Over the years there have been plenty of those ‘how to support your pastor’ posts written and that appear on Facebook etc. from a variety of perspectives. Certainly, when I’ve read them there have been things that are useful and things that are less so, usually to do with the context. I guess, over the years, I’ve never taken the time to contribute to that conversation from my own perspective. It won’t be perfect, but its the fruit, I think, of 17 years in full-time church ministry (boy, I really need a sabbatical!) I’m going to use the term ‘their’ as a gender inclusive word rather than his or hers. In no particular order…
1. Support your pastor’s family. Your pastor loves you, no doubt, but their primary ministry in life is their family and their wellbeing will always be at the forefront of their attention. It is very likely that your pastor already sacrifices a significant amount in the family area in fulfilling a rather unconventional job. As your pastor pours their life into seeking to care for the church community, they need to know that when things get as equally challenging for their family that someone will be there to love, care, support, help, visit, pray for, feed, and provide for them. One more thing: babysitting. If your pastor is married, they have a relationship to maintain. Chances are they are living a significant distance away from their family and other networks of friends…that’s where the church steps in for the sake of the family’s wellbeing.
Personal reflection: I’ve always appreciated people who actively demonstrate the love of God to my children in ways such as offering a gift for birthday or Christmas, or when leaving the church; buying sweets; taking an interest in their interests; offering with lifts or school pick ups; encouraging them in their faith, especially when it’s easy to feel that they’re just being dragged to church because it’s mum/dad’s job. A great gift that one church member offered to us was simply one evening per month of babysitting so that I could have precious time with my wife.
2. Ask your pastor if they have any needs. Most churches do a good job of paying a reasonable wage, some offer accommodation etc, and other practical things in order to provide a secure base from which they can work. That doesn’t mean to say that practical, financial or time challenges don’t arise. They have a need for time to cultivate and enjoy sustaining friendships and activities outside the church to help keep them sane. Even with a day off a week, realise that your pastor’s brain rarely switches off from the things they are passionately working on. Even the most disciplined pastor will not or cannot just ‘switch off’ – it’s not that kind of job!
Personal reflection: Some of the greatest situations I can recall were when a church took it on board to feed our family when I was sick, who took me for coffee and walks, gave hugs and shoulders to cry on, quite literally. There are times when we’ve struggled financially for whatever reason (cash flow, unexpected bills etc) and churches have said ‘we’ll help take care of that’. In fact, the table and chairs my family sits at every day were an anonymous gift because when we left The Salvation Army we had no cash left to buy one…our dishwasher was a similar gift. It’s not about the ‘stuff’ – it’s about recognising that sometimes love has to be tangible. There have been times when people have ordered me to go home and rest, and not to dare to show my face until the black rings disappear from my eyes!
3. Support your pastor’s personal development. Depending on the denominational system, there may be things already in place. But, there are a few things worth mentioning: your pastor needs to keep his own devotional life, education and study life and inspiration fresh if you want to continue to enjoy decent services and sermons! If they are not sustained, you certainly won’t be through their ministry. A book budget, a training budget, a spiritual direction or mentoring budget can all be real gifts to help a pastor sustain their spiritual development and leadership. And don’t forget there may be practical training needs.
Personal reflection: The greatest support I’ve ever received from a church in this area is a few extra days each quarter of the year that I can take away from the ministry setting for study or retreat, as well as occasional financing of that. These have refreshed me, stretched me, blessed me and sustained me, as well as allowing me the opportunity to reach my full potential for the Kingdom.
4. If your pastor has helped you, tell them. Respond to their ministry as it touches you. No healthy individual is asking for their ego to be stroked, and no-one should be asking to be ‘exalted’ or set on a pedestal. But pastors will usually be deeply invested in assisting your growth as a human being, a disciple of Jesus, a member of a family, church, and community. If they are succeeding at all, thank them. Even if you have to be really creative with your thanks, have a go!
Personal reflection: Some of the most precious things I have are the stories of how my labour\work has impacted a life. It really IS what makes it all worth it. To know that there have been things I’ve been able to say, be or do that have helped just a bit is so meaningful. It has taken me a long time to be able to really hear what people are saying when they express this kind of thanks and not to shrug it off, and as I’ve worked on that it has become a deep blessing to know that my work isn’t for nothing.
5. Pray for them, with them, beside them and over them. Chances are your pastor invests significant time in prayer for all sorts of situations. Equally, the chances are that your pastor is prayed out and desperate. Moreover, they may feel that they’d just love someone to minister to them…to pastor the pastor with prayer. Ministry is not just a role or a job; it is, in itself, spiritual warfare. A praying pastor will pray diligently for protection and guidance, but they need support. There is a picture in the Old Testament of Moses interceding over a battle on the ground below. When he got tired, his arms raised in intercession drooped and the battle suffered. When others came alongside and lifted/supported his arms, the battle picked up. That is just a beautiful picture. Do you pray for your pastor? For their protection, vision, love, inspiration, preaching ministry, pastoral ministry, evangelistic endeavours, practical stuff and just general wellbeing? Good idea to!
Personal reflection: ‘Let me pray for you’ are the sweetest words to my ears. The sense of being lifted up before God is my deepest need. No matter how diligent I am in engaging in prayer, someone battering down the door of heaven for you in prayer is life itself. And, yes, there have been people who have prayed for me when I’ve no words left to say. There are people who have chosen to be prayer warriors ‘lifting my arms’ – and they are the greatest gift to me.
6. Share the ministry burden. Ministry is not a one-person-band outfit. Most pastors are not a multi-talented jack of all trades type of people, but that can often be the expectation…especially in some parts of the church. You may not feel you can preach, or anything like that (although, that’s great too!), but maybe you can offer some PA admin support, do some phone calls, or anything else that a pastor can be relieved of in order for them to do what you really want them to be doing.
Personal Reflection: Honestly, I’ve done it all over the years. Cleaned the toilets, set up the chairs, done the money, raised the funds, baked the cakes, redesigned the church garden, painted the rooms…I could go on. No problem with it. But the challenge for me is when doing all that distracts from the real purposes the church is paying me and releasing me for. There have been some situations in the past where I’ve felt like little more than a glorified janitor/administrator and those have been the points when I’ve thought…actually, if I stacked shelved at ASDA I’d probably have more freedom for ministry in my spare time! No job is beneath me as a leader….but equally, there are some bits of gifting and expertise that you’d probably benefit more from.
It isn’t all practical though: there have been seasons where I’ve had to deal with REALLY complex pastoral issues and people have said ‘really, let me preach this Sunday for you’ or ‘let me do that bible study’ or ‘let me organise temporary cover for a few things’ all whilst I’ve dealt with ‘that’ thing. I’ve seen things and experienced things in ministry that have totally wiped me out emotionally, spiritually and physically…and have been restored by loving teams who’ve stepped up to the mark.
6. Follow their leadership. Leadership happens in lots of different ways and is often shared. But, perhaps the calling, training, and experience your pastor has in ministry positions will help you arrive at particular places, and maybe some places you don’t fully understand the way. Your pastor may be wrong, yes, but responding to their leadership by getting behind them or asking helpful questions to fill out what you don’t understand might help. If you’ve had enough confidence to call that individual (if that’s how your system works), maybe dare to believe that God has brought their specific set of skills/giftings to you for a particular time and a particular season. Dare to step out with them, always knowing that they are (should be) open to creative criticism and tweaking on the way. Back them up on small and large things, speak to them privately if you need to, but try and support as much as you can. On the other hand, don’t be a blind fool. It is right and good to question and don’t let anyone ‘Lord to over’ you.
Personal reflection: I think the whole church has huge shifts to make in its leadership culture and even its leadership training. I’ve learned most of what I’ve learned ‘on the job’ – from both good and bad experiences…that’s life. But, I can only do what I can do with the support I’ve got…the role is too big otherwise and is undoable. The day of messiah-pastors or super-pastors is gone and was probably never really here. The buck stops with me as a leader…and I’ve always been glad of people who will back me to the hilt when it really matters…and especially glad when people have even stuck out their neck even when they didn’t fully agree with me. Sometimes I’ve been right, sometimes they’ve been right but we need to hear each other.
Bottom line: there is every chance your pastor is doing what they do for the love of God and love of you. Please give the benefit of the doubt, especially if they have to deal with difficult things. Don’t be afraid to shape, challenge and question…but overall these things: pray for them and love them.
Personal reflection: I also like Tunnocks’ Caramel Wafers.