The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

We complete unpacking Paul’s quest in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 for preserving unity in the church by advocating followers’ respect for their leaders because of their work.

So far we have considered the family and hard and leading nature of that work. This post focuses on the corrective nature of the ministry.


The last of three verbs in v. 12 describing the nature of a church officer’s work is the word “admonish.” Literally it means “to put in mind.” It has instruction and teaching overtones.

But more is involved in that. We get some help from what follows: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle” (1 Thess. 5:14a). Admonishment is confrontational in a good sense. It confronts sinful behaviors like idleness.

Apparently some of the Thessalonians, confused about the doctrine of the return of Christ and its implications (see 1Thess. 4:13-5:11), stopped working for their provision, waiting around for Jesus to come back. Paul urged that this kind of thing not to on unchecked.

Here is another example: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10). It is the job of elders to identity ungodly behavior in followers of Jesus—like divisiveness—and to help uproot the idols that lie beneath those sins.

That, by the way, is terribly hard work. In some ways, I would say the hardest part of my job as a pastor. But it is absolutely essential ministry for the welfare of the flock.

David Mathis, writing for Desiring God, explains why this kind of spiritual work by leaders, or anyone in our lives for that matter, deserves our utmost respect:

How is it that God’s reproof most often comes to us? Answer: in reproof from a brother or sister in Christ. We’ll beware resisting the reproof of a fellow in Jesus, especially when it’s echoed in multiple voices, knowing that likely we would be resisting the very reproof of God. When a brother or sister in Christ goes to the inconvenience to have the unpleasant conversation bringing correction into our lives, we should be floored with thanksgiving. . . . Count it as love from your brother, and as God’s channel of his love for you.

Here is another practical suggestion. Watch your attitude when a church officer dares in love to take you aside to reprove or exhort you. You may not end up agreeing in the long run, but that is still such an important work for your spiritual well-being.

Take it to heart. At least pray about it. Thank him for reaching out to you. Respect the fact that he went out of his way to risk speaking to you with truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

For all these reasons, the nature of an officer of the church’s work as family work, hard work, leading work in the Lord, and corrective work, followers should pursue peace by holding their leaders in the highest regard worthy of all esteem.

This kind of honoring, submissive virtue does not come naturally. It is not our default heart setting as self-centered beings. I think that’s why Paul motivates the way he does just before this context:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1 Thess. 5:9-11).

To encourage one another, to build one another up, to honor one another, whether officers or not, these capacities come from Him who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.

In their book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara Barthell and David Edling point to this kind of gospel motivation in lobbying for thinking the world of our church leaders:

As you consider your role as a follower in your church . . . how are you affirming the gifts and strengths of your leaders, and how are you bearing with their weaknesses? Remember how gentle and patient God is toward you—that it is his kindness that “leads you toward repentance” (Rom. 2:4). . . . One of the most appreciative and encouraging things you can do for your leaders is to pray for them and let them know you are doing so. This will demonstrate your proactive devotion.

Great concept—proactive devotion—yet another practice contributing significantly to some very sweet rewards accompanying unity in the church.


Update on My Most Recent Jaw Reconstruction Procedure

Dr. Marx

Last Thursday, August 10, I underwent the third in a series of surgeries to rebuild my right-side mandible.

Radiation treatment in 2005 eventually undermined the integrity of that bone. I suffered a pathological fracture as a result in late 2015.

Tongue cancer was painful. A broken jaw was excruciating. Worse than that, one can’t chew anything. Something had to be done.

Fortunately Dr. Robert Marks, an oral surgeon in Miami, knew just what to do for me. He is one of a kind. I’ve complained about having to travel 500 miles round trip each time I see him. But then I thank God he doesn’t operate out of Seattle.

Robojaw 1 took place in February 2016. They removed half the mandible and replaced it with a titanium plate.

After six months or so of healing, Robojaw 2 occurred the day before Thanksgiving that same year. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks to keep the bone graft to rebuild the mandible fixed in place until it was hard enough for me to safely chew again.

Another six months gone by brings things to the present with step three. Dr.  Marx removed four additional teeth in the lower front of my mouth. They would have eventually died from radiation treatment as well.

He also placed four implants below the jaw line. All this acts as a prelude to getting some teeth back in my mouth so I can chew food on that side, speak better, and prevent the upper right teeth from growing down and falling out since they have nothing to bite down on.

The surgery went well. It lasted about two hours. They were so pleased with the ease that they discharged me that very day. There was no need for an overnight stay for observation. I’m sure that made the insurance company happy.

Next Tuesday I will make yet another Miami trip for my two-week post-op check up. At that point I hope to confirm the timing for Robowjaw 4, six months from now and what it will involve.

By next February the implants should have become integrated with the bone. They will affix posts to the implants. These will set above the jaw line.

After three weeks of wearing some sort of mouth guard to keep them in place, the climax will happen. I will get eight teeth where now there are none.

I’ve already got a celebration plan mapped out. We’re sitting on a wedding gift card to Ruth’s Chris. I’ve never been. Might as well take those new teeth out for a ribeye spin and see just what they will be able to do.

Thanks for all for your prayers and support!


The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

We continue unpacking Paul’s quest in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 for preserving unity in the church by advocating followers’ respect for their leaders because of their work.

So far we have considered the family and hard nature of that work. This post focuses on the leading nature of the ministry.


Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord. The verb over is made up of two Greek words, literally to stand before.

It means to provide oversight. Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus about this aspect of the work in Acts 20:28.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God (emphasis added).

Overseer is episkopos—one who watches over. These servants preside over the affairs of the congregation for its welfare and good order.

Please don’t miss those words in the Lord. The elder’s domain is spiritual. It’s the church. Elders tend to the affairs of Christ within the local congregation as His representatives doing His business.

I love to start every new member class the same way. I introduce myself: Curt Heffelfinger. I give my title: I am the pastor-teacher here at OGC. Then I add, “I am not the senior pastor.”

To which I then ask, “Would you like to know who is?” Inevitably I get a yes and some just blurt out the answer. Jesus. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of His church (1 Pet. 5:4). Every elder and deacon who assists elders is nothing more than Christ’s underling/steward.

Hebrews 13:17 summarizes this well:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (emphasis added).

By the way, you simply cannot obey this verse, if you don’t belong to a local church as a member, partner, whatever you want to call it. Someone in a local context of Jesus’ universal church needs your informed consent to take accountable responsibility for your spiritual welfare.

Alfred Poirer notes this as one of several aspects of a biblical basis for covenant membership in a local church.

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account (Acts 2:28-30; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). If the sheep must know their shepherd, so too the shepherd must know his sheep. Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

But my primary point here is that a lack of respect for the officer for his work can tempt him to groan. It can tempt him to discouragement. Don’t go there.

Threatening Christ’s servants’ joy through disrespect and being unduly difficult to shepherd will not profit you and will jeopardize the peace of the church. Please determine to be easily led for the sake of the unity of your fellowship!

Some practical suggestions on this front:

Are you going to be gone for several weeks and go missing on Sundays? Let your pastor know so he does not wonder if you are OK.

If he tries to reach you via text, email, or phone to check up on you, to ask for your help, to follow up on something, don’t make it hard for him. Be responsive, be prompt, be cooperative in every way you can. You will give him such joy.

Of course, if you have not yet become a member of your church, determine to take advantage of the soonest possible opportunity you can to identify with that congregation and its leaders.

Labor mightily for a healing spirit!


The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

In my latest series of posts based on 1 Thess. 5:12-13, I have argued for the pursuit of church unity by the way followers honor their leaders. It has everything to do with the nature of their work.

In the last post we covered the family nature of the work. In this post we consider the toilsome nature of the ministry.

Hard Work

The Greek language has a variety of terms for work. In v. 12, Paul uses a verb form of a particularly vivid word. It describes toil, labor, or work so depleting it leaves one weary—completely exhausted.

The root of the word means beaten, as in this kind of work leaves you feeling like you just went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali.

Paul uses the same word in 1 Tim. 5:17 when he speaks of those who labor in preaching and teaching, a principal role of an elder.

In his own testimony, Paul claimed in 1 Cor. 15:10, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

If you are worth your salt, if you are duly qualified, if you are rightly called to office, if you truly get the nature of service in God’s church, whether elders who devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word or deacons who “wait on tables” serving practical needs in the body and ministering to those in need (Acts 6:1-7), I guarantee you, you know the reality of this.

You know what it means to work hard. You’ve lost sleep, sacrificed family time, and put your own needs second to those you serve countless times. And sometimes it just leaves you feeling spent.

Not only that, but by Jesus’ own admission the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37). So you are likely undermanned on your team for the tasks on your list. These realities of church ministry alone are reason enough, Paul argues, for followers to pursue peace by treating their officers with respect.

In my role as a shepherd of God’s people, I get called upon often to assist folks in resolving disputes. I find the effort, time, and commitments necessary for effective assisted peacemaking among the toughest assignments in my ministry.

I always approach these challenges the same way. First, I meet with the individuals alone for conflict coaching—multiple times if necessary. Then, we meet for the actual mediation.

Along the way I try to help identify issues, concerns, offenses, idols of the heart, and paths to reconciliation. It can be brutally exhausting work.

Some time ago I served a family in such a conflict. The Lord worked mightily in healing the rift. I received one of the kindest notes notes of appreciation anyone has ever sent me.

I put that card in my Why I Became a Pastor File. I pull it out on days I think about abandoning ship and becoming a Walmart greeter.

Few things convey more honor and respect to someone like me in pastoral ministry than tangible appreciation.

What is something you might do to show your gratitude for the hard work done by your spiritual leaders?



The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

So Paul, the apostle, exhorts in Rom. 12:10.

A gospel-shaped life (Rom.1-11) demonstrates itself in a variety of manifestations of love-in this case competitive honor-showing.

I have argued in my previous three posts that this must especially be true in the way followers treat their leaders in the local church.

We will struggle to enjoy ongoing unity in the body of Christ failing to cultivate such a virtue.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13 Paul details four aspects of the nature of a shepherd’s work which warrant extra attention in the way of honor and esteem on the part of us as followers: family, hard, leading, and corrective work.

In this post I want to address the first.


Family Work  

Remember how Paul begins? We ask you. He urges gently; he doesn’t pull apostolic rank. And he writes with affection calling them brothers. Of course, as the ESV marginal note clarifies, he means brothers and sisters—both men and women.

He builds everything he commends here on the gospel foundation of brotherhood. We are family. Before we are elders, deacons, congregants et al, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is God’s family.

What should distinguish us above all else is the love for which we have for one another.  For followers that must be especially true of the way they esteem their church officers.

One Sunday morning a number of years ago I went on an ill-advised tirade during the announcement segment of the worship service. A new round of what we call Equipping Hour (think Sunday school) classes lay before us.

Attendance at these often started strong but waned as weeks went by. In an effort to motivate greater participation, I went on a legalistic rant and rave. I mean, it was ugly.

It was so bad my wife actually pulled me aside during the music to express her dismay at my meltdown!

If that wasn’t bad enough, a week or so later our young pastoral intern asked to meet me for lunch. After the usual chit chat, Scott courageously brought up that Sunday.

I’ll never forget what he said. Pastor Curt, the only thing that entire day that pointed me to the gospel was the baptisms at the end. This clearly had not been my finest pastoral hour.

That both my wife and an intern needed to exhort me about it humbled me big time. I got the message. I determined never to do that again.

Both the way Nancy and Scott approached me made all the difference in the world in the way I reacted. They never lost sight of respect for my calling and authority as an elder. They entreated me with esteeming love as a brother—and in my wife’s case—also as her husband!

When you engage an officer about some issue in your church, picture him with his family hat on—your brother—before you do with his leader hat on.

What is one way you could show your esteem for a pastor this week as your brother?


The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake


In their book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara Barthel and David Edling put their finger on a troublesome issue between followers and leaders in the church:

Typically, in our churches today, we find followers who don’t want to follow because they think they know more than their leader. They are like rebellious sheep who just want to do what they would do naturally. It’s true that all leaders are imperfect. But we can all learn to follow imperfect leaders. We have no other choice, for there is no perfect leader in a fallen world, and as followers, this is what we are called to do.

In this series of posts regarding followers excelling in safeguarding unity with leaders, we have answered the “what” question from this passage.

Followers who master peacemaking with leaders in their church treat them with the utmost, relational, loving esteem/honor/respect possible.

Now we are ready to ask the “why” question.

The answer comes in the middle of 1 Thess. 5:12-13because of their work.

I make it a point every Sunday before the worship service to eyeball the congregation looking for new people. If possible, I head their way to welcome them.

One Sunday I approached a lady visiting for the first time. I introduced myself by my first name. She smiled and replied, Hi, Curt, and shook my hand.

But then she paused, maybe catching a glimpse of my name tag. She actually gasped a bit. Are you the pastor? she asked. Well, yes, I am. I answered.

And then she apologized. She explained: Then I should have addressed you as “pastor.”

I assured her that she did not offend me. Lots of folks around Orlando Grace call me “PC” for short. I actually like the affection behind the nickname!

Some even address me by my first name, without the title. It really makes no difference to me.

But the fact that she took the office seriously and wanted to convey that even by the way she addressed me made me think.

She gets this verse.

Don’t get me wrong. This principal for safeguarding unity isn’t necessarily about titles.

But particularly in a conflict involving your shepherds, if peacemaking and Paul’s teaching matter here, you will want to take enormous pains about the way you go about communicating.

You will govern your tone of voice, the choice of words, and your overall demeanor so that you guard your heart from disrespect.

Paul lists four aspects of the officers’ work that necessitate honoring them as an essential part of pursuing peace and preserving unity in Christ’s church.

In the following posts we will look at each—family, hard, leading and corrective work—and make some practical applications.

How might you be tempted to think that you know more than your leaders?



The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

In my last post, I argued that eager preservers of church unity (Eph. 4:1-3) bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It always ranks high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

respectWith this end in view, the apostle Paul zeroes in on the relationship between followers and their leaders in 1 Thess. 5:12-13. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Simply put: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

Paul models a peacemaking spirit himself in carefully chosen words up front. We ask you, brothers (emphasis added). He commands at the end of v. 13—but he leads with a request.

The same word ask appears earlier in the letter coupled with another term in 1 Thess. 4:1. We ask and urge you. The two verbs combine to reveal his heart. He pleads with them.

He appeals to their familial sentiments—like a father would his children. With respect to their attitude toward their leaders—elders and deacons alike—he begs for a spirit of honor.

The What—Respect and Esteem

Paul uses two infinitives—synonyms to drive home his point—to respect (v. 12) and to esteem (v. 13). The former literally is the Greek word for to know. We ask you, brothers, to know those who labor among you.

He desires something more than raw recognition or mere dutiful honor. Don’t just acknowledge them because you must obey. Know them. Relate to them. Personally engage them.

That fits well with the addition of the words in love that go with the second infinitive: esteem them. That infinitive normally gets translated to consider or to think in a certain way. Here the context dictates a nuance of honor.

Think of them in terms of esteem—and to no small degree. Esteem them very highly in love (emphasis added). One commentator calls very highly a triple Pauline intensive. It means quite beyond all measure.

It conveys the highest form of comparison imaginable. It appears rarely in the New Testament, but perhaps most vividly in Eph. 3:20—Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (emphasis added).

Tara Barthel relates a story about a woman she once helped. It illustrates the kind of spirit Paul advocates in these verses:

Her marriage was very difficult, and her church leaders, though involved, were inexperienced in biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking. They made mistakes but they truly wanted to do what was biblically correct. Although this woman suffered greatly, she did so with great love and patience, realizing that her temporary circumstance was not just about her—it was also about helping her church leaders grow in knowledge, wisdom, and ability to serve as officers of Christ’s church. Her marital and familial conflicts concerned her church family, and so she endured patiently as her church leaders stumbled, erred, and caused hurt. Yes, she wept. Yes, it was hard. But God was glorified throughout the process, and her church was strengthened as she lived by faith and modeled what it looks like to be a biblical follower. This dear woman remembered that leaders are human; leaders are in the process of growing too. They are just as much in need of grace as followers are.

What are some ideas you have for showing respect and esteem to your church leaders?



The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

NPG D29704,The Farewell Sermons of ...,by Unknown artistSunday August 24, 1662, witnessed a great turning point in English Christianity. Dubbed The Great Ejection, some 2,000 ministers left the national church for reasons of conscience.

That “Farewell Sunday” Puritan giants like Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, and numerous others delivered parting sermons to their congregations.

Thomas Brooks prepared his own, but apparently never got to preach it. Consequently he preserved his in written form. His conclusion consisted of twenty-seven “legacies” he wished to impart to his people.

The tenth revealed his passion for the church to excel in preserving unity:

Labour mightily for a healing spirit. This legacy I would leave with you as a matter of great concernment. To repeat: Labour mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds. Labour for a healing spirit. Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs, is no wonder; but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous. God hath made his wrath to smoke against us for the divisions and heart-burnings that have been amongst us. Labour for a oneness in love and affection with every one that is one with Christ. Let their forms be what they will, that which wins most upon Christ’s heart, should win most upon ours, and that is his own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father, what of the Son, what of the Spirit shines in this or that person? and accordingly let your love and your affections run out.

In his first letter to a mostly healthy church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul issued a variety of exhortations.

One in particular championed Brook’s labor-mightily-for-a-healing-spirit legacy.

Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thess. 5:13b).

The verb is an imperative. He commands this. It is not optional to pursue peace in the body of Christ—and get this—constantly no less.

He uses the present tense. It conveys a continuous kind of action. An alternate translation could rightly read, Keep on being at peace among yourselves.

Hebrews 12:14 slants it this way: Strive for peace with everyone. Paul stressed in Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Brooks nailed it. Labor mightily for a healing spirit.

Do-your-best preservers of congregational unity should bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It will always rank high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Paul zeroes in on the relationship between the people and their leaders. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Concluding with some final instructions he writes:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

The apostle targets principally the followers—the greater majority of any congregation.

The principle for laboring mightily to safeguard unity in this case is this: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

In my next few posts I plan to unpack the what and the why of honoring church officers. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

How does my attitude toward the leaders of my church preserve or threaten my church’s unity?


Preserving Unity When Your Church Struggles

Every church experiences its ups and downs.

Ours has had its share. Most have involved me as lead pastor.

Between mega-loss and poor health, it seems I’ve spent more time out of the pulpit over the last three years than in it.

It’s awfully tough for a church to maintain momentum when the point man goes down.

Those things are largely behind me now. We’re working on rebuilding. But staying positive has its challenges.

And yet remaining thankful in all things matters so very much to a church’s peace. Paul exhorts in Phi. 2:14, Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

The church at Philippi suffered its share of disunity. Paul went so far as to call out publicly two women at odds with one another within the body (Phil. 4:2-3). Yikes, that must have hurt!

A spirit of discontent cripples the peace of any congregation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this counsel for navigating hard times in a needy congregation:

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

How’s your thanksgiving quotient in your church? Its peace depends in part on your faithfulness in the little things.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18).


Perspective with Yet Another Grief Anniversary

For three years now January has come and gone with the pain of loss. I’ve said it many times. No one should have to bury a child.

Now I add May to my least favorite months of the year list. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Nancy’s–the wife of my youth–going home to be with the Lord.

I was not sure how it would pass for me, especially since last March the Lord blessed me with Jan–the wife of my later years.

Me, Nan, & Jan

This picture was taken three years ago at a new people fellowship in our home. Who could have possibly known the providence of God that would unfold so soon after?

My emotions certainly came into play last night as the exact hour of Nan’s passing 365 days ago approached. Different folks reached out to me assuring me of their prayer support. Jan and I spent the evening together remembering and processing.

A verse I have returned to repeatedly through this journey is Prov. 18:22.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

What can I say? I’ve been favored by God in this regard twice in one lifetime.

Nancy was a gift from God to me. Jan is a gift from God to me. Both qualify as “excellent” (morally strong) women (Prov. 12:4; Prov. 31:10). Both were/are “prudent” (wise) women (Prov. 19:14). God alone gives a man such extraordinary favor.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, said well what I testify to as a man favored in marriage not just to one, but two godly women in a lifetime:

The good thing is, when he honors her, . . . as the person, whom God saw to be the best and fittest for himself in the whole world, a comfort for life, a help for heaven. Thus she becomes the one object of his undivided heart. Mutual faith is plighted in the Lord. Such a communion spiritualizes his affections, and elevates him from earth to heaven.

And so with this first May anniversary behind me, I do that very good thing.

I honor both these women–gifts from Him lifting me more heavenward than I might ever have reached without them.

Thanks be to God for double favor.