The Bible provides several similes and metaphors for ministry. Many familiar with the Bible would recall examples such as a shepherd, soldier, athlete, or a farmer (1 Pet. 5:1-4; 2 Tim. 2:3-6). But I wonder how many would immediately think of a nursing mother?
Consider Paul’s words below:
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. (1 Thess. 2:7–8)
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul takes his readers us on a walk through the nursery or to the home of a loving mother, to teach about faithful ministry. He’s explaining what he did and why he did it. While he is not making prescriptions directly for pastors, his instructions are nevertheless appropriate and helpful for those in ministry to consider.
Paul takes his readers on a walk through the nursery or to the home of a loving mother, to teach about faithful ministry.
Is Paul here teaching us that pastors should be women? No, I don’t think he is—any more than he is saying they should carry weapons when he compares ministers to those in the military. Instead, he is pointing to some important characteristics that are more often and clearly reflected by mothers. What makes these traits commendable, after all, is not because they tend to be either female or male (that misses the point) but because they reflect the image of God (cf. also Isa. 49:15, 66:13; Matt. 23:37). Nursing mothers, in their gentleness, affection, and sacrifice, beautifully reflect their creator. And in so doing are a commendable and noteworthy picture for a minister to consider.
What does he want us to learn? He wants us to learn about gentleness, affection, and sacrifice. (Yes, if you need an acronym, GAS is easy to remember and far too easy for puns.)
Think about the mother of a young child. Her gentleness is expressed by tenderness and patience with her baby. When her little one is crying, she calms them down with a gentle voice of reassuring love.
So too the minister in Christ’s church must be one who knows his responsibility is to care for the children of God. His calling is characterized by a loving, patient gentleness. Like a mother with a child, when those in the church are hurting, the pastor is hurting. He wants to console, not scold. He wants to scoop them up and care for them. When they are in the tears of desperation and despair or weighed down by the oppressive burdens of sin and guilt, they are to come alongside and with tenderness and gentleness, giving the reassuring voice of heavenly love.
As the mother speaks the gentle words of loving care, so too the pastor speaks the kind and loving words of divine love. In this way, he reflects the gentleness of a nursing mother.
Who hasn’t had a smile instinctively when watching a mother hug and hold her baby? This bond is evident when a mother holds the child close and looks into their eyes. Who would ever say this is a duty or her job? Can you imagine a mom after a long day of nursing and tending to an inconsolable baby, saying to her husband or a friend, “I’m just doing my job.” No way. This mom isn’t just doing her job. She’s not punching the clock. She loves her baby. Her silly and sweet songs made up on the fly and all the baby talk—this is real love in the moment.
So too the pastor must genuinely love the family of God. He inclines his heart toward them. People that he might not have a lot of natural things in common with are suddenly very dear to him because they have the ultimate something in common—they are in Christ. They are Christians. They have come to love and serve the same Jesus.
And so they give themselves, not out of duty primarily but of love. They move toward the church in love because that’s what God has modeled himself.
Finally, we think about the sacrifice of mothers. A nursing mother is sacrificing everything. She sacrifices her time, her body, her sleep, her career, her hobbies, her recreation, and a million other things. There is hardly anything she doesn’t sacrifice. Her life, in one sense, is not her own. The giving up of her body to grow and carry her baby is a picture of what she continues to sacrifice for her daughter or son joyfully. But she loves this sacrifice because she loves her baby. She loves her kids.
And so pastors, faithful ministers in Christ’s church must sacrifice. They must be men who give up themselves for the sake of the children of God.
They certainly will sacrifice time—late-night phone calls and early morning meetings. They will sacrifice their hearts—people they have given themselves to in pastoral care will walk away. People whom they have poured out their hearts to God in prayer will not return their phone calls. People with whom they have shared hugs, meals, and significant life events will slander them and ignore them. But they will keep doing it because it is what pastors do. They love the flock.
And this is why the text says that they not only preached the gospel, but they also opened their lives. They didn’t just give the gospel, but they gave their lives.
This is a sacrifice.
Sometimes ministry is hard. Sheep bite, as they say. And it hurts. And pastors sometimes can be tempted to move away from the people. They can feel the temptation to retreat into a comfortable place of insulation and protection. But in doing this, they may guarantee they never get hurt again but also that they will not love the flock. They will not be a good example to them either. Leaders must open up their lives and share them with the congregation. Counting the cost, they give themselves away.
In Looking to Mothers, Look to Christ
If you are in ministry, look at the example that Paul gives. Be a gentle pastor. Be affectionate toward the flock and sacrifice yourself for them. Open up the blinds of your lives and let the church in. Let them see you in your weakness, not just your Sunday morning strength.
Consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who models this ministry so faithfully.
Who is more gentle and patient than Jesus?
Who loves the children of God more than Christ?
Who has sacrificed more than the Savior?