“How can I keep doing this?” the man said to himself as he opened the door to his study. It was Monday morning, and only six more days til he had to preach… again. He was battle wearied and tired, feeling as though he aged a life-time, almost in his own twilight zone. Time stood still as the world rushed past. He had only been in the ministry five years, but was already thinking of quitting. “What am I going to do?” he thought. “What can I do?” He sat down behind his desk and buried his head in his hands. Four years in undergrad, another four years in seminary. He and his family (especially his wife) sacrificed so much to prepare him for ministry, and now he wants out!
You might be surprised by how many pastors can relate to the saga above. Pastoral ministry is hard, really hard. There are wolves to deal with, and the sheep themselves are often tough, stubborn, and frequently bite the hand that feeds them. That’s discouraging. And that’s why the apostle Paul compared pastoral ministry to “labor pains.” It’s why he repeatedly admonished his disciple Timothy to endure, suffer, and remain faithful. God knows the easy thing to do is just walk away. And walk away they do.
In fact, 50% of pastors starting out in the ministry won’t even last through their first 5 years. In 2010, over 1700 pastors in America left the ministry, every month. Why? There are many reasons. Many pastors are overworked and underpaid. About 80% of pastors work an average of 60 hours every week, but they only get paid for a 30 hr/wk. job (or less)! Others feel under-appreciated, their families are suffering, or their congregations seem to oppose everything the pastor tries to do. Other pastors, 1300 every month in fact, are fired.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. Yes, there are times when pastors need to go. I am an adamant believer that you cannot compromise the qualifications of the overseer, so if sin disqualifies him, he needs to be removed. But sometimes he realizes he just wasn’t cut out for the work as he thought. Maybe his theology or philosophy of ministry significantly changes, and he can no longer adhere to the church’s Statement of Faith. These are also good reasons for the pastor to go, but if your pastor is faithful in the Word, and shows himself to be above reproach in his character, you, as the sheep, bear a great responsibility to encourage, help, defend, and support your pastor.
In other words, you are called to love your pastor. A church that loves their pastor produces longevity, maturity, and stability. I believe all three are needed to have a healthy church. So, to help you with this, below are a few ways that you yourself can show the love your faithful shepherd deserves. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s definitely a start.
1. Serve your church.
Are you kidding? We hired him to serve us! Shouldn’t he be doing all the work? No one will come right out and say that, but they sure do live like they believe it! Many people are all to quick to criticize their pastor, especially when their church isn’t growing like they think it should, all the while they themselves keep themselves at a distance from church involvement. They don’t want to serve. That would mean commitment. It would mean sacrifice. It would mean giving up TV time… errr… I mean “family time.” We are all part of the body, and individual members of it (1 Cor. 12:12-27). When you don’t serve your church, you are nothing more than a parasite that sucks the life out of the hard-working members that have to pick up the slack. Pastors are often stuck carrying much of that load.
2. Join your church.
In other words, become a member of your church. You might say, “I don’t see where membership is required in the Bible, so I’m not going to become one.” Well… I actually think a strong case can be made for church membership in the NT, but that’s another discussion. This is a matter of submission. If your church has membership, then obviously it’s the desire of your pastor(s) that you become a member. Do this for your pastor! There’s a reason why churches have membership – it helps the pastor know who’s in his sheep-fold. From a practical stand-point, it helps him shepherd his flock better. If you love your pastor, you should be willing to do this, considering that your pastor will be held accountable before God for the way he cared for you (Heb. 13:17). If nothing else, becoming a member just makes his job a little bit easier. Oh, and by the way, are you a AAA member? Or how about at Sam’s Club? If you can be a member of those in good conscience, don’t tell me you have a biblical conviction for refusing to join your church.
3. Support your pastor.
A lot of waiters out there despise Christians because they are notorious for giving the worst tips. That’s too bad, because it shouldn’t be characteristic of Christians, and especially when it comes to financially providing for your pastor. The NT church models sacrificial giving – a sign of love for their church, their pastor, and Christ. Yet the average church member sits on his pocket book as if it were a virtue hide his money in a handkerchief (cf. Lk. 19:11-27). In fact, the average church member only gives about 1% of their annual income to the church. That’s not a good track record if you claim to love the church. Your pastor labors hard, and it is the most unloving thing imaginable to make him and his family live in poverty while he cares for your soul. In fact, the pastor who labors especially hard in the Word is worthy of twice the normal income (1 Tim. 5:17-18). If he’s worthy of it, bless him financially. This will come as a great encouragement to him.
4. Provide accountability for your pastor.
The number of pastors who fail morally is untold – but it is staggering, especially when it comes to sexual immorality or money. That’s why Paul repeatedly told Timothy to flee from sin and pursue righteousness with every fiber of his being (1 Tim. 6:11-12). Although pastors should be the most spiritually mature men in their church, they are still men. Their positions of leadership are attractive. They often offer care and counsel to those who are hurting and emotionally bankrupt, which can quickly lead to temptation. Providing accountability is no easy thing. It requires humility, but also courage to confront. If you see sin in your pastor, confront him as you would another brother in Christ. Don’t overlook it lest he become ensnared. And especially don’t gossip about it, or slander your pastor. But if your pastor is found to be in unrepentant sin (unrepentant being the key word there), your duty is outlined in 1 Tim. 5:19-21. He must be rebuked in the presence of all. That may sound harsh in our day and age, but really, it’s an act of love toward your pastor, and your church.
5. Protect your pastor.
This piggy-backs off the last point, but it’s definitely worthy of being its own. You need to understand the malicious nature of sheep, or at least how easily sheep can misunderstand their pastor, and falsely accuse him of wrongdoing. You cannot, you must not give ear to anyone who brings charges against your pastor, unless there is a plurality of witnesses against him. Even then, two or three can easily be persuaded to bring false charges against him. Take a close look at 1 Tim. 5:19. A charge against a pastor should be dismissed if it’s brought by an individual. If it’s brought by a plurality, then it’s to be investigated, but not assumed to be right. Then, if the matter is investigated and the pastor was indeed found to be in sin, the matter is to be ended if he shows genuine repentance. It’s true that depending on the nature of the sin he may need to step down from ministry. But this can be handled graciously. Again, it’s only when the pastor is unrepentant and continues in his sin is he to be rebuked in the presence of all (1 Tim. 5:20).
6. Protect his wife.
By this, I mean be careful not to put extra expectations on your pastor’s wife, just because she’s the pastor’s wife. Sure, no one would actually say that they expect her to play the piano and direct the nursery, but by practice many do. Once I got a call from a self-appointed “steering committee.” It was a group of women who wanted to complain about their pastor’s wife. Apparently, she wasn’t attending their women’s Bible study, and they thought she should. Never-mind that she had four little children at home, and a husband who worked two jobs because their church couldn’t afford a full-time pastor. Understand that your pastor’s wife’s best ministry to your church is ministering to her husband, not getting plugged into every other ministry that exists under the sun. Your pastor will be far more refreshed and energized for the work of the ministry if he can come home to house that is clean, in good order, and a wife who can lovingly great him at the door. After all, it is a biblical thing that she be a “worker at home” (Tit. 2:4-5). Believe me, your church will benefit far more greatly from this than by treating your pastor’s wife like she’s free labor.
7. Respect his time.
You shouldn’t be afraid to approach or call your pastor. By no means! But you should consider when you call. The pastor has precious few moments to relax and spend with his family, so when your pastor has a day off, don’t call him. At all, even if he seems to be okay with it. It’s ridiculous to think, “It’ll only take a minute.” If only your pastor could have a dollar every time he’s been told that! Think about it… you would probably consider your pastor obnoxiously rude if he answered your question that briskly. Not only that, but you’re probably one of a hundred people who tried to call him that day. Al Mohler was right when he said, “The expectation of constant availability will defeat any leader and render his leadership ineffective.”1 But what if it’s an “emergency?” Ask yourself, “Is it really? Or can this wait 24 hours?” Indeed, technology is a great blessing, but it’s a curse as well. We have become so accustomed to immediacy that we have crippled ourselves because we no longer try to find our own solutions to problems. “But so and so’s wife is about to leave him,” you might say. If that’s true, it was years in the making, and the difference between an hour of counsel today versus tomorrow isn’t really going to help much. What’s more, you have the same Scriptures as your pastor, and not only are you equipped to counsel others, you are mandated to do so (Col. 3:16). God didn’t intend for all the soul-care to be left to the pastor. He intended it to be practiced by the whole body. Bless your pastor by respecting his time.
8. Defer to your pastor.
In other words, submit to him (Heb. 13:17). Learn the difference between your personal preferences, and your convictions brought by an understanding of the Word of God. When your preference differs from that of your pastor, yield to him. Furthermore, support him in his decision! If it fails, don’t point fingers and say, “I told you so,” and don’t grumble and complain that the pastor didn’t like your idea. That’s not submission. It’s sinful. Part of the meaning of “submission” means to “place your mind in agreement with.” So, when your pastor makes a decision, support him fully in that decision by working to see that decision become successful. And by the way, when you do this for your pastor, you’re teaching biblical submission to you wife and children too. Remember that by default, pastors must make decisions. That’s part of being a leader, and there has only been One person in the history of the world with a perfect track record.
9. Praise your pastor.
By praise, I don’t mean “worship,” but where commendation is due, give it! Acknowledge the work he does well, not to puff him up, but to encourage him. Too many people believe it’s their duty to criticize their pastor, but to praise him? Far be it from them to cultivate a prideful pastor! Be careful here though, there’s an important distinction between praising your pastor when it’s appropriate, and flattery. Flattery is foolish and evil, and is for personal gain. There are enough people in the church jockeying to have greater influence on their pastor than they should have by using their flattering tongue. Don’t be one of them. Remember, Psalm 12:3 says that the LORD will cut off the lips and tongues of those that flatter.
10. Pray for your pastor.
Not enough can be said about this last one. Don’t think it’s taboo. Your pastor experiences great temptation on a regular basis – temptations to compromise the Word of God, temptations to adopt a pragmatic philosophy of ministry, temptations to compromise his family, and we can all only imagine what else. Prayer is the most powerful tool you have to help your pastor. Pray that he remains faithful to the Word, to the church, to his wife, and to his children. Pray that he will be refreshed and encouraged. Pray that the flock will show love to their pastor like you do.