We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
I heard it just the other day. Something I’ve heard about or experienced myself during all my time as a pastor.
I was talking to a lady whose husband died recently. She requested that one of the pastors for our church perform the funeral (her words).
This man wasn’t a member of our church. He wasn’t even a member of our denomination. But she used to be a member of our church.
She went on to explain to me that she had a “falling out” with a previous pastor and hadn’t been back to church since.
Since she was calling about the funeral for her husband, I felt that this wasn’t the best time to admonish her about going to church. But in my head I was thinking that very thought!
I’ve heard it before. I’ve even been that pastor for some people.
But I’ve never accepted this as a valid excuse to leave a church. Just because you disagree with the pastor, have been offended or made upset by the pastor, this is not a good reason to leave the church and certainly not a good reason to never go to church again!
When I was growing up, I had the utmost respect for my pastor. When I was young, you could say that respect bordered on fear.
When I was in grade school, the pastor was the ultimate disciplinarian in our school. If I got in trouble – and I did get in trouble on a regular basis, it seemed – I was disciplined by my teacher. If I got into serious trouble, which happened more than I would like to admit, I was disciplined by the principal.
But when I got in really serious trouble, I was sent to the pastor’s office! This happened only once, that I recall.
I respected the pastor and was a little scared of him.
When I was in high school my family joined a church closer to our home. Our new pastor didn’t treat me any different. He taught me the catechism and about Jesus, he corrected me when I erred, and I respected him as God’s laborer. Being somewhat older and – presumably more mature – I wasn’t afraid of him but I did have the same respect for him as one placed over me by the Lord.
But as I’ve learned through the years, my experience varies quite a bit from other people.
I’ve experienced that people leave churches quite frequently. For a variety of reasons. And I’ve learned that many time people leave a church because they do not have respect for those who labor among them and are over them in the Lord.
I’ve also experienced some who may not leave a congregation but still have an unhealthy lack of respect for the pastor.
While I don’t expect anyone to respect me as a perfect, sinless man – because I’m certainly not that – we are instructed by Scripture to respect the man God places in authority over us in a congregation.
I try to not do anything to hinder that respect and I readily admit that I have failed at times. But it is also just as true that some people take offense even when offense is not given.
We need to all remember that when we are members of a congregation, we are members of a family that needs to work together and stick together no matter what!
I admit, I’ve made mistakes but I’ve been so blessed to have some members come and point them out to me in the hopes of overcoming these mistakes and to grow stronger together.
This is what St. Paul means, I think, by “be at peace among yourselves.” There is peace to be had when we work together, serve together, and love each other, respecting the roles that God has placed upon us.
Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” for this very reason. Through his death and resurrection, he has restored peace between God and us. But he also gives us the power to be at peace with each other!
By the way, the lady who wanted us to do her husband funeral did admit that she should come back to church, which I agreed with. “We’ve saved a spot for you all this time,” I told her. She responded that she hoped the spot wasn’t in the front. I told her all the spots are in the front – it’s just that some are closer to the front than others.
I hope that I will see her in church soon.
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