For over four decades, we sought to serve the Lord by caring for our local church. In those 42 years, we experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. Even though most of our days in ministry were stimulating, there were times when things went off the tracks, and we wondered if we were still effectively leading our people. Those who have served in ministry know this to be true.
As we reflect on ministry in 2020, things didn’t just go off the tracks; the train went airborne. The challenges for pastors and ministry leaders are unrelenting, and your pastor needs support from the congregation.
Even though lead pastors are hired to serve their congregation, remember that you, as a member of a congregation, have an opportunity to serve your pastor and their family as well.
We’ve experienced this kind of loving support. Early on in our ministry, Suzi was kept busy with all the duties of being a pastor’s wife. She taught a Sunday school class. She met regularly with other women in the church. She led and taught a Bible study. She frequently went on women’s retreats to speak. She did all of this while also raising our young children.
The wife of a board member at our church fought hard for Suzi to be a wife and mom first. She wanted Suzi to have the freedom to say no when it was the best thing for our family’s well-being. This encouragement was overwhelmingly meaningful to our family, as we navigated the difficulties of life in full-time pastoral ministry.
Encouragement for the whole family
Even though lead pastors are hired to serve their congregation, remember that you, as a member of a congregation, have an opportunity to serve your pastor and their family as well. Begin by realizing they are just that: a family. They are really no different than any other family or individual in your church. They may have a different rhythm than you (your pastor's week builds up to the weekend and doesn't end until sometime on Sunday!), but they are still a normal family.
Bringing encouragement can take many forms, but sometimes it is the simple expressions that mean the most. They don’t have to cost a lot of money or involve lots of planning.
- Pray regularly for your pastor and their family. It’s especially significant on Mondays, when many pastors feel discouraged after the weekend’s activities, but throughout the week as well.
- Send a handwritten note of gratitude. Even though we live in a world of emails, texts, twitter shouts, and emojis, taking the time to say thanks goes a long way. Your pastor’s spouse and family could use a “Thank you!” note from time to time, too.
- Make sure they have time to care for themselves. Many times they are the 911 call for the congregation, but they still need space to care for their own souls.
- Measure when and how you deliver a critical message. Five minutes after the service is over is probably not the best time to tell them that they were, in your opinion, off-base.
- If you read a good book, pass it on to them. Little gifts like this can go a long way.
- Get to know your pastor’s children. Know their names. Look for them at church and engage them in conversation. Being a pastor’s kid is not easy. There are lots of eyes on them.
- Meet your pastor and their spouse for coffee. Be curious about who they are, not just what they do. Be ready to be delightfully surprised at what interests you may have in common.
The cost of encouragement
One particularly rough patch in our family happened while Suzi was recovering from breast cancer. Our daughter was angry with God, disappointed in her own life, and wanted to break free from the restraints of being the daughter of a pastor. It seemed as if we were living in an alternate universe.
How did our congregation respond? Some were unsure of what to do or say, while some gave unsolicited advice because they felt unsettled by our wayward daughter.
There are some burdens that you cannot lift or alleviate; they go with the job.
Many, however, prayed with us, cried with us, and rejoiced with us when our prodigal daughter came home. We discovered that encouragement is like a sumptuous meal set before someone dying of hunger. Encouragement is easy to give. It costs nothing, but it is often worth more than a pay raise.
Remember that the struggles you face—worry over your kids, concerns over physical and mental health issues, and matters related to finances—visit your pastor’s family too. There are some burdens that you cannot lift or alleviate; they go with the job. But always be interceding for your pastor and his family; especially that they would learn to rely on God’s strength, not their own.
Through the years, Suzi and I knew some folks that faithfully prayed for us. When incredibly problematic situations came up, we knew they were carefully taking our needs before the Father. There’s an old adage that says, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” The pastor is the hand that spiritually feeds the congregation. Remember that the person standing in the pulpit week after week has been called by God to shepherd the congregation: the shepherd needs to be served, too.
42 years later
When Suzi and I transitioned from our years of pastoral ministry, we still believed we had more to offer. We knew we wanted to pour into the lives of pastors, their spouses and families. We knew the immense importance of pastoral care and how neglected it often is.
After prayer and conversation with some trusted friends, Tandem Spirituality was born. This organization exists to help Christian leaders focus on their spiritual health and well-being. We seek to come alongside leaders, to listen and speak into their lives. We believe churches are only as healthy as their leaders. In our work, we have seen the correlation between pastor care and the longevity of their ministry. If a pastor is seen, heard, valued and supported, this leads to healthier congregations, healthier families, and healthier congregants.
When we were beginning our ministry, the woman who told Suzi that she needed to take time for herself—that was invaluable care for our family. It helped us feel loved and supported by the people we were serving, and made our family healthier. In turn, we were able to pour into that congregation in a more meaningful way. Similarly, when our daughter was in a difficult place, the congregants who embraced the season we were in through prayer, tears and celebration ministered to us deeply, and it gave us the encouragement we needed to keep following the Lord’s calling for our lives. During this month of Pastor Appreciation, let us not hesitate to care for our pastors, even if it’s in small, simple ways. Pastors are people, too