Curt at the Happy Husband sent an email a few days ago to about 50 blogging pastors asking us how our congregations can encourage us. This has become a special burden to him as he seeks to encourage his own pastor and he wants us pastors to add our two cents to the discussion. Here's the orginal post on his blog and he has also set up a permanent page where he is posting links to the responses.
I'll begin with a big thanks to Curt for doing this. It is a big encouragement to me just to see him doing something like this. And beyond that, here are a few thoughts on how to encourage your pastor.
1. Take your own spiritual growth seriously.
"Nice sermon pastor" and "you're a good pastor" are wonderful to hear but what we really want to hear is that you are growing in your walk with Christ. This is why we are in ministry, we want to see people come to Christ and grow in Christ. We take your spiritual growth seriously and one of the greatest encouragments to us is to see you taking it as seriously as we do.
I was involved in a church plant one time and a group of us were doing some painting in a rented facility. The pastor joined me in the room I was working in and made the comment that he really enjoyed doing this painting because he could see the results of his work immediately. In ministry we don't really see the results of our work unless the numbers are growing and budgets are increasing. We also know that increasing numbers and budgets aren't the best measure of effectiveness and we know that alot of significant ministry can be going on where the growth is minimal.
But again, even where growth may be happening we don't often see it and many of us struggle with whether or not we are really making a difference in the lives of our folks. By taking your spiritual growth seriously that encourages us that we are making a difference.
2. Give your best to the church, not your leftovers.
Oddly enough I'm on a painting kick today because this next story involves painting a church. A pastor told of how a group was painting inside the church and he was working alongside a professional painter. The man dripped some paint on the floor or something like that and didn't clean it up so the pastor asked him if he was going to clean it up, knowing that on a paid job this guy would be meticulous in cleaning up. The painter said "naw, after all, it's only the church." The pastor replied by asking him to leave.
The church is the most volunteerish of volunteer organizations in the world. There really are no consequences for those who give half-hearted service at the church. Give half-hearted service at work and you could get demoted or fired. Give half-hearted play on your softball team and you'll get benched for someone whose better. Give half-hearted service at church and nothing happens.
Many of us pastors notice that when push comes to shove, it is almost always the church that gets the shove. I don't expect people to be at the church every day, but its reasonable to expect church members to be in church every Sunday unless they are ill or travelling and it is also reasonable to expect people to be involved in at least one extra ministry, whether it is in a position of leadership or involvement in a small group or something like that. I would love to hear people say "no" to other opportunities when they conflict with a church activity, but usually its the church activity that gets the shaft when something else comes up.
Also, please don't give your junk to the church. We are very happy that you got that new refrigerator, but most of us don't really need your pea-green 70's vintage fridge, nor do we need those slightly broken toys that your kids have discarded for the nursery. We have some folks in our church who will, from time to time, pick up a new toy for our nursery when they are buying toys for their own kids. That, my friends, is encouragement. It says "we value the kids of the church nearly as much as we value our own kids.
3. Remind him that you are for him.
I don't mean this in a manipulative way. We pastors get lots of people who say things to us like "I'm telling you this as a friend," or "I'm just looking out for you in this matter." Usually this is said by a person who is trying to manipulate us to see things his or her way.
The best way to remind him you are on his side is to tell him this at a time when nothing is really at stake, when there is nothing you really want from him and no agenda you are pushing. This doesn't mean you are never allowed to have an agenda, just don't use encouragement as a means of furthering your agenda. And even when you do have an agenda let him know that, if he doesn't support your particular agenda that this won't affect your relationship with him or your respect for him.
I had a professor in seminary who told the class that most people in the church really do want us to succeed. There are really very few people out there who are out to get the pastor. But unfortunately one negative person often carries more weight than ten positive people. So, simply reminding him that you are for him is helpful.
4. Find out his "love language."
I haven't read any of those "love language" books but I have heard the gist of it - that different people show and perceive love in different ways. Pastors are the same way. The thing that encourages me might not be what encourages your pastor. Find out what he likes. One of the jokes we preachers tell is about the religious kitsch we get from our congregations. People assume that, because we are pastors we would love a velvet Jesus for our walls or a ceramic praying hands. I even got a sacred heart of Mary picture one time and I'm a protestant.
The point is to find out what your pastor perceives as love. For some it may be words of encouragement. Someone else may be encouraged if you send him away to a conference or subscribe to a magazine for him or something like that. One of the most loving things someone in my church has done for me is to take me fishing with him. And by the way, it was a purely social fishing trip, there was no agenda and no church business was on the table. Granted, we were on the river for about four or five hours and a few times the natural course of discussion led to church stuff, but that wasn't what it was about.
If someone wants to encourage me in a tangible fashion, an Amazon gift certifice is always and in ever situation the exactly perfect gift. Others aren't as obsessed with books as I am, so your pastor might like cd's of his favorite music, or restaurant gift certificates. Just find out what is special to him.
5. Allow the pastor to have a life outside of church.
I have known pastors who are the job. They are the reverend or the pastor 24/7/365. I'm not, and many pastors I know are not. We're Christians 24/7/365 just like everyone else, but pastoring is a role we need to disconnect from at times in order to maintain our sanity and in order to maintain freshness in ministry. There are several ways you can help us do this:
- Respect your pastor's day off.
I think I can safely speak for all pastors when I say that we will be more than happy to drop what we are doing any day of the year if you are in a crisis and need us. I have never begrudged going to see someone in the hospital on my day off or handling a crisis that has come up.
But alot of times people want to "touch base" with us on a church matter on our day off and often thse are things that can wait until tomorrow or even next week. Just use your judgment. I don't have a "crisis meter" by which I evaluate a phone call to see if it is worthy of my time on my day off, but use your judgment on these things.
- Encourage your pastor to take all of his vacation
I'm no workaholic but there are seasons when I can get so wrapped up in ministry that I really don't think about taking time off. My wife thinks about it but I don't. She'll be thinking of how much she is looking forward to me taking that time off and I'll be thinking of all the things that will go undone if I take the time off, or I'll be thinking of all the extra work I'll have when I get back. But it never fails that, when I go on vacation I always come back refreshed and ready to get back at it. So, your pastor may seem very spiritual and hardworking and that's fine, but tell him to take his time off, he needs it and he'll be a better pastor for it. And oh yeah, don't call him while he's on vacation unless its a real super duper emergency. Most of us have a good relationship with our secretaries and we check in with them while we are gone. If you really think you need to get in touch with the pastor run it through the secretary, she'll have a good feel for whether or not he needs to address this while he's gone.
- Keep social situations social
I take care of a fair amount of church business over lunches and breakfasts and that is a good thing. When I am meeting with someone and we have a clear agenda of church business we need to talk about, then that is great. But if you are having us over for dinner or we are having you over for dinner what we really want to do is simply enjoy our fellowship with you and not take care of church business. Tell us about your life, how the kids are doing, how God has blessed you recently, how your favorite team is doing and ask the same things about us. In other words, pretend we're regular human beings and treat us accordingly. Don't always act like we're the "holy man." I guess I should issue a caveat here - some pastors like the "holy man" thing but not me. I'm a regular guy with regular struggles, the difference between you and me is that I have a different call on my life.
6. Take good care of your pastor's wife and kids
Most of us pastors understand that criticism of us comes with the territory. That's a part of the cost of doing the business of ministry. We also understand and welcome the demands of ministry. But its harder for us to take criticism and overbearing demands on our wives and kids. Our wives and kids have enough problems being married to us and being raised by us. Sometimes people will take out their frustrations on us through criticism of our wives in particular. I can remember a family visiting our church one time and the wife went to our ladies Sunday School class and for some reason my wife didn't attend it that day. This lady was very offended - she had never heard of a pastor's wife not being in Sunday School.
This has been one of the great blessings for me in my ministry. Aside from that last incident I mentioned and one or two minor things the churches I have been at have always taken good care of my wife and kids and have shown them a great deal of love and acceptance. I think this is one of the positive trends in the church today. Alot of church members are seeing their pastors and their families as fellow human beings with the same needs, desires, hurts and feelings as everone else, rather than putting them on a pedestal and expecting them to act accordingly.
7. Pay him a fair salary.
Again, this is something I have been uniquely blessed in. Every church I have served has been more than generous and my family has never been in want. But I have heard some horror stories of pastors getting paid next to nothing. This is particularly the case with youth ministers in smaller churches. I have heard of married youth ministers getting paid somewhere between $20k and $30k. That's entirely unreasonable.
On the one hand it is understandable why some ministes get paid so little - your minister's pay has to be commensurate with the giving levels of the church and factored in with all of the bills.
On the other hand, there are some churches that live by the motto 'you keep him humble Lord, and we'll keep him poor." I hope your church is not like that, especially when it comes to taking care of ministry staff like assistant pastors and youth ministers. Servants of God have mortgages and they hope to send their kids to college some day and they also want to plan for their retirement.
A minister shouldn't be paid an exorbitant salary, but please consider a few things. Pastoring a church is comparable to running a small business so think of the pastor's task in those terms. Also, the Stanford MBA is a two year program requiring 100 quarter hours for graduation. The standard degree for a pastor is a Masters of Divinity which is a three year program requiring over 100 semester hours. In other words, in terms of education your pastor has probably put in about 1/3 more educational work to prepare to be your pastor than the Stanford MBA has put in to prepare for his or her very lucrative career move. Yes, I am saying that your pastor has a better education in his own field than the Stanford MBA has in his.
This isn't to say that your pastor needs to make what the Stanford MBA makes or what the guy with the lucrative small business makes, but it is to say that his education and tasks are comparable. And considering those things, it is reasonable to do all you can to make sure he has the same opportunities that you have in terms of housing, retirement and health benefits and college savings.
8. Pray for him
Ah yes, of course I am supposed to say that, right? Yes I am supposed to say that, but the fact that I am supposed to say that doesn't render it any less valuable. Ultimately, only God can meet your pastor's needs for encouragement. He has to keep himself closely attached to God. As I mentioned above we pastors are only human and the sad truth is that we can have ten encouragers in the church and one critic and we'll lose sleep over the one critic faster than we'll find encouragement from the ten encouragers. This is a malady of the heart that only Christ can cure. Your pastor needs to find his sense of security in his relationship with Christ, not his performance in ministry and only God can change his heart in that way. And prayer is the best thing you can do to facilitate this.
But there is another important aspect of praying for your pastor and that is in what prayer does for you. I have never been able to stay mad or hold a grudge against someone I was praying for. I emphasize the word "for," because sometimes when we say we are praying for someone we are really praying against them. What I mean is that sometimes our prayers are along the lines of "Lord that person is screwing up their lives and everyone else's lives, please stop them." When it comes to praying for pastors, such prayers can be along the lines of "Lord please change him before he ruins our church." Those are prayers that really aren't for the pastor, they are against him. It may be that your pastor is ruining the church and prayer needs to be offered in that regard, but it needs to go further. You need to pray for his welfare, pray for the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams, pray for his great success.
The best example I have seen of this came from a former pastor of mine and how he prayed for the Clinton's during the era of his presidency. To set the stage for this you have to understand that we were in a very conservative church where I am quite sure that 99% of the people voted republican and where your e-mail boxes were flooded every day with stories of the latest outrage or some choice Clinton jokes. Everyone in our circles was ostensibly praying for Bill Clinton, but what they were really praying for was that he would be removed from office or that some calamity would befall him.
But my pastor never bit on any of that. I knew from private conversation that he disgreed with Bill Clinton's politics. Yet every Sunday, as a part of his pastoral prayer he would ask God to give Bill Clinton wisdom, he would pray for his health and safety (at a time when I am quite sure that many evangelicals were secretly hoping he would have a heart attack or be the victim of an assassination attempt), he would pray for the health and safety of his wife (yes, a conservative evangelical was praying that Hillary would be kept healthy and safe) and that he would bless his family life (yes, an evangelical was praying that God would bless the family life of an adulterer), and all kinds of positive stuff like that. He was actually praying for the welfare and prosperity of Bill Clinton.
My point is that my pastor was praying positively for the welfare of the president and his family, not merely negatively against him. Similarly, our pastors are symbols of our own hopes, dreams and beliefs, and when they fail to meet our hopes, dreams and beliefs we get very disappointed in them and our prayers for them are filtered through our own hopes, dreams and beliefs. We become less concerned about the pastor's welfare or success than we are about how he can fulfill our hopes, dreams and beliefs.
That is what I mean about praying for our pastors and not against them. When I pray for anyone this way I develop a soft spot for them in my heart. Even when I am mad at someone, if I pray for them and not against them God invariably warms my heart toward them and I am able to come alongside them and be an encourager to them.
So in conclusion, thanks again to Curt for taking this initiative and thanks to all of you for all you do for your pastors.