1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
“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.”
There are many scholars who believe formal leaders have not yet been installed in this young church in Thessalonica at the time of Paul’s letter. That very well could be the case as Paul’s abrupt departure from the city would have made the selection of church leaders a very difficult challenge. Can you imagine being thrown into the deep end of the pool and being told to start swimming?
Even today, the greatest need for any church is for godly men to rise to the challenge of leadership. Leadership in the church is more than “what the Pastor says goes.” Spiritual leaders are not created by executive order or dictator’s decree. I believe there is no better model to develop leaders than the New Testament church. The selection of Elders and Deacons are done not on the basis of education, wealth or popularity, but rather on proven character and the ability to teach.
Church leaders are to be of proven character before being selected to positions of authority. In Titus 1:7 Paul requires a high standard for those who lead the church. “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.” This does not mean church leaders are without sin or fault, as I can well attest in my own life, but blameless or without accusation about his life and ministry. Elders in a church must be men in their homes and their communities who are above reproach in how they minister and serve before they are to be considered for serving God’s people in that capacity.
Paul gave this standard for teaching in his Epistle to Titus 1:9 “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” This does not mean they have advanced degrees or can speak before large groups of people. But it does mean they know the truth of Scripture from personally handling the Word of God. They can discern truth from error and can instruct people in the ways of God with gentleness and admonish with respect.
Leadership in action is more than just understanding biblical teachings on the subject. It is putting God’s truth to work in our lives. It is not an easy job, nor is it a job that often brings open appreciation. But God said it is a position of honor and respect. Love your leaders, for they need your prayers and your encouragement. As we saw in our study of Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”