Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The #1 Thing You Can Do For Your Pastor

Dear Friends,

It’s the only job in the world where you need to have the wisdom of Jesus, the compassion of Mother Teresa and the political acuity of Winston Churchill. You’re expected to have the fiery, life-changing preaching skill of Billy Graham along with the occasional comedic genus of Bob Hope. After the service, you then must have the patience of a saint along with the thick, hard skin of a rhinoceros as you hear the comments and criticisms from those you have been called to serve. I was told last week that a pastor was given an envelope by a church member. Thinking he was receiving a thoughtful gift, the pastor opened it to find it contained dust and lint. The member told him that this was found beneath a pew and that he needed to do a better job.

This November will be our third year anniversary of holding church services at a residential care facility in our community. There are those in the congregation who have attended every service and have thanked me for coming every time we’ve been there. In the three years, I did receive one complaint though. A person once told me that they liked the service so much that she wished I would sing more songs and also make the sermon longer. The administration and staff have expressed gratitude that we are there and tell us specifically about the positive changes they have seen in the residents. I am blessed beyond words to be their pastor and I’m among the 94% of us clergy who would say today that we are honored to be called to serve God and His people. 

But the majority of pastors also say that Bible college or seminary did not prepare them for the challenges of church ministry and a whopping 90% say that ministry was completely different than what they had expected. After the third year of ordination, 80% now expect frequent conflict in their church that will have a negative impact on their personal life and family life. 54% find the role of a pastor overwhelming and, after receiving constant complaints, 70% say that they have a lower self-image than when they first started. At one time, a church pastor was one of the most respected professions in his community. Today, the pastor is near the bottom of “most-respected professions” surveys and is just right above “used car salesmen.” Is it any wonder that 75% of all pastors consider leaving the ministry on a regular basis?

The story goes that after 20 years of marriage, a woman finally talked her husband into going to couple’s therapy. When asked by the therapist to tell her husband what was the one thing she was most unhappy about, she said, “Not once in our entire marriage have you ever told me that you love me.” The husband frowned and said, “On our wedding day, I told you I loved you and if anything changes I’ll let you know.” For the husband, simply staying in the marriage should have been sufficient proof that he loved his wife.

As far as many of us good churchgoin’ folks are concerned, showing up on Sundays should be sufficient proof that we’re happy with our pastor. But like the woman in what felt like a loveless marriage, sometimes your pastor also needs to hear that you appreciate him. (To avoid awkward pronouns, when I refer to a pastor as “him,” I mean “him or her.”)

One thing you can do for your pastor is to tell him that you are grateful for his messages. Our sermon can take a full day or multiple days to prepare and many pastors have no idea if their preaching makes any difference in the lives of those in the church. “Great sermon, Rev!” as we hurry through the door on our way to coffee and donuts is the equivalent of “Have a nice day.” If something said was helpful, tell him what that was. Be specific. Don’t worry about us becoming prideful – pastors typically receive a dozen complaints for every compliment! If something was life-changing, write a note, card or email that week and let your pastor know. A wise elder once told me to save every card and every note that encouraged me. When someone would flatten me with an unwarranted criticism or the murmuring would discourage me, I’d pull out that file and read. Some of you have contributed to my “encouragement file” and words cannot express how much I appreciated you.

The number one cause of discouragement among pastors is conflicts, complaining and murmuring. They report it leaves them physically exhausted at the end of their week, and it can be devastating when members use social media to blast the church. Ratcheting up our anger to attack and destroy a pastor and his family and to cause division in the church is not an option for those of the Christian faith. 'Nuff said.

But most of the complaints received by pastors are as shallow and as silly as the piece of lint clinging to the bottom of the pew. The person is not being mean or cruel, but the pettiness can just wear us out. Do you remember the complaints to pastors in last week’s AMEN Corner? We easily laugh at their shallow triviality, but petty complaints can be just as harmful to us humans as the ones that are intentionally cruel. A dear woman who was a regular at our Sunday service for many years never once said anything complimentary to me and that was okay. But she would complain before or after nearly every service that the sanctuary was too cold. Yes, nearly every service for years. I suggested she bring a sweater. I suggested she not sit under the air conditioning vent. She preferred to complain. I still have very fond memories of this woman, but it would sometimes be difficult to keep a smile on my face when she would approach me after the service. 

Here's another thing you can do for your pastor. If you have a genuine concern that you really believe is important, pray about it. If God is leading you to address it, approach your pastor in love and gently express it. If the concern can’t be resolved to your satisfaction, you have two Christian choices. Let it go or leave and find another church. Angry resistance may be politically popular these days but it has no place in the house of God. 

Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your pastor is to pray for him. I guarantee that you will absolutely shock your pastor if you approach him after the service next Sunday and ask, “How can I pray for you? What do you most need prayer for at this time in your ministry?” And then make that commitment to pray – every day. October is Pastor Appreciation Month and there is no greater gift you can give to your pastor than your prayers. That’s what will give your pastor hope, a sense of being cared for and encouragement for his ministry. AMEN?

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