I remember watching a great movie a number of years ago, with actor James Garner in the lead role. The title of the movie was “Support Your Local Gunfighter”. James was the new guy in town and was viewed by the local folk as their answer to the ‘bad guy’ problem. Almost as soon as James rolled into town he was recruited by the mayor to take on the role of Sheriff. It wasn’t until later that the ‘new’ sheriff noticed all the tombstones (including a made to measure coffin being readied for him). After inquiring about the tombstones he learned that they were the burial sites of all the former sheriffs over the past year. It seems that the sheriffs were hired by the townsfolk to solve their problem, but they were not supported by them. Whenever the gang of hooligans came to town, they pretty much could have their way because no one would stand up to them – except for the poor sheriffs who would be subsequently shot and killed. The movie centred around the sheriff gaining the support of the reluctant townsfolk and winning the town back in the end.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we do to some of our pastors. Do we have a number of tombstones of former pastors in our pasts? Do we rally around our pastors or do we leave them to take the fiery darts alone? Do we hide behind them when the bad guys come but then have the casket ready once the shooting ends? I know of a great many people who love their pastors dearly and would hate for them to be hurt, however I know a great many times where our pastors are viewed as the hired professional and little if any thought is given about supporting them.
I would venture to guess that many of us don’t even know our pastors – I mean really know them as a real person. What do they love to do during their time off? What is their favourite sport or hobby? Do you know what hurts them or do we just view them as almost a non-human, a type of super-human? What makes your pastor tick? Does he love cinnamon rolls? Does he struggle with issues that we need to support him in? Do we expect them to be perfect? Maybe its not that we view them as saviours, but then again perhaps we don’t think about them at all until Sunday morning or when an issue arises.
Pastoral ministry is tough, draining, and emotionally taxing. There is an emotional and spiritual intensity that is not experienced in most professions. Unlike most other careers, a pastor doesn’t just leave the issues at the office, rather carrying the weight of leadership around the clock while being expected to be a strength for the flock under his care. It’s a 24/7 calling, definitely not for the faint of heart and it requires a unique combination of battle toughness and fatherly tenderness. A pastor is closely connected to the lives of the people he serves, and vicariously experiences both the joy and heartbreak that his people experience.
So how can you support your pastor? Here are 6 simple ways.
1 Pray for your pastor
The most important thing you can do to help your pastor be fruitful and effective in his role is to pray for him daily and pray with him as opportunities arise. which might mean heading to meet him at his office early in the morning or late at night (check first when it works best in his schedule).
- Pray the Lord will give him wisdom in his various responsibilities.
- Pray for his role as both husband and father (if he is married and has children).
- Pray for his wife and children
- Pray the Lord will protect him in the area of sexual purity.
- Pray he would be able to strike a good balance between his ministry, family and personal life.
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2 Support your pastor’s leadership
This doesn’t mean that you blindly support your pastor, no matter what decision he makes. I am not suggesting, nor does the Bible suggest, that you submit to ungodly or abusive leaders. If your pastor says that there is no need to challenge his spiritual leadership, that is probably the cue to do just that, just make sure you do it in love, gentleness and with Godly council. However, the Bible is clear on the topic of being willing to submit to the authority in the church you have chosen to be a part of.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” – Hebrews 13:7
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13
It is an awesome step to accept God’s call to be a pastor and to take seriously the roles and responsibilities that such a call entails. You should be able to trust, believe in, and submit to those the Lord has placed in authority over you. If you can’t do this, you need to address this issue, and in extreme cases, leave if you can no longer respect and trust the leadership over you.
3 Encourage your pastor
Lots of people will criticize and find fault. They will both email him and talk to him (and about him) in discouraging ways. But choose to be one of those who look for ways, and reasons, to encourage him — to camp on the positive, not the negative.
Tell him what you appreciate about his ministry, and be specific. What has he recently done or said that you have profited from? A pastor’s teaching or preaching help many, but few tell him specifically how he has been a help and blessing. Every once in a while, write a personal note or even text him, telling him you are praying for him and how you were blessed by what he said or appreciated something he has done. When you have the opportunity, thank your pastor personally face to face for specific aspects of his leadership.
4 Get to know your pastor
A pastor has a lonely job. Most people seem to ‘take’ from the pastor and forget to give. The folks under his care take his time, his energy, his resources, his wisdom and his counsel. And so, it is refreshing and encouraging to know that people in the church family really care about him, pray for him, and sincerely want to get to know him, not so they can take, but so that they can give.
Why not schedule some time with your pastor and offer to take him to the next football game or out for breakfast or lunch at his favourite restaurant? Ask him to tell you his story, how God saved him, how he met his wife, how he was called into ministry. I’ll guarantee you that he will appreciate this and be a better leader as a result of your initiative.
5 Talk honestly to, not about your pastor
If there is something that you honestly have a problem with – some decision he made, something he wrote or said that you disagree with – please talk to him, not about him.
This is one of the big sins in the body of Christ. It’s like we have been given permission to be passive aggressive in our dealings with each other. We seem to talk about people easily if we have an issue with them, but talking to them about that issue face to face is hard if not impossible. As a result, the foyer after the worship service in some churches has been known to be full of smiling faces on the outside but angst ridden hearts on the inside. That is unhealthy in so many ways and a barrier to unity and spiritual growth.
From personal experience, I can tell you that most pastors want to hear from people who have issues or questions with something at the church. Really – they do. Most relish the opportunity to both genuinely listen and share concerning your issue so the two of you can have a mutual understanding and respect for each other.
Talking about others rather than talking to others is gossip pure and simple, and it never makes things better, only worse. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler.” – Proverbs 20:19
6 Don’t forget his family
Don’t forget about his wife (and children). She needs to know she and her family is loved and cared for as well. Make sure that she is spoiled by the love of the women in the church, prayed for and blessed in ways that bring joy to her life. They are in ministry together, even if she isn’t as visible as he is, and will often feel the sting and pain of ministry as deeply as her spouse, in many cases even more intensely if the painful moments are directed at her husband. When she is loved (goes for the kids too) it becomes a blessing for your pastor as it frees him up emotionally to know his bride is cared for so well.
These six ways are only a start. There are many more ways you can support your pastor but even if you began with only one of the ways suggested it would make a world of difference to your pastor (and his wife). Even the Apostle Paul needed to be encouraged and he wasn’t afraid to point it out. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1: 3-8 (NIV)
Paul was encouraged and strengthened when he knew that he had the support of his friends and ministry partners. It meant so much to Paul that he tells them that he ‘longs’ for them. To ‘long’ for someone speaks of a pretty intense relationship. It smacks of a need to receive as in ‘I need you because I know that I will receive immense value from you”. Does my pastor ‘long’ for me? Does your pastor ‘long’ for you, or are we more of a burden/discouragement to them?
I figure that if Paul needed to be supported and encouraged, then I don’t think that it’s a stretch to think that my pastor needs to be encouraged and strengthened too.