In 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, Paul identifies pastors not with a title but according to three of their primary functions.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (ESV)
Pastors work among God’s people.
First, they “labor among you.” The verb “labor” can refer to fishing, walking, farming, tent-making, or any type of honest work with one’s hands (Luke 5:5; John 4:6, 38; Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 4:12; 2 Tim 2:6; Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8). Paul uses it elsewhere to describe the ministry of Christians (Rom 16:6, 12; 1 Cor 16:16). Functioning much as a pastor, he uses it of himself as well (Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10). This spiritual, pastoral labor involves the people of the church (“among you”), as well as studying, preaching, and teaching (cf. 1 Tim 5:17).
Pastors lead God’s people in the Lord.
Second, they “are over you in the Lord.” Paul uses the verb “are over” in other passages to refer to those who “lead” (Rom 12:8) and “rule” the church (1 Tim 5:17). Paul requires pastors to “manage” their households well, indicating how they will care for the church of God (1 Tim 3:4–5). This leadership, rule, and management extend only “in the Lord.” Authority is not inherent to a pastor but comes from God as granted by His people and guided by His Word.
Pastors admonish God’s people.
Third, they “admonish you.” Any Christian can admonish another (Rom 15:14; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:15), and, like Paul who gave pastoral admonition (cf. 1 Cor 4:14; Col 1:28), these pastors admonished the church as well.
From the above, we could make three related statements about a church and its obligations to its pastors.
You are your pastor’s work.
Your pastor works “among you.” Whether he preaches to you from the pulpit or visits you in your home, his work is specifically you. He will account for your soul, and he labors to help you to heaven.
You must follow your pastor in the Lord.
Your pastor does not lead you in minor matters. He leads you “in the Lord.” He gives instruction from the Word and teaches what God has said. As your pastor applies the Word to the church as a whole, it should gladly follow him. The Chief Shepherd guides His sheep through his under-shepherd, and the Lord leads you through him.
You will be admonished.
Your pastor will “admonish you” to provoke progress and Christian growth. Until you see the face of Jesus, sin lies close at hand. Sometimes you will let it rear its ugly head. When it does, your pastor may give you a rebuke. Perhaps he will address the sin of many in a way for all to hear.
May we as pastors do our best in the ministry that God has given, and may we as the church receive this ministry well.