Three Ideas for Encouraging Church Leaders

Explore the Bible Series

June 13, 2010


Background Passage: I Corinthians 4:1-21

Lesson Passage: I Corinthians 4:1-5, 9-20




I grew up in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor (Dad still pastors at the age of eighty-eight!), and I ministered to Baptist congregations for more than thirty years.  Together, Dad and I have about ninety-five years of pastoral experience, and, though I no longer pastor a local church, I have learned some things about the challenges of leading a congregation.  Most ministers, of course, do not feel comfortable with expressing the anguish they feel, but my unusual circumstances lend me some liberty in giving voice to what, no doubt, many men feel. 


In almost every church there are congregants who manifest some of the characteristics that stung the Apostle Paul, stung him so deeply that he wrote this passionate chapter to express his frustration.  Perhaps some will construe Paul’s concerns as unseemly self-pity, and, frankly, I think that’s why most hurting pastors just choose to suffer in silence.  This silent agony, however, does not bode well for the emotional and spiritual health of the pastor, nor does it prove edifying for the congregation.  See if you recognize any of these attitudes in your local church.


1.      Unfair comparisons with other ministers:  In Corinth, parties organized around the personalities of prominent preachers (Peter, Apollos, Paul).  Each leader possessed certain God-given abilities, and church members played one man’s strengths against the others.  Apollos, for instance, apparently possessed a remarkable eloquence in expressing the gospel, and some believers were understandably attracted to his charismatic personality.  Paul, by his own admission, did not have these same kinds of gifts.  It clearly hurt Paul that some of these people denigrated him for not measuring up to Apollos’ fluency.  We live in a day that magnifies this problem.  American evangelicals have created a “celebrity” mentality from listening to high-profile preachers on television of radio.  Of course, these parishioners have no personal contact with the “celebrity” pastor; so, they have no awareness of the weaknesses and failures of the media minister.  In contrast, they are painfully aware of the human limitations of their pastor.

2.      Untested arrogance: Every church has those laymen who, of course, know how to lead the congregation better than their pastor.  Mind you, these laymen have never led a church themselves, but they believe they possess leadership skills that trump the abilities and experience of the pastor.  The Corinthians clearly believed they understood pastoral ministry better than Paul, and they judged the poor man by an unfair, untested standard.

3.      Unsympathetic judgment: Few laymen know the hardships of bearing the spiritual responsibilities of a congregation.  All of the hardships and trials of the church, to some measure, rest on the shoulders of the pastor.  The load can crush a man.  The Corinthians knew nothing of the experiences of the apostle: imprisonment, beatings, slander, persecutions, hunger, thirst, or abandonment. Nevertheless, these heartless judges simply increased the apostle’s suffering by failing to support and pray for him.  In addition to Paul’s other hardships, the Corinthians broke the man’s heart with their criticisms and ingratitude. 


My dear readers, no congregation has a right to treat their faithful pastor like the Corinthians treated Paul.  Ask yourself these questions.  Does your pastor have a broken heart? Have you contributed to his brokenness? Is your pastor a better man for having ministered to you and your family?  Does he regard his work as a source of joy (See Hebrews 13:17- please read this verse carefully).


Personal note: The author of the LifeWay materials, Pastor M. Dean Register, highlights three ways that church member can encourage their leaders, and I recommend his organization of the text.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Unfair Judgment of the Corinthians (vv. 1-5): The harsh anti-Pauline judgments stung the apostle.  He took their criticisms personally, but he also understood the implications of their censure of his authority as an affront to the gospel.

A.    The apostle’s true identity (vv. 1-2)

1.      “servants of Christ” (v. 1): Here, Paul did not use the customary word for servant (doulos); rather, he employed a term borrowed from maritime practice, huperetes, a term that described an under-rower on a ship.  These men rowed from the deepest under-deck of ships, and they were regarded as the lowest of slaves.

2.      “stewards of the mysteries of Christ” (vv. 1b-2): Stewards served as overseers of a master’s estate, and they were judged by their loyalty and trustworthiness.

B.     The apostle’s accountability (vv. 3-5): Paul placed little value on the judgments of men; instead, he commended himself to the evaluation of God, who sees perfectly a man’s deeds and motives. 


II.                The Danger of Pride (vv. 6-13)

A.    The pride of the Corinthians (vv. 6-7): The Corinthians judged the servants (Paul and Apollos) of the Lord, and Paul found their arrogance unsettling. “What is written” probably does not refer to a specific Scripture passage; rather, it denotes the overall teaching on humility expressed in the Old Testament.

B.     Paul’s biting sarcasm (vv. 8-13): The apostle, employing sarcasm, contrasted his ministry with the experiences of the Corinthian believers.

1.      “you have become rich… you have become kings… God has exhibited us apostles as the least of all” (vv. 8-9): While the Corinthians reveled in their judgmental, exalted delusions, the apostles endured under a sentence of death and were regarded as a spectacle. Perhaps Paul had in mind the arena where the Romans paraded victims marked for death, all for the entertainment of the social elites.

2.      “we are fools for Christ sake, but you are wise in Christ” (v. 10a)

3.      “we are weak, but you are strong” (v. 10b)

4.      “you are held in honor, but we are in disrepute” (v. 10c)

5.      “we hunger and thirst… poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless… we labor, working with our hands… we bless when reviled… when persecuted we endure, when slandered, we entreat… we have become like the scum of the world” (vv. 11-13): Though he does not state the contrast explicitly, Paul intended a contrast with the experiences of the Corinthians.


III.             Paul’s Personal Appeal to the Corinthian Believers (vv. 14-21): Paul made this appeal:

A.    As a father to his children (vv. 14-15): On the human side, these people owed their spiritual lives to Paul, that is, he was their spiritual father.  He wrote these strident words to express the concerns of paternal love, and though they had several spiritual guides, they also had only one father in Christ. 

B.     As an attendant guide (vv. 16-17): At the moment, Paul could not leave his missionary responsibilities for  a corrective trip to Corinth, but, in his paternal concern, he sent his faithful associate Timothy to remind these folks of the apostle’s ministry. 

C.     As a disciplinarian (vv. 18-21): Father’s correct the aberrant behavior of wayward children, and Paul took this remedial posture with his readers. Their behavior would determine the actions of the apostle.  Continued arrogant conduct would result in the apostle coming with a “rod” of correction, and repentance would affect a spirit of love and gentleness.