Paul has a beautiful way of portraying his pastoral relationship with the fledgling Thessalonian congregation (1 Thess. 2.5-8):
As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a mother tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
I find this so inspiring. Strong cords of love and mutuality bind Paul and this little congregation. He doesn’t stand on his rights as an apostle. Even in considering himself answerable chiefly to God — not seeking praise from mortals — far from draining all feeling and openness from his pastoral relationships, it actually enables profound care and transparency.
It sounds great. And thrilling (or threatening — which is really just the other side of the same thing). And open-ended.
But compare it with his more functional description his pastoral ministry in Acts 20.18-21:
You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus.
This is no less emotionally-loaded than Thessalonians. But Paul’s account of his ministry in Ephesus seems to have a much more sharply defined shape and texture. It’s all about repentance and faith.
Can you feel the tension here?
This, I suggest, is going to be the fundamental tension as we wrestle together with how to exercise the various functions of pastoral care in a distinctively Christian way.