“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:6 b-8).
Paul recognized church leaders can be burdensome. Some of us more than others understand what he means, since some have experienced church leaders who were a burden. Heavy-handed. Oppressive. Dictatorial. Following such leaders sucks all the life out of you. There is no joy as you robotically go through the motions of a worship service. The words, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (Psalm 100:2) and “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1) seem like a cruel taunt.
But Paul’s ministry style was different. Not only did he not manipulate with flattery or conceal with masks, but also he did not throw his apostolic weight around. You might expect an apostle to be consumed with his self-importance, but Paul was not. In fact, he was careful not to be patronizing or condescending. Paul’s ministry was gentle rather than harsh or arduous; so gentle that he described his ministry as motherly.
Motherly ministry? What an awesome word picture! Who is gentler than a mother caring for her baby? She is aware that her purpose is to provide for, protect, and nurture her child. There is no aloofness between mother and child. She opens up and shares her very life with her little one. Her son is her delight. Her daughter is her joy. She takes delight in being with her children and sharing her love with them.
Such is Paul’s ministry: loving, caring, nurturing, sharing, delighting, and endearing – a model of ministry that is far from burdensome. Paul’s mentoring of Timothy included instruction about gentleness: “God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool . . .” (2 Timothy 2:24 The Message). Paul was merely embodying the teaching of Jesus in his ministry to the Thessalonians and his mentoring of Timothy.
When the other disciples were indignant that James and John were jockeying for position in the kingdom, trying to establish their rank so they would know just how much authority they had to throw around, Jesus corrected them. “Jesus got them together to settle things down. ‘You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,’ he said, ‘and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage’” (Mark 10:42-45 The Message).
May God help church leaders be motherly, not burdensome.