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


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?


Birthday Burnings and Pleas for Mercy

Josh and Me (2)


You would have turned 37 today. Mom and I may not have necessarily enjoyed the pleasure of your company this very day. You would likely have pulled a double at the restaurant. But we would have caught up with you on your day off, maybe even watched the Super Bowl this Sunday, played perhaps with properly inflated balls.

I would grill you a ribeye, medium rare, just as you liked it. Mom would have baked you one of those killer “Black Magic” cakes – a Heff birthday tradition. We would have sipped a Zin brought by you purchased inevitably above my pastoral price point. And the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 would have smiled upon us: “There is nothing better for a person than he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

But you are gone. I miss you.



Those horrible words sink in yet another heart-stabbingly relentless time. Just when I thought I survived January 18, the 28th brings another of grief”s battering waves.

Once again, where does a grieving father turn? He goes to His father above. And He never disappoints.

There this miserable-memory morning I read these words from another familiar-with-suffering servant:

Job gives utterance to a mood which is not foreign to us when he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that You set a guard over me?” In certain moods of anguish the human heart says to God, “I wish You would leave me alone; why should I be used for things which have no appeal to me?” In the Christian life we are not being used for our own designs at all, but for the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ. He has prayed that we baffled-to-fight-bettermight be “one with Him as He is one with the Father”; consequently God is concerned only about that one thing, and He never says “By your leave.” Whether we like it or not, God will burn us in His fire until we are as pure as He is, and it is during the process that we cry, as Job did, “I wish You would leave me alone.” God is the only Being who can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot, Job could not, but God can. If we are misunderstood we “get about” the man as soon as we can. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” God never vindicates Himself, He deliberately stands aside and lets all sorts of slanders heap on Him, yet He is not in any hurry. We have the idea that prosperity, or happiness, or morality, is the end of a man’s existence; according to the Bible it is something else, “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” When a man is right with God, God puts His honor in that man’s keeping. Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God. “And blessed is he, who is not offended because of Me,” said Our Lord (Oswald Chambers, Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering, Discovery House, 1990, p. 41-42, emphasis added).

I’m not a 21st century Job. Not even close. But I do need mercy. Thus I appeal.

Sovereign God, if I belong to that privileged company “Guardians of Your Honor,” and I believe I do, only by grace, then burn away as You please. But have mercy on me for I am but a sinful, grieving man dealing with this birthday’s burnings. I admit it. I sometimes wish you would leave me alone. But not so much that I entertain offense at my Savior and abandon my implicit confidence in You.

Writing a Tribute to Your Parents

Dennis Rainey, in his book The Tribute: Whatever Every Parent Longs to Hear (Thomas Nelson, 1994, 288 pages), advocates every son or daughter writing a tribute of honor to their parents at some point in their life. He also advises presenting that written tribute publicly, usually on some milestone date in their lives.

On July 23 of 2004 my parents marked their 50th wedding anniversary. I struggled with what to give them since they possess so much due to God’s blessing in their lives.

It was then that I read Rainey’s book and found it inspirational, helpful, and practical. He talks about the biblical importance of honor and goes into quite some detail how to write a tribute. He wrestles with tough subjects like how to honor parents who have been abusive and less than honorable in their parenting. He also provides numerous examples of tributes people have sent in over the years. It’s worth the read.

It may be a bit late to write something like this for your Mom with less than twenty-four hours left before Mother’s Day, but I would commend the idea to your thinking for Father’s Day in June or some other event in the future.

I finish this little exhortation with a copy of my version to my folks. They matted and framed a copy and placed it on the family picture wall of their home in Viera. God worked wonderfully that night of their anniversary. My hope is that this might serve to prompt you to do something similar on the right occasion as God leads.

The Best Gift I Can Give
A Tribute to My Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary

Dear Dad & Mom,

I wondered long and hard, even prayed, about what present to get you for this momentous occasion. God’s voice was clear. Give them honor. Write a tribute.

Memories from these years as your son came back like a flood. I thank you for them all. I honor you for the earliest memory – joining me on the floor to play with my cowboys and Indians fort. I honor you for the latest memory – turning your 50th into an occasion to gift your children with stunning generosity.

I honor you for all the memories in between – not just for the memories, but for what they represent – love, family, care, commitment. Some of those memories seem more insignificant than others. Certain ones belong to you, Mom. Whipping up the world’s greatest chicken pot pie. Decorating a perfect tree every Christmas Eve. Teaching me how to cook, wash, and even iron for college. Instilling in me the importance of writing thank you notes.

Others come from you, Dad. Tutoring me through Mr. Donnely’s tortuous 7th grade math class. Taking me to see the Phillies play at Connie Mack stadium. Letting me drive the corvette to the prom even though it cost you a night’s sleep. Being able to fix absolutely anything. Making me help build that endless stone wall in Berwyn.

Still more have to do with you both, and the family. Singing “I wish I was a Colorado Marmot” under the Rocky Mountain summer night sky. Tolerating my rock band blasting sixties songs in the garage. Attending all my plays and graduations. Letting me get a hamster. Buying me a 12-string guitar.

I honor you for those lesser memories and these weightier ones. Mom – breaking the generational chain of addiction by trusting Christ as your Savior and relentlessly facing Goliath-like issues with God’s help.

Dad – not just marrying Mom though I came with the package, but even adopting me as your very own son. I gladly bear the family name, Heffelfinger.

Both of you – raising me in the church where I received my call to the ministry. Nurturing my love for music, theater, and speech – recognizing my unique bent and never trying to make me into someone I wasn’t. Refusing to allow my foolish dishonor in leaving college against your wishes to drive an ultimate, endless wedge into our relationship. Standing with me and Nancy in the hardest choices of our lives – leaving CCVF in ’79 and heading for Idaho in ’98.

And certainly on this day, July 23, 2004, I honor you for the testimony of covenant- keeping marriage – for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, until death do you part. In all of this you haven’t been perfect, any more than I or any of us have been perfect. But you have been real, faithful, loving, devoted, and enduring. For these things and so much more, I honor you. I give you tribute. You are exactly what God wanted me to have. Praise be to His name!

Your loving and forever grateful son,


Leviticus 19:32