Re-post: Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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One thought on “Re-post: Tenderness Plus

  1. Maybe I’m a traditionalist,Ibut I feel sure the writer of John’s gospels,the three Johanine epistles and of the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation of Jesus , are one and the same.That is John the Disciple.Yet some modern scholars say he wrote none of these five books while others accept the traditional authorship.

    What clinches John’s authorship for me comes at the end of John’s Gospel,where we are tolfd of the disciple whom Jesus loved :

    ‘’This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true’’ John 21:24 NIV

    Reading John’s gospel,he seems to know exactly when and where things took place.This is first person witness to my mind.

    John ,the beloved disciple leaned on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper.He was the only John there.Also he recalls verbatim what the other disciples said.This makes me sure John is the author.

    To my mind ( and heart), when reading the Bible,this writer is John the Evangelist,John the Beloved ,the disciple Jesus loved.,the fisherman of Galilee,brother of James. Jesus nicknamed the brothers Boanerges ,the Sons of Thunder.John was son to Zebedee we are told.The Bible gives him many appellations and tells us much about him.The early church fathers call him John of Patmos.

    On first reading his Apocalypse ,I overlooked that the Revelation ,like the Bible books preceding it, is an Epistle too..I’d thought it a personal account of a Vision from God,with no specific addressee..But I see clearly stated it was intended as a letter to communicate important things to seven early churches in Asia ,that string of churches which you mentioned John superintended in Western Asia ,Pastor Don.

    The writing in Revelation seems very different in style to the Gospel and the three letters.I think this is maybe because it’s an account of a Vision and John is effected by a sense of astonishment and wonder,which sometimes leads him to phrase things strangely,deeply affected as he was by what Jesus had shown him..Or maybe ,written when he was older, his writing style had changed.This is all speculation ,but what is certain is the importance and value of John’s witness.

    John is the disciple present at the Crucifixion,to whom our Lord gave to His mother as son and vice versa.He was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter and at the raising of Lazarus.Indeed he is the only Evangelist to recall the raising of Lazarus in his Gospel. It is to John and Peter that Mary Magdalene carries the news of Christ’s tomb being empty.It is John who is first to reach the empty tomb,though it is Peter who enters first.

    I notice in many paintings John is depicted without a beard,alone of the disciples.Perhaps he was the youngest disciple and this fact had come down by word of mouth to the earliest of these painters and a tradition had begun.

    As I understand John was not martyred and something Jesus says to Simon Peter in the Bible points to our Lord’s forknowledge of this.

    “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’’ Jesus tells Peter

    It seems John lived to a great age.He could have been alive very near to the end of the first century,I estimate.Especially if he was the youngest disciple.

    From my reading of the Bible ,I think of John as a lovingkind,affectionate loyal man,demonstrative of his feelings.At supper he leaned close to Jesus in warm affection for his master.Alone of the male disciples,despite the tremendous fear he must have felt, John stayed close to Jesus at Golgotha.His caring and faithful lovingkindness is pointed to when Jesus ,on the cross,entrusts Mary to his care.

    It seems to me just like John that he spoke so tenderly to his flock,with such affection.Known as John the Beloved ,he could equally be known as John the Loving. What a pastoral,caring leader of churches he must have been!

    I hope todays pastors follow John’s lead and I hope no pastor treats their flock roughly.For a pastor to say “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else” is indeed shocking.I have heard some folk say they left their church because they didn’t like the way their pastor treated them.This I believe was a mistake.

    Of course the pastor of a church , like a good shepherd,is both leader and servant / carer of his or her sheep Like Jesus, a leader and teacher: and like Jesus ,who washed the feet of His disciples,also a servant to the flock.

    It’s sad and I believe mistaken ,to leave a church just because one doesn’t get on with the pastor.. A church is more than it’s leader.A church is where Christian’s come together to worship God and open their hearts to receive Him together.From there, go out into the world to spread His word and spread His love.

    If a congregant feels his or her pastor is falling short they should nevertheless stick with their church and together with their fellow congregantsi, try help that pastor improve.,That pastor will have a superintendant ,a bishop,dean ,cardinal ,archdeacon or some kind of pastor of pastors,whichever way that church is organized,whatever denomination it is a pat of..Hopefully that pastor of pastors will have their eyes on things.

    And of course God has His eyes on things.Congregations can pray for guidance for their rough pastors and God will answer and things will change for the better.

    Humans are capable of falling short but together Christians can put their trust in God who will heal and renew His church .Faith and trust will always be rewarded.Ask and ye shall receive the Bible teaches.

    Yet again,in thinking carefully,exploring and then responding to a ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ blog,I have learned new things about our faith and while exploring these ideas,felt myself closer to our Lord . It’s a positive and refreshing exercise for which I’m very grateful.Thankyou Pastor Don,for your inspiration.

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