The Affection-Driven Ministry
When I entered into ministry I was driven by a desire to see a vision accomplished. My eyes had been radically opened to the glories of Christ. I was 23 years old and eager to help others see what God, by grace, had shown me. I had finally comprehended the truth of what Christ had achieved at the cross. I was blown away by what He did it for me. I wanted nothing more (and still do) than for others to know the glories of Christ.
Entering into ministry for me was about helping people see Christ. That goal eventually played out in planting a church that would reach the lost and grow believers. Ministry was about how we could reach lost people and disciple saved people. Of course, when you are in the planning phases of a church plant, there are no people. Just a dream. Just a desire. Just a picture of a future you want to become reality.
This vision was a picture of a ministry making a difference in people’s lives. But these “people” were all potential people, not actual people. These people who could be reached were present in my mind during planning and organizing, but were not as tangible as developing strategies or fleshing out values. Soon after the church launched and ministry began, I found that while helping people see Christ was the goal, people were not my focus. Instead I was still thinking about the trellis work of ministry, instead of nurturing and tending to the vine.
Avoiding The Trap
If we are not careful, our approach to ministry will become systems and programs focused. We will slip into the trap of thinking primarily of organization, strategies, and goals. None of these things are bad things – many churches could stand to think more about them – but when I read the New Testament, particularly the writings of the Apostle Paul, what I find is an affection-driven ministry. Paul loved the church. He did not simply love the idea of the church, he loved the actual church. Yes, he spent time on organization, finances, fixing problems, and the like, but his ministry was marked by a deep passion and love for the people.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, Paul writes these words: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul describes his care for the church as being like a nursing mother taking care of her children. A nursing mom is usually found with an infant child. An infant needs extensive care and attention. An infant depends on his mother for nourishment and provision. There is an intimacy and connection between a nursing mother and her infant child. Paul declares that this is the type of gentleness and care he provided the church of Thessalonica.
The next phrase is even more stunning, “So, being affectionately desirous of you…” These words, that phrase is the one that caught my eye. He feels affections and desires for the church. He is “affectionately desirous” of them. Can that be said of pastors and elders of most churches today? Can that be said of the elders of my church? Can that even be said of me?
What does he specifically desire here? To share not only the gospel with them, but to share his life with them. The church had become so dear to Paul, he did not see them as simply his audience to preach the gospel to. They were not just his pupils in the faith. He longed to share his life with them. This is what pastoral ministry should be about.
This passage bred a curiosity in me. Was this the only example of Paul speaking affectionately toward churches? Are there other areas in Paul’s letters to the churches that use this type of language? This led me back to his New Testament letters, written to the churches that had been started. I soon discovered this example in 1 Thessalonians 2 was not a random moment of emotion from Paul. This kind of affection-driven leadership was prominent in Paul’s ministry. Throughout his letters he expresses great longings and desires for the churches.
Paul’s Affection-Driven Ministry
The following breakdown is a collection of topics and passages where Paul is demonstrating deep-felt affections for the church. From them, I believe we can be encouraged to cultivate this kind of pastoral heart and love for the flock of God among us.
- Gratefulness to God for their faith (Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, 2:13).
- Desirous for their joy and love in the faith (2 Corinthians 1:23-24; Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1:23-26; Colossians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:5).
- For their perseverance in the faith (1 Thessalonians 3:4-5, 12-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
Being With the Church
- So he could strengthen them (Romans 1:9-12; 2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Galatians 4:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10). Praying for their strength (Ephesians 3:14-16; Colossians 1:11, 24).
- Preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:15).
- Just to be with them (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; 2 Corinthians 12:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 3:11).
- Be there with them in spirit (Colossians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:17).
To Express His Love and Commend Their Love For One Another
- Express his love for them (2 Corinthians 2:4, 12:14-15; Philippians 4:1).
- Their partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-6).
- Their sharing of trials (Philippians 1:7).
- Express his gratitude for leaders who love them (2 Corinthians 8:16-17).
- Commend their love for each other (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).
For Their Repentance and Obedience
- Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-9, 12:21; Galatians 4:9-11; Philippians 4:2-3).
- Obedience (Romans 16:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:4).
Anguish When Admonishing Them and Warning Against Divisive People
- Anguish when admonishing (2 Corinthians 1:23-24, 2:1-4, 7:8-9).
- Warning against divisive people (Romans 16:7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:10-11).
Salvation for the Lost
- Outside the church (Romans 10:1-4).
- Inside the church (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
A Plea for Them to Imitate Him
- A call to imitate (1 Corinthians 4:14-16, 11:1; Philippians 3:17; Ephesians 5:1).
- An example of this imitation (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
These categories, examples, and passages are staggering. They represent all the ways and times Paul’s writings speak with affection-saturated language. I do not expect that as you read this list you stopped and looked up each passage; however, I encourage you to look at them. As we read these passages, and we hear Paul’s heart and affections for the people, it informs what pastoral ministry should look like.
Paul did not write to the churches because he “had” to. It was not an obligation or duty. This was not just another part of the job description he had to begrudgingly follow. No, he wrote because he cared for them. The letters containing these longings and affections were of a leader who had been called to the role of shepherding God’s flock. This should be the heart of all who have been called by the will of God as a shepherd to the church of Jesus Christ.
Cultivating An Affection-Driven Ministry
How can we cultivate an affection-driven ministry?
First, we must pray God would create this kind of love for the flock. We cannot flip a switch and have these types of longings for them. We need the Spirit of God to do this work in us.
Second, I believe we should read these examples and imitate Paul. Do you want to know what a good shepherd looks like? Observe one in the references above. Notice the things he wrote affectionately about. He longed to see them. He desired their faith to grow, strengthen, and persevere. He regularly told them how much he loved them and treasured their partnership in the gospel. He desperately sought their repentance and obedience to Christ. He was pained when he had to admonish and warn them. Look at how passionate Paul was about these things and seek to imitate them, as the Spirit cultivates your heart.
Finally, remember the neediness of sheep. Sheep without a shepherd are vulnerable, helpless, and in danger. If we have been sovereignly placed in the position of pastors and elders, then we are to be shepherds of the flock of God among us (1 Peter 5:2). We are not to do this begrudgingly or out of duty, but joyously and with great love for them. This is the heart behind an affection-driven ministry.