We commissioned our new church leaders [Sunday, June 1, 2008] and I used the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. Some of the observations and applications I made were:

  1. Paul writes this letter to a part of Jesus’ missionary team in Thessalonica, a new community of Jesus followers facing great persecution yet standing firm.
  2. He urges them to respect their leaders, as a part of his instructions to persevere with integrity through persecution. If we are to demonstrate the way of Jesus to the surrounding culture, one way that we do that is by how we relate to those in authority over us.
  3. I asked those present (a) whether they had ever served as leaders (b) whether they had ever been criticized as leaders, and (c) whether they had ever been critical of other leaders.
  4. Respect is not something we earn, it is something we all deserve primarily because of who we are, as children of God, as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whether or not we like each other or agree with each other, we remain connected in the Lord, and therefore need to treat each other respectfully.
  5. In addition, we ought to respect people for what they do, including our leaders. Everyone has a place on Jesus’ team, and whatever a persons role, that person is to be respected for what they are doing. This applies equally to elders and deacons, and custodians and property managers.
  6. When we disagree, or have difficulty with our leaders, we must still respect them and treat them honourably. I used David as an example, and his refusal to lay a hand (or a mouth) against the Lord’s anointed, i.e. Saul (see 1 Samuel 24:11). I also used Paul as an example, when he quotes Exodus 22:28 about treating rulers with respect (Acts 23:1-5).
  7. Respect does not mean obedience no matter what. As Peter reminds the Jewish leaders, they need to obey God no matter what (Acts 4:13-20). But still they must submit to their leaders, i.e. respect them and do what we can to help them, or correct them, or challenge them.
  8. Respect does not rule out challenging our leaders, but again, it must flow from a heart attitude of respect. We must speak the truth in love.
  9. I suggested some ideas for how we can approach our leaders when we have concerns: (a) See them as brothers/sisters first. (b) Be thankful for their willingness to serve, even if flawed. (c) Assume the best, not the worst. (d) Always speak with patience and kindness. (e) Listen first, don’t accuse, it may be a big misunderstanding.
  10. Recognize how hard their work is, how often they are facing challenges or difficult decisions, or criticism. I reminded them of the “law of the whale”: come to the surface, and you will be harpooned. I urged them not to be the ones wielding the harpoons, but to respectfully support and, when necessary, encourage or challenge, their leaders. Its hard enough when being attached by Satan, but its even harder when its your own brothers and sisters in Christ.
  11. Do not respond to their “evil” with our own “evil”. Yelling, blowing up, backbiting, gossiping, etc. against our leaders because we perceive them to be wrong is just as wrong.
  12. And finally, I urged everyone to pray for their leaders, just as Paul requests at the end of this reading. Pray for your leaders. Through prayer our own hearts are deepened and softened, and we will be in a better place to follow, support and even assist our leaders.
  13. Related to this thought on prayer and the Spirit, I suggested that a critical or disrespectful manner towards our leaders is one of the ways that we stifle/quench the Spirit, Who is prompting us to being encouraging and respectful [5:19]. I observed that often the critical people become barren, bitter, negative, without the joy of the Lord.

If we listen carefully, we will probably sense the Spirit within us, challenging us about ways that we have been disrespectful to those in authority over us. This will undermine our own spiritual growth, but also the mission of the church, since we are called to demonstrate the way of Jesus, and r.e.s.p.e.c.t. is one of those ways. We may have to repent, we may even have to approach a leader that we have wronged and apologize.


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