Those Who Labor Among You

by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick

gbklarge.jpgThe article about Grace Place Lutheran Retreats in this issue of The Lutheran Witness highlights the importance of “wholistic” health among pastors (and other church workers) and their spouses for the vitality of the local church. Holy Scripture addresses the relationship between “those who labor among you” and those with whom this labor is accomplished. More on that in a moment.

In my travels across the Synod and in conversations with district presidents and others, I hear many, many reports of strong, positive working relationships between pastors and people. At other times, I hear reports that indicate a need for improvement in those relationships. In a world where “your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), this should come as no great surprise. Satan no doubt rejoices when the relationship between pastor and people is interrupted by disharmony, disagreement, and disgruntlement.

The apostle Paul addresses this very important relationship. He writes, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other” (1 Thess. 5:12–13).

While this may be easier said than done, it behooves us nonetheless as Christian people to take seriously these words inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Lest we misunderstand the words “who are over you . . . and who admonish you,” it is good for us to hear what was said years ago by one who is esteemed highly among us. The Synod’s first president, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, wrote in a letter to church members that “no pastor dare lord it over his congregation (1 Peter 5:2–3).” In an 1878 installation sermon on 1 Cor. 4:1–5, he said, “The apostle in our text does not call true pastors lords, nor rulers, nor masters, nor authority figures of Christ, but ‘Servants of Christ.’ . . . A true pastor, over whose coming a congregation may rejoice, is therefore only that person who comes not to rule over her but to serve her, not as her master but as her brother.”

No pastor is perfect, of course, nor is any congregation. Yet, what a blessing it is when those who labor among us and those among whom that labor is accomplished live and work peacefully among one another. Such peace is a gift from the hand of our gracious heavenly Father. And when that gift is “opened” and put to use, the blessing of God abounds.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the working relationship between pastor and people were always free from the tensions,disagreements, and struggles that sometimes characterize such relationships? While we don’t live in a perfect world, isn’t it great when pastor and people share a common vision of mission and ministry in their community?

How wonderful it is when people of all ages look forward to congregational activities—especially worship and God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament that touch the hurting heart with the healing hand of Christ. Those who receive God’s grace through these means are energized to fulfill their calling “vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and the world,” to use the words of our Synod’s mission statement.

As president of the Synod, I assure you of my fervent and regular prayers that the respect and esteem of which Paul writes will always characterize the relationship of the people in your congregation with “those who labor among you.”

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