What can I say or do to encourage my local pastor? I know that you are a pastor yourself and I’d like to ask you, a pastor, what pastors need to hear.
Thank you so much for this question. If I knew you, I’d buy you any coffee you want and give you a long forty second hug. I did write a super-long post on this before, but since ministry has gotten even tougher here in the last few weeks, I’ll go at this question again.
1) Please try to understand that your pastor is a human being with the same hopes, fears, dreams, anxieties, and worries as everyone else.
You ever get that weird moment when you see your teacher at the mall? Like you think, “Whoa, my teacher doesn’t live in a subterranean lair trying to torture us with horrible homework assignments.” He’s a real human being, with insecurities and a childhood and a real life outside of grading your papers.
If you take the “Pastor” label off the front of your pastor’s name and remove all those preconceived cultural ideas about a holy-preacher-man, then you know: he’s just a regular guy. He’s been given a huge divine calling, yes, but even with that he’s still way in over his head. He’s not indestructible against criticism; he is trying to listen to everyone; he has his own life; he puts on his socks one at a time; he occasionally watches the same TV shows that you do.
At times people only seem to want to talk spiritually-related stuff with me, when really sometimes I’d just like to get some ice cream and play some cards. People are shocked when I let out the rare curse word, or when I talk about my favorite season of 24, or when I know that Will Ferrell meme.
While not all pastors are equally accessible, they are equally frail, tempted, and human. We don’t get it right every time. We don’t want to be on pedestals. Unfair expectations hurt my heart. And behind the pulpit is a real dude with real thoughts who really wants to be real with you.
2) If something was helpful, let your pastor know.
Many pastors find themselves in a brutal, punishing culture where they only hear from their church members if something went wrong. It’s like all those imbalanced reviews on Yelp where the restaurant was “awful, bad lighting, waiter a moron.” It’s our human nature to write a negative review; not so much a positive one.
Sometimes, your pastor gets it right. A single sentence in his sermon spoke to you. That prayer he prayed over you flipped a switch. That outreach event, while not perfectly coordinated, stirred your heart with affections you never knew. Some blog post he wrote really hit the nail on the head. Simple: just let him know about that. Brag about your pastor to your pastor.
The realest of us don’t do this for compliments or feels-warm-fuzzies. We knew going in that it would be ridiculously difficult. But when God sends someone like you along, we are just about in tears. It also helps us immensely to know when we are steering the right direction. A simple word of thanks or text message or email or comment on his blog will boost his engine through even the worst of storms, and we will thank God for you all day long. In my case, all year long.
3) All that stuff the Bible says about how to treat someone? Do that for your pastor too.
When I was still a church member finding out this whole Christianity thing, I made it a natural reflex to pray for my own pastor. When he messed up, I forgave him. When he was long-winded, I was patient. When he got convicted, I tried to spur him onto good deeds. And I loved on him like crazy.
What usually happens after a sermon is that we let the Holy Spirit play out with everyone else in the church except for the pastor. I’ve found that church people can be particularly unforgiving towards a pastor’s mistakes while at the same time forgiving that horrible father of thirty years after a powerful sermon at the revival that the pastor stayed up all night praying for.
I am not at all criticizing the church here or “tooting my own horn.” I don’t deserve anything from anyone; I know I must earn my respect with the church people. I was just always curious why we treated the pastor as a separate alien entity from the rest of the church body. If my pastor became sick, why shouldn’t I visit him too? If my pastor makes a common human mistake, why shouldn’t I be gracious to him?
We talk so much about “unconditional love” in the church but can be so coldly conditional with the pastor. I understand that: some pastors just suck. False teachers will face total wrath in the end. Yet there are so many decent, God-fearing pastors out there who are starving for the community and for the love that the whole church is sharing with one another.
Proverbs 3:27 tells us not to withhold good from anyone if it’s in our power to act. That includes the least-of-these, that neighbor you can’t stand, the weird kid in your class, and your awkward hit-and-miss-sermon pastor. Please remember to pray for him, serve him, love on him.