A great number of blog posts have been written on the topic of how to encourage your pastor, but I sense in some capacity, some of the more difficult words have been softened to one degree or another. Many gravitate toward giving gifts to express your love for your pastor and encourage them. I am not knocking this in the least–it is an incredibly warm expression of care to receive a small card with a gift, or a hefty pile of good books, yet my focus here is going to be slightly different. I desire to focus more on the moral obligation of congregants rather than expressions of thanksgiving, though this is not to say those are unimportant.
I wish to make it clear from the outset: I’m not a pastor. In one sense, that gives me some freedom. I can say what I desire to here without fear of reprisal or people believing I am targeting them individually. In another, perhaps one might believe it lowers my credentials to speak to the topic. However, if you will but take the time to read this, my hope is that you’ll find these ten ways to encourage your pastor to be common sense applications of biblical truths. My intent here is not to bash anyone over the head with this list, or to say this is the end-all-be-all list that speaks for all pastors, but to legitimately encourage deeper thought on these things, especially the last one.
Additionally, I’m using the term “pastor” interchangeably with “elder” here, though I recognize a distinction between lay elders and pastor-teachers. My presuppositions here are also built upon having a good and faithful pastor who strives to please and obey God in his role. I’m not focused on those who don’t meet the criteria of a pastor, those who abuse the role, those who have disqualified themselves, nor those who lazily coast along rather than diligently shepherd. Since that is the case, I’m not going to spend the time to uncover all the exceptions and build the pre-conditions around the many “if” statements you might desire. I’m presupposing your pastor is faithful to God and the Scriptures, and you want to encourage him in his faithfulness so he finishes the race well. If you don’t have a pastor that desires to please God in faithfulness to Him and the Scriptures, I would implore you to find one who does.
With that necessary introduction out of the way, here are ten simple ways I believe you can genuinely encourage your pastor.
1. Recognize He and His Family Are Sinners, Just Like You Are
The expectations placed upon a pastor and his family are high–for good and for bad. Intuitively, even if they are ignorant to the qualifications given for pastors, there is some sense of gravitas people recognize accompanies the role; it is a sober and high calling. However, unrealistic expectations abound that are neither helpful nor biblical, perhaps the most unrealistic of which being that he and his family are near perfect–closer to God.
Your pastor will disappoint you. He will sin against you. He will say something without thinking, crack a joke at an inopportune time, and at times, simply rub you the wrong way. His wife will do more of the same. His children will do likewise. The pastor and his family are equally as human as you are and equally in need of the grace of God. This does not mean a free pass is given and sin goes unchecked, but it does mean that you can and should be able to overlook an offense (Pro. 19:11), be kind and tender-hearted with them (Eph. 4:32), and bear with them and forgive them just as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:13). I’m not talking about disqualifying sins or sinful patterns of behavior, but suffice it to say–if your pastor or a member of his family sins against you and it isn’t indicative of their normal behavior, there is a simple glory to be had in overlooking such an offense and giving them the benefit of the doubt.
There are countless stories of times when someone will hold a standard against the pastor and his family that is a matter of preference rather than biblical command. There are countless more stories where someone will hold the pastor and his family at a different standard than one they’d like applied to themselves. Surely, we do well to remember there is no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
2. Respect His Time with His Family
Pastors are often met with the same one-liner from congregants about how they work only one day a week, and while many intend this as a joke, the reality is that pastors do much more than lead Sunday service(s). They find themselves at the mercy of congregant’s schedules for pastoral meetings, which might happen to be during office hours–but most often are not. I’ve talked with pastors who’ve left in the middle of a family vacation (or had to cancel altogether) due to a funeral. I’ve heard of others who have been woken up at 2 a.m. for emergency counseling situations. Others still have spoken of impromptu visitations during study hours, family meals, date nights, sabbaticals, and more, that have consumed hours upon hours of much needed time. On top of all of these things, there are about thirty other things going on at the same time that no one else knows about and everyone expects a good sermon when they sit down in the pew on Sunday.
Couple these things with one’s familial obligations and what can easily take the short-shrift is the pastor’s family. One large frustration wives and children alike have shared is that the church can become an on-call “mistress,” as she is always on his mind, often steals him away from his family in the middle of precious and short-lived moments, and can often seem to take priority. Pastors do well to set non-negotiable times to ensure their family can have full, unfettered access to their husband and father–yet congregations do better to jealously guard their pastors in this. Many things that seem like an emergency are not; many things that seem like the utmost importance can wait. We simply suffer from “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by thinking everything needs to be addressed immediately.
I am not advocating that the sheep ought not to “bother” the under-shepherd, but rather, that they live with an awareness that his family shares him in a unique way that no one else does. That’s a hard thing to do and can often be a difficult thing for a child to even comprehend. Recognize that if he cannot attend to his family and keep his household in order, he becomes disqualified from the pastorate and will not be able to attend to your needs as well. Help your pastors be faithful to set aside uninterrupted, quality time with their family. Help your pastor’s family to guard their own hearts and not grow cold, indifferent, or embittered against the church for always stealing him away.
3. Realize He Shepherds a Whole Church and Not Just You
This point ties in fairly heavily with the last one, yet it is a simple one: pastors shepherd the whole church and not just you. They have a heavenly obligation to attend to all whom God has placed in their church and while some might need more attending to than others, he is nonetheless going to be judged for how well he shepherded each soul in his care. There are appropriate times to lean more heavily into his care. Don’t be afraid to seek his counsel, ask him to do pre-marital counseling, confess your sin to him, ask him what a passage means, and so forth. Don’t be leery of asking him to fulfill his pastoral duties–these are his delight!
In the end though, he is a human being sown in sin. He is prone to miss things, not respond as soon as you’d like, weigh priorities and needs, and at times, just simply tell you that you need to move on from something rather than sit down for another hour over it. Much of the offense met in reaction to these things derives from a congregant forming a Messiah complex of their pastor, where the individual looks to him to fill a role he was never designed to fulfill. Christ is your Advocate. Christ is your Intercessor. Christ is your Savior. Christ is your true Shepherd. Christ sees all and knows your pain. Your pastor, no matter how gifted he is, is but one man, and he is not the God-Man.
It is healthy to have realistic expectations set upon him, his abilities, his intellect, and for you to set appropriate boundaries with these things in mind. It is also healthy to recognize that something you think is a huge deal, might not really be that big of a deal–not when another church member is in the office talking to him about their stage four cancer diagnosis, or the wife who comes in and reveals her husband’s long-standing affair (and the husband happens to serve in the diaconate), or the teen comes in expressing he believes he was sexually abused when he was six. Not every moment is a crisis moment of counseling, but you can be sure, for every instance of complaint about something trivial, there is someone in genuine need at the church.
If you are the person reading this who immediately thinks, “I don’t want to bother him with this,” you are more than likely the person who is not taking up too much of his time. If you are the person who dismissed this section with a hand-wave, you are more than likely taking up more of his time than you realize.
4. Pray for Him and His Family
This one should be a given for any who desire to encourage their pastor–yet what is often more difficult for people is how they should pray for their pastor. The simplest advice I can give in this is to pray along the lines of what we find in the pastoral epistles for his qualifications, since these are particular areas Satan seeks to attack.
- Pray he remain a one-woman man (Tit. 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:2).
- Pray his household remain in order, meaning that his wife and children are in submission to him (Tit. 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:4-5).
- Pray he remains a faithful steward in what God has entrusted him with (Tit. 1:7).
- Pray he remains above reproach, respectable, and that he has a good reputation among outsiders (1 Tim. 3:2, 7).
- Pray he does not become arrogant, quick-tempered, domineering, a drunkard, a brawler, nor one who becomes a lover of money (Tit. 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:3; 1 Pet. 5:3).
- Pray he continually exhibits hospitality, self-control, holiness, a love for all that is good, and that he lives in an exemplary manner before the flock (Tit. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:3).
- Pray he continues to have an aptitude for teaching and that he attends well to the souls God has entrusted to him (1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:2-3).
- Pray he can withstand those who wish to do him harm and prevent his work (2 Tim. 4:14-15).
- Pray as he struggles with those who, like Demas, have forsaken him and loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10).
- Pray that he can say with confidence at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
- If you can’t remember all of that, simply pray that he would pay close attention to his life and his teaching, for by persevering in these things, he will not only ensure his own salvation, but also yours (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:15).
There are many more areas you can pray for them in, but this at least gives a great place to start. When you are doing so, occasionally let them know you’re praying for them. The rightly-timed word that you are praying for him, his family, and his ministry can be a balm to their weary soul.
5. Befriend His Wife and Children
Often, people tend to gravitate towards the pastor’s wife because they sense they might be able to more easily effect change through her rather than her husband. Rather than come to the pastor with an issue, they pull his wife off to the side and raise their complaints to her because she has his ear. This is vile and wicked, as it pits a wife against her husband, proves to be disingenuous and manipulative, and it is ultimately circumventing the right channels of authority in the church. Be a friend to them. Be a genuine friend to them, which is embracing the mindset that isn’t focused on what you can get out of it, but what you can put into it.
Pastor’s wives need the encouragement that can happen through a genuine, biblical friendship because the role is so often incredibly lonely and sad. They witness people slander their husband, people defect from the faith, others leave the church for various reasons who were once close friends, others still who leave the church under discipline, and more. They not only need a true friend who can weep and rejoice with them, but one who can wound them properly to expose sin rather than flatter them as an enemy (Pro. 27:6, 28:23).
Likewise, pastor’s children need genuine friendships within the church. They are watching friends disappear as mom and dad leave for all the reasons listed above; they are scrutinized more than anyone else’s children; they often bear the brunt of congregant’s frustrations because someone took issue with how dad preached or handled a situation; they have friends pulled away because mom and dad don’t want to fall under the gaze of the pastor because hidden sin is cherished. What they need is a place to be kids, where they can “fail” in a safe place amongst the brethren and love can cover a multitude of sins, and where they can be trained alongside other young children in Christian households so that they do not depart from the faith when they are older.
6. Obey and Submit Yourself to Him
A good under-shepherd recognizes the limitations of his authority, yet nonetheless that God has indeed granted him legitimate authority over your soul. He will recognize that ultimate authority belongs to God and that anything the Lord requires of you in His Scriptures, he can and will hold you accountable to. At the same time, there are simply things he may ask of you that you might not find an explicit bible verse for–and that’s ok. Consider the possibility that he has deliberated on these things more than you have and his decisions are not without reason, wisdom, and foresight. Consider also that he has genuinely thought of your good and the good of your family, without the trappings, rationalizations, and self-deception we are prone to, and he sees that the path you’re headed down is not wise, nor will it end in anything but pain, misery, and much sin.
This idea draws to mind a passage like Heb. 13:17, in that we will comply both in action and in heart; you can obey outwardly, yet grumble. Thus, it is obedience with a “happy heart” that genuinely makes the difference between begrudgingly doing what you’re asked and cooperating with him in this good work. In this, the implication is that you actually trust your leaders have your best interests at heart and believe they will give an account to God when they are judged. Secondly, we ought to be a person who is a joy to lead rather than a pain; we ought to bring them to cheerfulness when they think upon us rather than grief and sorrow.
The reason for this is simple: if we are insubordinate to the authority placed over us by God, we are insubordinate to God, and it is unprofitable for us. The assumption here, of course, is that you desire God’s blessing in your life by having their leadership be profitable for you. For that reason, we ought not spurn their counsel, reject their pleas and warnings, nor simply pick and choose which bits of what they said to us are the most appealing, and dare I say, easy, to adhere to. Finally, you ought to also recognize no author, blogger, podcaster, or celebrity pastor is the one who will give an account for your soul on the day of judgment. Entrust, obey, and submit yourself to your pastor.
7. Enable Him to Be Able to Focus on Prayer and the Ministry of the Word
Pastors have a tremendous amount they are responsible for–and when all is said and done, they will be judged before God for their faithfulness over the souls He has entrusted them to. While the priesthood of all believers and the tentmaker approach are things I affirm wholeheartedly, it needs to be stated and reaffirmed: the stakes are much higher for pastors. I fear in the desire to (rightly) affirm one’s purpose in the workplace, we have diminished the responsibilities of the pastor and in some sense, forgotten theirs is a stricter judgment.
In addition to that, we’ve neglected the actual role of the pastor so much so that we’ve adopted the categories of this world in defining their responsibilities. Many are expected to be business manager, auditor, payroll specialist, accountant, de facto administrator to all ministries–as well as the CEO, social media manager, vision-caster, and whatever else you desire to tag on. In other words, we’ve not only added many responsibilities, but thrown made-up categories and responsibilities on top of an already bloated list of things that distract them from their main purpose: focusing on prayer and the ministry of the Word.
In saying this, my intent is not to diminish pastoral visits or any of the more servile aspects to the role (I affirm these as good and necessary aspects to the role). Rather, my aim is to say there is plenty of Scriptural warrant that laypeople ought to be serving in such a capacity that those charged with the role of pastor can be free for a greater service (Acts 6:2-4; 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:1-8). While no one finds glory and meaning in cleaning the church’s bathrooms, it is a necessary work that can free the pastor for his work, which takes priority.
8. Provide for the Needs of His Family
The apostle Paul has no issues reminding his hearers that the worker deserves his wages (Lk. 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18), that all those whom the Lord has directed to give their lives to the ministry of the gospel should receive their living from it (1 Cor. 9:14), and that those who do this labor have intrinsic rights built into it (1 Cor. 9:15). He also singles out that those who rule well, especially in preaching and teaching, are to be considered worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). The term used here is the same translated as “price” in 1 Cor. 6:20, which would indicate those worthy of “double honor” are to be well-esteemed and compensated for their labors. Quite literally, the term has a monetary connotation to it, and we would do well to give them honor in this manner.
I am not speaking against the need for a bi-vocational or co-vocational pastor in an area that just simply can’t afford to pay a livable wage. Rather, I am speaking directly against the double-standard that often gets levied from congregants who, for a lack of a kinder way to put it, desire to cling to the money God has so generously given them. God doesn’t just care for His sheep; God also cares for those He has charged to shepherd His sheep. Sadly, many expect the pastor and his family to have just enough to scrape by; I’ve heard tales of some telling the pastor, who’s struggling to put food on the table, that they want him to be kept humble. If you say to your pastor and his family, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but do nothing to meet their needs, you have a dead faith.
9. Do Not Entertain Unfounded Accusations Against Him
In the same section we find that a pastor is worthy of his wages, we find the explicit command to not entertain an accusation against an elder, except on the testimony of two or three witnesses (2 Tim. 5:19). Presumably, this is built in as a protection for the elder, yet the context of the passages also dictates this to be a matter of bringing honor to elders, as they are those who perform a noble work (1 Tim. 3:1). We tend to miss these cues if we don’t live in an honor/shame society, yet what is built in, intrinsic to the role itself, is a dignity, reverence, and respect. They are men who speak truth and wisdom; they are those whose counsel we would be fools to reject; they are overseers whose lives are devoted to service to the King and His bride.
For these reasons and more–no singular witness can stand before them as sufficient testimony to bring them under church discipline. The parameters laid out here are unique to those given in Matt. 18:15-20. Whereas the sins of a brother are proven on the basis of two or three witnesses, the accusation is not even to be entertained unless two or three witness are provided. Additionally, the elder that persists in sin is to be brought before the whole church and publicly rebuked so that all in his presence may learn to fear.
Suffice it to say, congregants ought to take every possible measure to come to the defense of their pastor and refuse the gossip, backbiting, and slander of those who wish to tarnish their reputation. We ought to shut down unfounded conversations that speak critically against them, protect their reputation, and rebuke the one who spreads lies, lest we share in their sin (1 Tim. 5:22). Paul is incredibly harsh regarding those who sow discord among the brethren and the quickest way to do so is through attacking the leadership by undermining his teaching or moral life (Tit. 3:10; Rom. 16:17; 1 Thess. 4:8).
10. Be a Godly Man or Woman
In the heart of any good shepherd is the desire to see the maturation, holiness, joy, and perseverance of their flock. No earnest servant of God takes delight in the man or woman who continually seems to make poor choices. No pastor rejoices when a congregant rejects the teaching of the Scriptures and instead follows the whims of the culture–or chooses the path of least resistance rather than the long and arduous road of faithful endurance.
I can’t help but be reminded of Vanity Fair in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where Faithful and Christian are tempted toward everything which dazzles and lures them from their singular task. It is not enough for pastors to see you start the race well–every fiber of their being desires that you will run the race with endurance and truly focus your heart and mind upon Christ alone. Every faithful elder is burdened with seeing you cross the finish line, not by the skin of your teeth, but with the joy and striving befitting the prize of eternal life.
If you could reduce pastoral work down to one task, is it bound in the labor of feeding Christ’s sheep, which is why the ministry of preaching takes such prominence within the Protestant church. If congregants would treat the ministry of the Word with the seriousness it deserves, the church would bless their pastors more than they could ever know.
They don’t seek to woo the sheep through gimmicks, shallow and “relevant” preaching, or any other means than through the Word exposited week in and week out. They labor with the desire to see the Spirit convict and produce effectual repentance that lasts the whole of one’s life. This is what they trained for, labor for, pray for, and are consumed by–and nothing less than your transformation into the likeness of Christ will bring them pleasure. If you want to exacerbate your pastor, don’t take his preaching seriously. The pastor whose heart is in tandem with God’s own echoes the sentiment of the apostle John in saying, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 1:4).