of our spiritual mentors, let’s examine what Paul says about this in his correspondence to the Thessalonian church.
In 1 Thess 5:12–13 he states, “Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work” (HCSB).
Paul is instructing a young church going through a time of adversity. He concludes his letter by reminding them of the importance of their leaders and how they can best honor them for their faithful work.
Paul’s two primary exhortations for the church are “to give recognition” and “to regard them very highly.”
He gives three reasons: their labor, their leadership, and their admonishment. Shepherding a congregation is a high calling that involves self-sacrificial leadership.
Practically speaking, recognizing and highly regarding our spiritual leaders means we demonstrate to them no less than the same sacrificial love and respect they show us.
What about retired pastors and their wives?
On this topic I think of my own present experience.
At the church where I am a member we have a number of retired pastors and ministers.
Not only do these men engage faithfully in teaching and serving, they continue to set an example in ethics as well.
Some of the richest and most rewarding times for me are teaching the senior adults.
The wisdom and experience shared by former pastors in this context is so instructive that I feel I learn more from them than they do from me.
These servants are continuing to leave a legacy of faith by their commitment to serve well beyond a formal position in church leadership. Their example demonstrates the impact of their lifetime calling.
Many of these faithful stewards who have passed from this life have left behind a spouse. How can we go about honoring them as we did their husbands? We need go no further than Scriptural instruction. The Old Testament mandate to care for widows is restated and emphasized in the New Testament as well.
One such example is James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (HCSB).
Paul has a lot to say on this topic in 1 Timothy 5, especially in regards to how the system of widow care was being abused.
Nonetheless, Scripture mandates that we show care and respect not only for our leaders but those in the church who are more vulnerable in society as well. In doing so, we engage in “pure and undefiled religion” before God.
In conclusion, consider the following outcomes of living out Paul’s exhortation to respect and highly regard our spiritual leaders. First and foremost, we walk in obedience to the commands of Scripture.
Second, we demonstrate to the body of Christ the joy, unity, and blessing that can come from mutual submission and respect.
Third, we perpetuate the legacy of faith left by our leaders and can then instill this heritage in future generations of leaders.
Once again, we are indebted to Paul for his words of wisdom on this important aspect of the life of the church.
Justin Langford is assistant professor of Christian studies at Louisiana College. His column is part of a series of commentaries provided by LC faculty relating to the Southern Baptist Convention’s calendar of special emphasis issues. His focus on respect for leaders is a tribute to Mission Dignity Sunday, which highlights ministry to SBC ministers, workers and their widows who served God faithfully, but in retirement need help in meeting needs for housing, food and vital medications. To find out more, visit www.MissionDignity.org.