December 4, 2020

Paul the Pastor

By Chaplain Mike

We will conclude our little flurry of posts on being a pastor and the duty of the church to provide pastoral care to its members by looking at another of the apostles, Paul.

I had a great breakthrough in my understanding of pastoral theology during seminary, when I realized that I could study Paul’s letters and not only learn about Christian doctrine and living, but also see laid out before me how a pastor ministers to people. The epistles of Paul provide one of the greatest resources we have for learning what it means to have the heart of a pastor, as well as what practices can shape our efforts to proclaim the Gospel and build up God’s people into a mature community of faith.

Among my favorite passages in this regard is 1Thessalonians, chapter 2. 1Thessalonians is one of Paul’s earliest letters, indeed one of the first apostolic epistles written in the NT era. It shows me that the ministry of Jesus’ followers was shaped by Jesus’ example of personal care and face-to-face ministry from the beginning.

A key passage in chapter two describes how Paul built relationships with the Thessalonians, shared the Good News of Jesus with them, spent time with them, worked beside them, encouraged them, and helped them grow into the family of God in that place.

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1Thess 2:5-12, NRSV)

A little background about Paul’s time in Thessalonica (Acts 17) may help us visualize what his dealings with the folks there were like.

Paul likely first taught the Thessalonians in an ‘insula’, a workshop-like apartment where a series of shops would face the street and living quarters of owners and their families would be in the rear. This was an ideal setting to spend time with people, while he worked his trade during the day, and over meals in the evening. Paul would remind them of the gospel, encourage them when they were distracted and gently guide them towards the mind of Christ. He was forming community, a new kinship model to help them solidify the gospel in their lives. (“Loving One Another More,” Linda Tiessen Wiebe)

Paul didn’t go into the city with a slick marketing campaign, mailings, flyers, and advance people to prepare his way. He did not hold a big public crusade or start a new institution. He came to town, found a place to work and live, and moved in. As a skilled “tentmaker” (probably referring to working with leather), he rented a shop in the agora (marketplace) and an apartment in the boarding house attached to it, went to work and began making friends with his co-workers and fellow boarders. They lived rather like an extended family and Paul used the opportunity to help his friends become part of God’s family.

In describing how he lived and ministered to them, Paul does not use “shepherd” imagery, but “family” metaphors:

  • Like a nursing mother: he gave them tender, loving care, sacrificing his own wants and needs to serve them.
  • Like a brother: he worked side by side with them, pulling his own weight, refusing to be a burden to them, serving as a true partner and friend.
  • Like a father: he encouraged them and gave them spiritual direction, doing his best to set a good example for them.

Once again, we see the down to earth reality of apostleship.

Was Paul a visionary? Undoubtedly.

Was Paul a strategist and leader? He most certainly was. He used his remarkable background and gifts wisely to take the Gospel into key centers of the Gentile world, to plant churches, train leaders, and create networks of Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean world.

But when it comes right down to it, Paul’s apostolic practice was about one thing: ministering personally to people.

  • Befriending people and pointing them to Jesus as the hope of salvation and the beginning of the new creation.
  • Living among people and dealing with individuals, families, and groups in their homes, workplaces, and gathering spots to teach, encourage, answer questions, pray for them, and serve alongside them in their life with Christ.
  • Breaking down barriers between people and helping them live and serve with one another in the love of Christ.
  • All along the way, and even when he went to prison, Paul poured his heart out in personal letters to individuals and congregations written with special concern for each situation, to help his friends grow to maturity in Christ.

This is not an argument for abolition of institutional forms. Nor is it an argument against the calling that some may have to function in more administrative or oversight roles. The structures and leadership roles of the church need not look the same in every time and culture. Nor are pastors exempt from fulfilling institutional duties. But these things do not define what a pastor is or does.

I simply want to reinforce that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Pastors, “fulfill your ministry” (2Timothy 4:5).


  1. Good, solid stuff, Mike. Thanks.
    Your mentioning that Paul likely operated his ministry in Thessalonica from a workshop apartment made me think of my friend, Mickey, and his downtown real estate appraisal office. If there’s any living human being I would point to as my personal pastor and father in the faith, it would be Mickey. Actually, Mickey used to serve as the senior pastor of a medium-sized community church where I also served in various capacities. Several years ago, Mickey stepped down from his “office” as a pastor and left institutional church altogether. However, he has continued to function as a pastor for many people, myself included. Spend any time in his work office, and you’ll find as much ministry going on as real estate business. People all kinds and from all walks of life are constantly dropping by his office to just talk. And the talk almost always gravitates toward spiritual matters and the deeper issues of life. And, as often as not, these conversations will lead to people praying for and with each other right there in the office. I don’t know how Mickey gets any work done, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Truth be told, I think he’s always ready to take a break from the grind — especially if that break involves Jesus and conversation that goes deeper than trivial chit-chat.
    Maybe that’s kind of like it was in Paul’s place of business. Just imagine going in to buy some tent supplies and winding up having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life with perhaps the greatest theological thinker in Christian history. That would be really cool.

    • Jonathan Blake says

      That’s a utopic vision of Christian life and discipleship if I’ve ever seen one. It is definitely worth emanating. What was it Paul said? I believe it was, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
      Thank you for this great post Chaplain Mike! 🙂

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    I am a “retired” pastor and hospital chaplain. I currently work “part time” in the funeral business. After 56+ years of some form of ministry or another, I have learned one important thing: there is no substitute for the personal human touch in what I do. Congregations have long forgotten what I preached or how I counseled them but they remember wheather or not I was present in their greatest hour of need.
    As a Hospice Chaplain (and I have worked with many) you are aware folks don’t remember a lot of your words but they do remember if you were present with them at a critical time in their lives. I deeply appreciate your work. Thank you for what you do. Keep it up.
    There is NO substitute for the pastoral model of Peter, Paul, Chaplain Mike, and Jesus himself.

    • Well said, David. And, if I may say, well done. We need more like you and Chaplain Mike.

    • “There is NO substitute for the pastoral model of Peter, Paul, Chaplain Mike, and Jesus himself.”

      Nice company you keep Chaplain Mike! 🙂

      • I notice he tucked Chap Mike safely in the middle….not lagging behind, not brazenly in front….smart,very smart…. 🙂

    • I could not agree more. In reading this post I could hear Dallas Willard saying, about his students at college–“they will remember little of what I taught thenm or said to them, but they will never forget who I am.” That has been exactly my experience after teaching college classes for about ten years and when meeting former students later on in life. There is no substitute for the personal touch and investment.

  3. “Paul didn’t go into the city with a slick marketing campaign, mailings, flyers, and advance people to prepare his way. He did not hold a big public crusade or start a new institution. He came to town, found a place to work and live, and moved in.”

    A terribly humbling reminder about so many hard, yet necessary things.


  4. Sometimes I so wish there really was “time travel” and I could visit a little while with Paul. As long as I could get back here safely, that is. I would want to meet Peter too. Of course, I would love to sit in the fields and listen to Jesus, even though he says that the more fortunate ones are those that believe without having to see. Still…

    Great post, Chaplain Mike. You make ancient Christianity come alive for us all!

  5. seems like a strong case for more bi-vocational pastoring! I think bi-vocational pastoring can be an amazing witness if done correctly. It keeps the pastor connected to the “real world” rather than being locked in a study or reading all week. He helps the pastor come down from the “pedestal” and puts him in with regular people everyday. But it’s a two way street the congregation has to also see that their pastor is also a working person like them & they can’t keep putting unrealistic expectations on the pastor. In my experiences with by-vocational pastors the congregation respects the pastor more because they know he’s going thru the same troubles they are. There tends to be less whining about a sub-par sermon when they know he hasn’t been in his office all week working on it.
    great post Chaplain Mike peace

    • “seems like a strong case for more bi-vocational pastoring”

      I think so too. And along with that a move towards more shared elder-based leadership rather than singular pastor-based leadership. Even in churches I’m familiar with that have elders there is frequently a “senior” pastor that gets loaded down with the bulk of the work. More shared responsibility would help enable more personal ministry.

  6. Jim Park says

    Mike, your thoughts are in keeping with my evaluation of Paul’s amazing work.

    One thing I have never detected in the writings of Paul is any sense that he operated according a “great commission”. Paul expounds on the tenets of faith and Christian living, but is much less concerned with creating evangelistic centers. His was not a numbers game. His work and his gift seemed to lie in making disciples by nurturing people in the faith and assuming that, in the course of so doing, the faith would spread ‘biologically”. I don’t find in his instructions to the churches any urge to recruiting, even those to Timothy.

    I have been told that Jesus’ charge to his disciples is more accurately understood (and translated from the Greek) as “as you spread the Gospel, disciples will develop as a matter of course”, or something close to that meaning. I think the result of the misunderstanding of His “commission” is that evangelizing and discipling are the same thing. They are not. I think Paul understood it correctly. Churches and pastors today rarely do.

    • Jim, IMO you overstate things a bit, though I believe you make some good points. The NT epistles are remarkably silent when it comes to commands for the church to evangelize. However, I think attracting non-believers and sharing the Gospel with them goes beyond what you call “biological” growth and that there is a place for public proclamation of the message and calling people to faith. I would agree that in many evangelical traditions the understanding of “disciple-making” or spiritual formation is weak and poorly practiced.

      • Jim Park says

        I would not disagree that the public proclamation of the Gospel is important. What I wonder is whether success is measured by the devoted and faithful elucidation of the Truth or by the number of converts. Finney made converts. Did he create disciples? Paul did both. To whom will Jesus say, “Well done! ….”? …Just trying to learn a little here. :>)

  7. I have been told that Jesus’ charge to his disciples is more accurately understood (and translated from the Greek) as “as you spread the Gospel, disciples will develop as a matter of course”, or something close to that meaning.

    While some have argued that because the Greek is more literally, “Having gone (aorist deponent/passive participle), therefore, make disciples (aorist active imperative) of all the nations/gentiles, baptizing (present active participle) them into the name of…, teaching (present active participle) them….” the only “command” is to “make disciples.” But the leading participle also has imperatival force, per other instances of this construction, so the translation as “Go and make disciples” is acceptable. What I have never heard, though, is the “as a matter of course” translation/interpretion of what the Greek there has Jesus saying at the end of Matthew 28, as if it says/means, “As you go, you will find that you will be making disciples of all the gentiles….” Can you explain this a bit more?

    • Jim Park says

      I wish I could respond properly. I am not a student of Greek, but am presenting (and questioning) an interpretation of the passage that I have been exposed to. This interpretation makes sense to me in light of what I believe were rabbinical practices in the first century.

      I have come to see the passage as Jesus’ charge to His former disciples (now Apostles) to function as they had been trained and equipped to do …evangelizing (preaching) true doctine in the world and, thereby, making new disciples. Very much like a commencement address on the occasion of their graduation from post-graduate school. They had followed Jesus for 3½ years, witnessed His resurrection, and undergone an additional 40 days or so of intensive preparation and training (Acts 1:3). They were now qualified and “commissioned” to begin making disciples in His stead, so to speak.

      I am not convinced, as most contemporary churches would have us think, that Jesus was telling us all to become evangelists. His invitation to us to “follow me” in rabbinical tradition is a coded invitation into His “yeshiva”, His inner circle. It is an invitation (permission) to get to know Him intimately and completely and to devotedly become like Him. That, after all, is the goal of a true disciple …to become just like the rabbi in every way.

      To keep this germain to Chaplain Mike’s topic, I think Paul took on the role of Apostle with a proper understanding …that the gift of evangelizing was reserved for some (Ephesians 4:11) while nurturing disciples is the proper role of the community of believers as a whole. Paul modelled that behavior faithfully.

    • I think you have it right, Eric. “Go” does have some imperatival force. Furthermore there are several other passages that emphasize God’s plan that this Good News should be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.