For 45 years I served local churches … in New Jersey, Wyoming, and Massachusetts. Each was unique, with its own culture and preferences and each was a beloved place of ministry. Faces and names from those congregations fill me with so many wonderful memories, causing both tears and laughter.
Now retired to a secondary role, there are times when I miss preaching, sharing the joys and soothing sorrows of others, but my season has mostly passed. Now, I am happy to offer whatever support that I am able to give from the back rows of the congregation.
Today I want to do just that by urging you to remember to honor your pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month.
The best pastors know that their calling is not a ‘job.’ It a way of life, one is a Pastor 24 hours of every day, never ‘off duty,’ so to speak. Who they are is inseparable from what they do. Their responsibilities cover a wide range of ‘jobs:’ – the privilege of teaching the Word, of counseling those in need, of baptizing and discipling new converts, correcting and encouraging veteran saints, right down to administering daily ‘business,’ locking the doors, and balancing the church budget.
A Pastor moves from emotional highs to lows as he shares life – birth and death, grief and celebration – with his flock often all in the same day or week. He is usually the first person called at a time of death and when there is crisis: marriage difficulty, tragedy, serious illness. He must prepare his heart and mind so that when he speaks he is not only ‘interesting,’ but able to nourish souls. And, he must deliver this message every Sunday -regardless of his personal circumstances.
I loved the life, feeling the weight of it but knowing it was privileged and high calling! Yes, there is heartbreak. People angry at God sometimes aim their frustration at the person who represents Him before them. Others ‘use’ their pastor in their time of need and discard him when things are blessed. If his imperfect humanity is too visible he may be criticized, and not kindly, at the very moment that he’s struggling to cope with some need in his own life. Pastors whose hearts are true feel the most joy when those they serve are growing in Christ, when they see the ‘fruit’ of their work in a life that is pointed in the right direction.
Pastoral ministry is not best modeled after the modern CEO or the Lone Ranger of American lore. His title is the best clue to how he serves – Pastor means ‘shepherd.’
He serves to protect, feed, and grow the flock of God!
So, how can you best support your local Pastor?
1. Pray for him, every day.
Ask the Lord to keep and protect him, to help him to be disciplined and courageous, and to be loving in times of trial, and to stay renewed and alive in the Spirit. Remember, spiritual leaders are front-line targets. When a pastor fails, there is hurt and disappointment. Even where there is no moral compromise, like all people, pastors become discouraged or disillusioned. So, pray for your Pastor.
2. Accept him and the spiritual gifts God has given to him.
Appreciate the unique strengths of your Pastor and encourage him in those areas where he is not as proficient. He probably knows the gaps in his skills and gifts better than you do. Remember, too, that he does not possess every gift of the Spirit. He, like you, has been created by the Lord to serve in a unique way.
3. If you must criticize him, (and no pastor is above correction or criticism) do it honestly and directly.
If you have an issue with your pastor, make a time to sit with him and tell him about it. The church looks very different from his side of the pulpit and he may not share your perception. Give him the opportunity to explain that decision with which you disagree. Take time to understand yourself before you criticize your pastor. If you are angry with God, do not take it out on the one in the pulpit.
4. Don’t idolize or idealize him.
He must live what he teaches, but he cannot do it not perfectly. He, like you, is working out his salvation each day, a recipient of God’s grace. If you turn him into idol, you sin because only God is worthy of your worship and devotion. If you idealize him, pushing him onto a pedestal, you will be disappointed. From that place, his ability to serve you is nearly impossible. He teaches you best, not from some lofty place far removed, but as leads you with an authentic, observable, living faith in a loving Lord. Jesus cautioned his disciples about seeking titles, about hiding behind robes. (see Matthew 23) We are all brothers in Christ. Don’t try to make your pastor more than he is – a Christian walking with Jesus – just like you.
Remember that the Word teaches that pastors are a gift from God to His church. The Lord “gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NLT) What a ministry position description!
Here is a word from the Word. “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all…. Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 The Message)
“Elders who do their work well should be paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” Do not listen to complaints against an elder unless there are two or three witnesses to accuse him.” (1 Timothy 5:17-19, NLT)
PS – I used the male pronoun in this essay but God has called and used so many wonderful women in ministry as well. There is no discrimination in Christ as to the distribution of spiritual gifts or callings. Remember that!
(Video of this blog at this link)
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