Preachers as Parents

I’ve been meditating on the various word pictures used of preachers in the Bible. One of my favorites is probably the most-neglected portrait: the preacher as a parent. We know from Paul’s writings that gospel ministers function in a fatherly and motherly way to the congregation. Consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:14–21:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

A text that has often encouraged me through the trials of pastoring has been Galatians 4:19, which says, “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” The pains of spiritual childbirth plague the ministry—at least they should. Our aim is to present every member mature in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:28). Spiritual grow is a marathon, not a sprint. And so, we agonize (see Col. 1:29) as a mother bears children.

Another text we should often remember is Paul’s word in 1 Thessalonians 2:5–12:

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 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.  For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Preachers are spiritual parents to the flock. We are to bring up God’s children in the Lord’s discipline and instruction. Christ has delegated authority to us that we might mold His people into His image.

As with the other word pictures for preaching, there are many sound implications we can make from this reality of the preacher as a parent. Let us focus on the one Paul emphasized: because the preacher is a parent, he must be gentle. Tenderness is the sanctified tone of a gospel ministry.

George Bethune, a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church in New York, wrote in 1839, “Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or cultivated less than gentleness. Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external matters, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom; do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.” Bethune’s words still ring true one hundred and eighty years later. Let us yearn for God to give us more gentleness in the ministry!

We should also consider Christ on this point (2 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 3:1); . We find Jesus occasionally burst out in rebuke or cry out in correction. His harshest words were always for professing believers full of pride and self-righteousness. But the air in which his ministry moved was that of gentleness. A bruised reed he did not break, a flickering flame he did not quench. It’s why Paul can command in the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 10:1 Paul exhorts them by “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” This is even what Jesus said of Himself in Matthew 11:29, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”

Paul is telling us it matters not only that the Lord’s servant proclaims the truth, but also how he preaches the the True One. Will anyone profit long-term from a ministry that tends to be angry and hard? It’s doubtful. We at least have no biblical reason to expect such a ministry will sustain spiritual fruit. But a ministry of gentleness and tenderness has great reason for hope.