Every Thursday, I write a pastoral letter to the people of the West Congregation of The Austin Stone. This was my letter from January 14th.
Dear West Family
Last Saturday, the elders of The Austin Stone gathered together (outdoors in the freezing cold and socially distanced) for a few hours of praying, dreaming, planning and asking God to continue to lead and guide our church. It was a wonderful day and it was also 3 degrees C. If you don’t know, that is cold. It is like close to zero cold, with zero being freezing, which is part of why it makes such wonderful sense as a unit of measurement. I digress. I always knew that the responsibility of eldership in a local church would be demanding. I never presumed that I would have to endure frost bite in order to rightly perform my duties. But, it’s 2021. Presumptions, it turns out, are so 2019.
As part of the schedule of events I had the privilege of addressing the elders and issuing them a charge to continue in their work of faithful shepherding. I spent a part of my time in one of my favorite pastoral texts and it is that text in 1 Thessalonians 5 that I want to turn our attention towards. Paul says, in verse 14 …
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
This four-fold grid is so helpful for me in my pastoral responsibility but also in my relationships with my family, friends and even myself. It reminds me that different people need different sorts of love from me in order to help them to move forward. Some need admonishment, some need encouragement, some need help, they all need patience. When we stop to think about it, we can see the clear and obvious danger and potential negative impact if we get them mixed up. Admonishing the fainthearted will only worsen the disposition of their heart. Encouraging the weak might help how they feel but offers no tangible support for overcoming the weakness they are experiencing. Helping the idle simply allows them to stay in sin and rebellion longer than they should. Loving people well takes discernment. It takes a holy curiosity that is so lacking in our current discourse and our modeled modes of relational interaction.
And so friends, my very brief encouragement for us today is that we would be people who ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our relationships with those around us. That we would ask the Lord: “What does this person need from me?”
Do they need admonishment? May I give it humbly, lovingly and boldly. Do they need encouragement? May I give it faithfully, fervently and fearlessly. Do they need help? May I give it gently, helpfully and empathetically.
And may we be patient.
With them all.
As God continues to be so very patient with us.
See you Sunday, you wonderful friends.