This blurb came across my desk. It was called HOW TO GET RID OF YOUR PASTOR. It was meant to be funny or cute, but I did not laugh. It said something like this: First, look the pastor straight in the eye while he’s preaching and say “amen” once in a while and he’ll probably preach himself to death. Second, pat him on the back and brag on his good points and he’ll probably work himself to death. Third, rededicate your life to Christ and ask the preacher for some job to do and he’ll die of heart failure. And fourth, get the church to unite in prayer for the pastor, and he’ll become so effective that some larger church will take him off your hands.
I suppose the reason I did not laugh was because I see way too many pastors who are deeply discouraged, burned out, questioning their calling and ready to quit. I have my own list of how to get rid of your pastor. It goes like this: Never affirm him, talk around him, don’t pray for him, undermine the vision that he and your elders agree upon, drain his family, cause resentment in his spouse, and when he fails rub it in.
But let’s turn it around. How might you keep your pastor? How might you encourage him in this very important work of leading the church and advancing the mission of Christ? Let me tell you about eight gifts you can give your pastor. Give them over the length of his ministry. But be especially aware of them toward the end of the year.
This is not simply a “nice” or polite thing to do. It is a Biblical necessity. Since God has given pastors as his gifts to the church (Ephesians 4.11), it is fitting that we are both grateful and good stewards of his under-shepherds.
Not only that, it is in every church’s interest to have consistent, healthy leadership. This is a great blessing to the church. Rarely does a church grow in the long term if it is experiencing constant leadership change/drama and all the bitterness that comes with it.
So here are the gifts.
The gift of affirmation
The first gift is affirmation. Affirm your pastor. Pastoral esteem is at an all time low. As I said in a previous post, the world won’t affirm him, and these days the church often does not affirm him. George Barna said in his book The Second Coming of the Church, that “being a pastor these days may be the single most thankless task in America.” (p. 29). So make it a point to affirm your pastor’s role and gifts. Make a big deal out of Pastor Appreciation Month. It is a recent evangelical tradition, but in my opinion, it is a good one. Remind your congregation to send notes and give other encouragements (do you know what his language of love is, what renews and refreshes him, what his hobbies and interests are?) Don’t take your pastor for granted. Put wind in his sales!
The gift of direct conversation
Second, give your pastor the gift of direct conversation. Talk to, and not around your pastor. Talking around is gossip. Bring your concerns directly to your pastor, not after talking with ten other people, (which is destructive).
This is where we often get in trouble and cause a lot of hurt. When you have a problem with your pastor, go directly to him and talk it out. If you can’t do it alone, take someone else with you. If you are too afraid to do that, then go to an elder and ask that an elder go with you or speak to him. But do not go around slandering your pastor. Matthew 18 lays out clear principles on how we are to approach this.
And by the way, when you go, share positive comments as well. You will earn the right to be heard with constructive criticism.
Above all speak the truth in love. This means, that pastors should be evaluated annually like any other employee in the church, There should be a means of review, accountability, and a plans for improvement. If things don’t improve, then the elders must seriously evaluate how effective his ministry is. Not all pastors are a great fit. Things don’t always work out. Assignments end. Sometimes there must be a parting of ways. But it can be done with grace.
The gift of prayer
A third gift is prayer. Pray for your pastor. The pastor is a spiritual pace setter. The presence and level of good pastoral leadership is one of the most significant indicators of the health and potential of a local church. Not only that, your pastor is a big spiritual target and the enemy of Christ desires to destroy pastors. That is why Paul urged his churches to pray for him. In fact he said in Romans 15.30 “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” In 2 Corinthians 1.11 he wrote “you also must help us by prayer.” There is an urgency in his words. So pray for your pastor’s effectiveness. Pray for his integrity, purity, family, protection and spiritual health. Pray for his joy in the Lord. Partner for your pastor as a daily intercessor. The best thing anyone ever said to me in my church is—“pastor, I pray for you daily.”
The gift of family blessing
A fourth gift you can give to your pastor is family blessing. Bless his family. Pastors’ families experience amazing pressures. Believe me, if Satan can’t get to the pastor, he will go after the pastor’s family. Few if any other lines of work will provide so severe a test of our ability to balance his work and family.
One of the saddest things that happens to pastors is that their families end up resenting the church because dad is always gone. The church bears some responsibility for this. Sadly the way some churches treat their pastors has caused many a PK (preacher’s kids) to stumble.
My son once came to me exasperated and complained “Dad, they expect me to act like I am ordained, and it makes me want to rebel.” I appreciated his amazing candor and frustration.
Instead, bless his family. Respect their time alone together. Take a special interest in the children so they will come to love the church and see it as one of the best things that ever happened to their family!
One of the best ways a church can bless a pastor’s family is by providing a decent wage. Galatians 6.6 says that anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share good things with his instructor. 1 Corinthians 9.14 says “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Timothy 5. 18 says that the worker deserves his wages. And those who do well are worthy of double honor. Honor here includes financial support. “Muzzling the ox” includes making it so difficult for them financially that they are distracted.
The gift of marriage blessing
A fifth gift is blessing the pastor’s wife and marriage. It is in your interest that they have a strong marriage. The next worse thing to having children who resent the church is having a wife who absorbs so much pain from pastoral ministry, that she does not like the church.
One of the best gifts people gave us while pastoring was “couple time.” Sometimes it was a night or two away, tickets to an event, or a coupon for a nice dinner together. To be quite honest, sometimes this saved my neck! One elder would come to Christina and regularly ask her, (not me), “how are you?” “how is it going?” That showed her respect, and she gave him honest answers! So, love your pastor’s spouse in tangible ways.
The gift of relational grace
A sixth gift is relational grace. Expectations for pastors are exceedingly high. In looking for their next senior pastor, churches want the next Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, ________ (go ahead, fill in the blank). Not only that, but in an internet age, they can easily listen to the sermons of these guys right after church and compare them to what they hear at your church.
And on top of all that, pastors will most likely be put on a pedestal. It is only a matter of time before they will be letting someone in your congregation down. They will fall short of all those initial expectations. They will fail. The big question is, when they do, will your church allow your pastor the room to fail and learn from it? Will they be patient with your pastor as he learns to lead? Will they allow him to grow in his preaching? Assuming he is teachable (an important characteristic of any pastor) will they give your pastor the grace and security to grow as a Christ follower? If they do, it is a precious gift.
The Gift of Renewal
A seventh gift is the gift of renewal. We usually think that renewal is the Holy Spirit’s job. By and large, it is. But in a pastorate, it is also the congregation’s job. The church must help preserve the pastor’s spirit. See that he gets time out to let his souls slow down and get renewed. Make sure he takes a study leave and gets adequate vacation.
In one church, besides my vacation, I was given two weeks of study leave each year where I got away by myself to think, study and pray. I did this in January and July. These weeks allowed me to do advance planning, to prepare preaching ahead of time. An occasional sabbatical is also a wonderful gift. Also, the larger the church and more responsibilities your pastor has, the more intentional a church must be about this. You want your pastor to be spiritually, emotionally and physically healthy.
The Gift of Followership
Finally, there is the gift of followership. Follow your pastor as your pastor follows Christ. If he does, and if he works closely with the elders, let your pastor lead. Of course, trust must be earned. But when it is there, then give your pastors joy by buying into the Hebrews 13.17 mandate. It will be to your advantage. That text says, “ Obey your leaders and submit to them, [and the context here is clearly to submit as they follow Christ], for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
These days everyone wants to be a leader and no one wants to follow. But followership in a church is just as important as leadership (it is a shepherd/sheep thing remember?).
God gives leaders vision. He gives them faith. He calls them to change the status quo. Wise leaders will check their vision with other godly leaders. As they set a prudent, Biblically driven plan before the church, get ready to follow. Let them lead.
Bless your pastor
So here are eight gifts you can give to encourage and bless your pastor: the gifts of affirmation, direct conversation, prayer, family blessing, marriage blessing, relational grace, renewal, and the gift of followership.
As you give these gifts, your pastor will be blessed. Unless, of course, you ignore them. If you do not take them seriously, I can almost guarantee that you will ensure a short pastorate.
Hey, it’s easy to get rid of your pastor. There are actually hundreds of ways to do it. But to keep him, and to ensure leadership continuity, well, that takes work too. It will take some intentional gift-giving. So try setting a new course for your church. Start here. If you do, who knows what God will do through your church?