NOTE: It is very awkward, as a pastor, to write anything encouraging "an appropriate affection for pastors." I'm sure it may seem self-serving to some...like a desperate cry for love. However, as I write, I think not of myself, for I could not imagine serving among a more loving congregation. Instead, I write to warn us against two extremes: (1) making pastors into celebrities and (2) failing to love our pastors at all.
On Sunday, we looked at Acts 20:17-38...commonly identified as Paul's charge to the Ephesian elders. Specifically, we focused our study on the example set by the apostle Paul for the pastors/elders. In looking at that example, we recognized that the characteristics Paul displayed are not just exemplary for pastoral leadership but for anyone who seeks to faithfully serve the Lord. Paul's self-forgetfulness, passion, courage, faithfulness, diligence, and godly ambition are much needed among followers of the Lord Jesus Christ today.
In the closing verses of this passage, we see a touching farewell. Let me quote the text for you:
"And when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship" (Acts 17:36-38).Now, we should first recognize that Paul had a deep affection for these men and for the church that they pastored. The pastors didn't just love the apostle; the apostle also loved the pastors. Paul was headed to Jerusalem and deliberately sailed past Ephesus. However, he wanted to speak to these men one last time, so he sent for them. While we will not walk through Paul's words here, they are powerful. His desire to see them carry on the torch of gospel ministry in Ephesus is clear, both in reminding them of his example and in admonishing them to continue in their calling as pastors.
As Paul finishes his speech, they kneel together, and Paul prays. Paul has spoken to these men about the call of God, and now, the apostle will speak to God about the call of these men. And as he prays, the tears begin to fall. The prayer circle is filled with sniffles as the pastors realize that this will be the last time they pray with their dear friend...their brother...their apostle. And why were they so connected to him?
This had been the man that brought the gospel to Ephesus. This is the man who would not stop preaching when the Jews opposed him; he just rented the Hall of Tyrannus and kept preaching. This was the man under whose ministry many, if not all, of them had come to know Christ. He had been in their homes...teaching them what it meant to live a life of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. Paul's ministry shook the very economy of Ephesus, slowing the sale of idols to such a degree that a riot broke out.
So, after the last "amen" of this group prayer, each pastor takes his turn to hug and kiss Paul, as is their custom. Then, wanting to remain with their friend a bit longer, they accompany him to the ship. And though the text ends there, I can't help but wonder if they stayed and watched and prayed as Paul's ship disappeared over the horizon.
Let's think about this scene for a few minutes. In one post from last week, I shared a quote from chapter two of Brad Bigney's book, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols. On page 32, he writes, "...our culture is so desperate to make heroes and celebrities out of everything and everybody..." Is this what these men were doing to the apostle Paul? Were they exalting him to a status he didn't deserve? I do not believe so...for three reasons.
First, Paul does not stop them from expressing sorrow. Paul could tell when people were putting him on a pedestal. Back in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas were equated with Greek gods in the town of Lystra, and they had to put a stop to the people's efforts to worship them (v. 11-18). Also, when Paul wrote to Corinth, he did not hesitate to rebuke the believers for their exclusive affection for one preacher over another (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-9). As hugs were given and tears were shed on the shore of Miletus, Paul saw nothing that was inappropriate about their affection for him as their apostle.
Second, Paul actually commends affection toward those who serve as pastors among God's people. Consider what is said in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Paul tells the brothers in that church that they should not only "respect those who labor among you" but also "to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." There should be affection for the men who labor in the Word and work diligently in feeding, leading, and protecting the church as shepherds. This does not mean that we exalt pastors to the status of "celebrity." What it means is that we should love the men whom God has given to serve us as pastors/overseers/elders. Beyond this text, we cannot forget that the pastors who labor among us are first our brothers, and we are called to demonstrate our discipleship in loving one another (John 13:35; 1 John 2:9-10; 3:11; 4:20-21).
Third, the pastors' affection for Paul is most likely derived from the example he set and the work he did among them. They didn't love Paul because of his charisma. They didn't love Paul because of his cleverness in preaching (Paul renounced cleverness in preaching...2 Cor. 4:2). They didn't love Paul because he was published, could quote their favorite song lyrics, blew their minds with creativity, or a host of other things that may cause men to love a pastor in our day. As already noted, Paul brought Ephesus the gospel, preached it in the face of opposition, taught it from house to house, and shed tears over the spiritual condition of all those to whom he ministered. They loved him because he lost his life for Christ's sake and for the gospel's sake while in Ephesus. He died to himself so that they might live spiritually.
All these things should encourage us to have an appropriate affection for pastors. Let me demonstrate from my own life. I have a deep affection for Doug Sager, the pastor of my home church in Knoxville, TN. Brother Doug preached my ordination (a sermon I still remember to this day) and demonstrated what it meant to provide courageous leadership while truly loving God's people. I love Denny Brinkman, Rusty Kennedy, and Chris Lovell, who taught me to love and teach and lead teenagers. Bill Espy was the pastor I worked with in my first ministry position, and his example of perseverance in the face of difficulty remains with me today. I have a deep affection for the president of the seminary I attended. Dr. Albert Mohler's courageous leadership at Southern was used to turn that seminary around and was used to greatly impact who I am today. And the list could go on. I'm sure your list could go on and on as well.
It is good and right to love the men that God uses to teach us, to lead us, to spiritually protect us, to shepherd us, and to set an example for us. While we must beware of "celebritizing" any of them...making more of them than we ought...we still should "esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thess. 5:13).