On Sunday evening, I heard a sermon on the first chapter of Thessalonians, and during the sermon I was struck by one phrase used by the Apostle Paul:
… But your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thess. 1:8)
Paul and his leadership team had so thoroughly influenced their friends that they deemed themselves no longer necessary, essential, or vital. They did not need to show up, prop up, pump up, or speak up. So well had they led, trained, instructed, and discipled their followers, that they viewed themselves as almost irrelevant. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had successfully multiplied and replaced themselves. They had become leaders of leaders. They had become leaders of a movement. They had exercised their leadership so well that they no longer needed to say anything.
Let’s take a moment and read the larger text. Several principles of leadership are found herein:
1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess. 1:1-10)
First, Paul was an encouraging leader. Notice his words of commendation and thanksgiving. His readers and followers must have been thrilled by the pastoral pat on the back which he gave to them. Yes, sometimes leaders must condemn. More often, they should commend. Paul, in almost all his letters, was an example of an uplifting leader. He consistently found ways to encourage his friends.
Second, Paul was a praying leader. He was one who interceded for them in the past. At the present time he was “constantly mentioning them in his prayers.” And his friends knew he would continue to do so without ceasing. Paul understood any success he would have as a leader, and any success they would have as his followers, rested solely upon the grace and power of God. Therefore, Paul made it known to all that he was a man with calloused knees. Constantly, the Apostle interceded for his friends.
Third, Paul was a teaching leader. Notice the confidence he had in the biblical instruction he had given. He was one who had schooled them in the Word of God and the Gospel, and his intention had always been much more than mere information dispensing. It was his prayer and practice to deliver the Word of God with the Holy Spirit’s power and conviction, with the goal that God’s Word would be put into practice by his hearers. Paul was a consistent “means of grace” leader.
Fourth, Paul was a modeling leader. He abhorred the mantra, “Do what I say and not what I do.” Therefore, knowing well he was a sinner, he was still confident he has walked before his brothers in an exemplary manner. They had been able to learn from his lips and his hips, from his talk and his walk. Though sinful, he had worshiped well and modeled a degree of Christ-likeness before his followers.
And what is the glorious result?
Paul proved to be a leader and not a mere authoritarian. His friends imitated and followed him, and in doing so they imitated and followed Jesus. Paul proved his leadership by his disciples.
Paul’s followers proved to be leaders. They had not been content to be “milk-fed” groupies of the man. Instead, they picked up the baton and continued the race on their own. Paul’s followers “had become examples to all.” Through them “the faith of Christ had gone everywhere.” These followers became leaders who encouraged men and women in Macedonia and Achaia to follow them as they followed Christ.
Consequently, when Paul and his fellows showed up again in Greece, they found that they “need not say anything.” Truth had been passed from one man to many. The leadership mantle had been passed from one generation to another. Gospel truth was being transferred from one location to several. Yes, Paul’s outstanding leadership was proven by his ability to sit back and rejoice in what God was doing through the next generation of Christian leaders. His leadership was proven by his followers.
Fellow leaders, how about you? Are you this sort of a leader? Are you a leader of leaders? Are you merely doing the work of the ministry, or are you equipping saints to do the work of the ministry?