1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
There are various descriptions of pastoral ministry scattered through Paul’s letters, and most reference parenting. Verse seven says “like a mother,” and here he calls fathers to mind. That’s all well and good, but when we haven’t had good parents as examples, the truth can get distorted. We are actually created with a parenting instinct, but some people are remarkably successful at suppressing that. We all tend to have our hearts melted by small, helpless creatures, and examples abound of animals bonding with little ones even of other species, like a cat nursing rabbits, for example. Sadly, some of us are more like male lions that, when they take over a pride, will often kill young lions that were sired by a different male. Being self-centered works against the parenting instinct, and it is definitely out of bounds for a pastor. The ultimate example of parenting is of course Father God Himself. None of us perfectly reflect Him, but all of us can reflect Him to some degree, and it should always be our ambition to do so more and more. That applies to biological and adoptive family relationships, but it also applies to spiritual relationships, and that’s where pastoral ministry comes in. Catholics call priests “Father,” even though Jesus cautioned against it. (Matthew 23:9) When Catholic missionaries first came to Japan they used a term that had served them well in China that, in Chinese, means “spiritual father,” but unfortunately in Japanese comes across as “god father.” That immediately calls to mind the term for a Shinto priest, which means “god owner.” Language, and particularly translation, has caused many problems in the history of the Church! People in pastoral ministry are to relate to those in their care as parents, but not with an inflated sense of self-importance. We are to be aware of our imperfections and seek to let God correct and overcome them.
I am of course talking to myself here. In many ways I have run from pastoral ministry, enjoying teaching but not enjoying “burping and changing diapers,” to extend the parenting metaphor. There have been times of active repentance and surrender in that area. I have even gone so far as to tell people not to go into pastoral ministry unless they can’t help it, but that was not the best turn of phrase. I continue to have plenty of room to grow in pastoral ministry, to be neither aloof nor dictatorial, so that those under my care may grow as our mutual Father desires. I too have room to grow in recognizing and responding to His love, so that I may accurately reflect that love to those around me.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I pray that I may indeed be the child that You desire as well as the father You want me to be to others, so that together we may be knit into Your family, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!