Why is it, with all of the technological advances and educational resources at the fingertips of the post-modern church leader, that we are seeing moral failures, retreats to secular professions, and even jarring suicides become the norm in ministry? While this loaded question requires a more complex answer than can be covered in a simple blog post, I believe there is a straightforward solution that can head off much of this trend in your local church and mine.
As I close in on two decades of pastoral ministry, I have come to progressively realize that no man can pastor alone. I am only still in the ministry because of the faithful encouragement of so many saints-starting with my dear wife, pastoral staff (these dear unsung heroes also need our encouragement), deacons, and ministry “nobodies”-who continue to see and shape godly potential and calling in my life-especially when I doubt and question it.
While this post could be seen as self-serving for we pastors, my motives are only to strengthen your church where it is most strongly and subtly attacked-the office of the pastor. As Abraham Lincoln opined, “Loneliness stalks where the buck stops.” (I am grateful for many at North Life who embody faithfully the spirit of this post in ways that God uses to keep me joyful and committed to God’s call in my life.) A pastor is constantly giving out and being depleted in ministry. You can be the God-ordained means of refreshing and refilling his heart not for himself ultimately but to continue to serve others! As Paul said in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Have you ever heard of the expression “surefire”? According to Merriam Webster, surefire is an adjective that refers to “certain to get successful or expected results.”
Here are some “surefire” vehicles of refreshment that your pastor, no matter how secure and upbeat he appears, truly needs from you:
Show up for more than the “Sunday morning only” activities and services!
While every warm body in the building during the main service is a blessing, spiritual leaders especially notice during evening services, workdays, outreach events who is there and who is not there. Those so-called “off times” are the sources of some of the greatest highs/lows based upon the absence or presence of people like you. Here is the way it works: the extra services/events need leaders who are inspired and inspired leaders need for the long-haul faithful partners like you TO BE WITH THEM in body and in spirit. This is especially true when the perimeter crowd who may even claim to be “all in” is nowhere to be found.
Share ways that you are soaking up/spreading the word about your local church between Sundays.
You can say things about your church and share social media post about your church that a church leader cannot without his motives being questioned. Assume the responsibility of tastefully being a self-appointed director of “promotions” for your church! When is the last time you actually invited with gusto someone new to visit your church? If we were to review your online activity, how many times have you shut down the “cat video content” and shared with bated breath an event, sermon, initiative of your local church? Who does your pastor look out at in the pew as he preaches that is in your church directly because of your testimony?
Regularly acknowledge and appreciate that his labor of love rarely fits within a neatly packaged schedule.
To counter the “must be nice to work a few hours a week” sentiment he often receives, purposely respect his day off and give him the benefit of the doubt when he can’t fit you into his schedule as promptly as you prefer. Do your best to avoid anything heavy before a service or he gets up to preach. If he forgets something or overlooks a detail, remind him graciously and give him ample opportunity to make it right. Be a “net positive” member-one who takes more off the plate than puts on the plate for a pastor. While the hours of ministry can be overwhelming, they are a softer burden to carry when they simply and consistently recognized by those on the receiving end.
Instead of waiting for him to intuitively ask, let him know earlier than most when you are facing a challenge or burden.
While it is counterintuitive sometimes, your pastor does not necessary long for “low maintenance” members as much as he longs to be used in your heart and life. To bring him into your confidence early on in a given situation communicates respect and appreciation. Sadly the pastor is often the last person to find out about a given situation and therefore at a disadvantage on how to minister after everyone else already knows and responds. Part of seeking the Lord first in any crisis or opportunity should include a conversation and prayer with the pastor He has sovereignly placed in your life. Let your pastor be that voice from the jump.
Be unmistakably a responsive participant in corporate services.
Say a timely, supportive “amen” during the preaching. Leave the comfort and anonymity of the back row and sit down front-now that’s radical commitment at least in our circle of churches :)! Sing your lungs out with a smile during the worship time. Make eye contact when he/someone else he has invited is speaking. (I am amazed at how many in a given crowd never look at their pastor-that is the opposite of encouraging.) Clap and celebrate the wins with which God blesses your church. Work to prevent and reduce distractions of those around you starting with your own family. In summary, act as if the success of the gathering depends as much upon you as your pastor-it does by the way! I think you will be surprised how this mindset will not only enhance your pastor’s public leadership but also your personal blessings.
Seek his counsel by asking him questions and then…listen, pray, and do it.
Too often a church member comes for “counsel” only to have the opinions heard and defended. Be the exception. There is nothing more discouraging for a pastor than to invest a bunch of study and pray into counsel that rejected at face value with little to no consideration. There is nothing more encouraging than for a counseling pastor to see someone doing God’s applied word through his influence. What is the most recent decision or change that you have made in direct response to your pastor’s formal or informal advice? Does he know about it? Do others know about it?
Be his biggest God-honoring fan-even when his preaching and leading does not measure up to the impressive-at-a-distance profile of the big-name pastors abroad.
Remember, as Howard Hendricks put it, “You can impress people from a distance, but you can impact them only up close.” Unlike the polished persona of the most-viewed leaders online, your pastor has willingly subjected himself to personal vulnerability and close, public scrutiny TO IMPACT YOU! From personal experience, I can tell you there is nothing to make a man feel more vulnerable and inadequate than getting up regularly to preach/lead a group of people who know him all too well. Thank him for being willing to do so. Being willing to look past the flaws that he progressing on and the shortcomings that can actually become endearing with the right perspective.
Ask the following question as much as possible: “How can my time, money, and Spirit-enabled abilities help you accomplish the vision that God has given to you for our church?”
As a pastor, I can tell you that is a golden, blow-your-mind kind of question! By the way, you will probably knock your pastor off his feet the first time you sincerely ask it! Too often the pastor is reduced to a fundraiser and human resource director hounding God’s people for help and participation. That gets old very quickly and is the last thing for which they got into the ministry. Be the “eager beaver.” Jump at every opportunity possible. Be the church member that your pastor looks forward to asking for help in the same old thing or the next big thing! (With this kind of spirit on your part, it begins to feel to the one asking more like an exclusive invitation than an unwelcome imposition!)
Last and definitely not least, PRAY FOR THEM AND WITH THEM!
Pray for them in private. But also…be at every church event and opportunity where you pastor is a part of a prayer meeting. Be the first to fill the silence of public prayer for the burdens and priorities that you know are upon his heart-that is huge! There is something soothing, steadying, and cathartic for every believer included the pastor about hearing our name cross the lips of another believer in prayer. “Lord, be with our preacher/pastor…” could keep a pastor in the pulpit/in the ministry who would otherwise cave and quit in the face of so much fleshly and spiritual resistance.
Remember this maxim: The people with the most influence in the church are the one most willing to serve. To serve the pastor, God’s choicest servant, is the unsung but ultimate place of influence! What could God do in our churches if the ceiling of potential was not just the “staying power” of the pastor but the edifying tenacity of their members?
May I give a caveat in response to Eugene Peterson’s wise statement, “You are at your pastoral best when you are unnoticed.” The motivation of this encouragement is not ultimately to coddle the minister but “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:13).
Matthew 10:41-42 reminds us, “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
Those who faithfully serve the Lord and who faithfully received these spiritual leaders are promised rewards. To receive a prophet and his message was tantamount to receiving Jesus Christ! Therefore even a cup of cold water given to one of these little ones, these insignificant disciples of Jesus, would be detected by the One who keeps accounts. To stoke the heart fire of a pastor is to enter into their rewards, not just in this life but in eternity!