The ministry, by definition, is about people. While it is true that we oftentimes (of necessity) get encumbered with details of work and administrative tasks, ultimately, the ministry is about people. There have been times in my ministry where I have gotten tired of people. That’s both horrible and hilarious at the same time. Horrible because the ministry is about people, and hilarious because…well, the ministry is about people. In recent years, God has used the book of First Thessalonians to teach me about the important work of investing in the people to whom God has sent me to minister. Even a casual reading of First Thessalonians reveals a very special relationship between the Apostle Paul and his beloved converts in Thessalonica. The key verse is 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which says, “…we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls…”
It is possible to win people to Christ without really investing much into them. I know because I have done it! God has convicted me at times that although I was succeeding in imparting the Gospel of God, I was failing to impart my own soul. In First Thessalonians chapter two, God gives us a pattern for investing in the lives of people.
1. Investment through Empathy
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8
This is where it all has to start. It may sound trite, but people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The world is filled with hurting people, and people who truly care are few and far between. I think of a man I led to Christ years ago whose kidneys were failing. His wife had moved to America to make money for his dialysis, but he hadn’t heard from her in a couple of years. He suspected she may have decided it was too much trouble and decided to move on with life. I think of a woman our church reached who had a drunk for a husband and a drunk for a son. She never knew from night to night which one would beat her.
If we want to invest in people, we must learn to empathize, and it must be genuine. Notice four very special words that Paul used:
Gentle—mild; meek; soft
Cherish—to treat with tenderness and affection; to give warmth, ease, or comfort to
Affectionate—having great love or affection; fond
Dear—of a high value in estimation; greatly valued; beloved; precious
Isn’t that something? These are terms we would typically use for our spouse or our children, but Paul used all four of these words to describe his attitude towards the people he was trying to reach. We must guard against living an insulated life where we want to minister to people on Sunday morning, but don’t really lose much sleep over their trials the rest of the week. It seems as if this danger increases the longer we are saved because of the ever-increasing distance between our own lives and the baggage that a lost person or a young Christian often carries. Perhaps this is why oftentimes the best “empathizers” are new Christians. It wasn’t that long ago that they were in the same boat.
May God help us to never lose the ability to feel someone else’s hurt deeply and to help bear their burden as if it were our own. If we desire to reach people, we must take the time to empathize with their struggles and burdens. If we desire to impact their lives, we must first let their lives impact us. If we would touch lives, we must invest through empathy.
2. Investment through Evangelism
“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2:9
Sadly, there are Christian missionaries who empathize with people and truly desire to help them, but never tell them about the Lord. Empathy and evangelism are inextricably intertwined. Empathy without evangelism is pointless, and evangelism without empathy is ineffective. To put it more bluntly: to pity a person without introducing them to Jesus is ultimately not very helpful. On the other hand, to try to introduce a person to Christ without showing some care, concern, and compassion will quickly become an effort in futility.
Many times before a person gets saved, they don’t understand that empathy and evangelism are linked. Oftentimes they want your empathy but not your evangelism. And that is probably why all of the words Paul used to describe evangelism are associated with hard work.
Labor—bodily or intellectual exertion which occasions weariness
Travail—labor with pain; severe toil
Night and day—without end
Real and true investment in people will not only start with investment through empathy, but it will quickly turn to investment through evangelism.
3. Investment through Example
“Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:” 1 Thessalonians 2:10
People are watching us. Sometimes we are aware of it, and sometimes we aren’t. But they are watching. Our flesh will say, “Hey, I have a right to watch TV, listen to music, or have a private conversation without everybody examining my every move.” Much is made about the proverbial glass house in which preachers live. And yet, that is a part of investing in people. God does indeed hold his under-shepherds to a higher standard of living, precisely because we are leaders of God’s flock.
Notice again a few words associated with being a good example:
Holily—piously; with sanctity
Justly—honestly; fairly; with integrity
Unblameably—in such a manner as to incur no blame
As we learn to walk in the Spirit, and deny the flesh, our influence on people will increase as we invest in them through example.
4. Investment through Encouragement
“As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,” 1 Thessalonians 2:10
Sam Walton said, “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free—and worth a fortune.” But a couple of thousand years before he said that, the Apostle Paul knew that encouraging words were a powerful way to invest in a person’s spiritual growth and development. He used the simile of a father encouraging his children. A father will comfort, challenge, or confront his children depending on the need, but every word has one purpose—to encourage growth and maturity.
Notice a few words that come up in this discussion of investment through encouragement:
Exhorted—to incite by words or advice
Comforted—to strengthen; to invigorate; to cheer or enliven
Charged—to give directions to; to instruct authoritatively
To bring out a person’s full potential, we must learn to invest through encouragement.
I don’t want to impart the Gospel of God only. I want to impart my own soul. May God help us to be Spirit-filled servants who seek to invest in people through empathy, evangelism, example, and encouragement.