Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm. So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful. I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you. (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4, NLT)
The primary model of the Christian community in Paul’s letters is family, so it would stand to reason that the primary model for church leadership in the New Testament is parenting. Once we recognize this biblical pattern for leadership in the church, strange passages like 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4 begin to make a little more sense.
Sometimes, parents must show restraint in order to prevent themselves from giving the full vent to their anger or disappointment, hence the reason for Paul’s delay. That doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t speak the truth in love, especially when it is in the best interest of their children. But if the only time a parent speaks to their child is to issue a corrective, then the child will not understand the motivation of the parent. In Paul’s case, his motivation is love and joy, so he was measured in how he communicated with the Corinthian church.
It’s also important to note that Paul’s “parental style” was to provide guidance, not control. This is an important distinction, because guidance fosters maturity and interdependence. Leadership (and parenting, for that matter) that seeks to control behavior fosters dependence and stunts the growth of maturity. It also creates a legalistic culture that focuses on stated rules and accountability for those required to keep the rules. Unfortunately, those who create the rules sometimes live exempt from the rules that are enforced on the membership.
Like most parents, Paul lived vicariously through his spiritual children. Their struggles would become his struggles. Their joys would become his joys and their growth would be celebrated and affirmed. He didn’t want something from them, he wanted something for them. He could see within them the potential they could not see within themselves. Yes, spiritual parenting is hard and requires a great deal of patience. But you persevere, not necessarily because they deserve it. You persevere because they are yours.