3 ways to encourage your weary, faithful pastor
Your pastor doesn’t need flattery, but he does need genuine, biblical encouragement that helps him keep his hands to the plow.
Preaching is a fool’s task. Paul says as much when he tells the Corinthians that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:17). There are a lot of preachers and congregations who agree so strongly with that diagnosis that they’ve deemed it necessary to modify the way preaching is done in their church. They’ve gotten rid of the traditional sermon, which is viewed by some as archaic and abusive, in favor of dialogue and conversation.
Paul was telling the truth when he said that preaching the gospel is folly, but he also says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). A commitment to expository preaching takes a firm belief in the power of God’s Word and a humble recognition that the God-appointed means of preaching is better than whatever impressive or efficient model we might devise. God will build his church through expository preaching, and it takes a committed fool to believe it and do it. This means there will be times when your pastor feels deeply the reality that he is engaging in a fool’s task and will cry out with Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor 2:16)?
If your preacher is a committed fool, he will need encouragement. That might not seem obvious, but the reality is that the pastorate can be a discouraging place. Not only does the very idea of preaching look foolish in the world’s eyes (and occasionally in those of the congregation), but discouragement seems to come from every direction even as he tries to serve the Lord and love his people. Maybe his own sin is overwhelming him and hurting those around him. Maybe there’s tension at home. Maybe he can’t make ends meet financially. Maybe he’s feeling inadequate after listening to a John Piper sermon. Maybe a member made a snide comment after a sermon that he can’t shake. Maybe it seems like no one follows along as he preaches. Whatever it is, these things take a toll.
That’s where you, the church member, come in. If you’re a member at a church and you’re regularly hearing the Bible exposited, you have much for which to be thankful. If your preacher is diligent to preach the whole counsel of God, to let the content and structure of the text dictate that of his sermon and to apply the Bible to your life so that you’re walking in the truth, you are blessed.
Paul says that those who labor faithfully in preaching and teaching are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17) and are to be respected and esteemed highly in love (1 Thess 5:12-13). That honor, respect and high estimation is to come from the church members. Hopefully you actually want to encourage your pastor, but you should also see that the Bible exhorts you to do so.
When I use the word “encourage,” I don’t mean that you should merely say nice things to your pastor to flatter him and make him feel better. I mean you should consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). As Kevin DeYoung says, encouragement “is not about commending nice people to make them feel good but about commending the work of the gospel in others to the glory of God.” Your pastor doesn’t need flattery, but he does need genuine, biblical encouragement that helps him keep his hands to the plow as he works to cut a straight path in his ministry. If you’re not sure how to do that, then here are some practical ideas for encouraging your pastor.
“Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thess 5:25). That was the apostle Paul who said that. If the apostle Paul needed prayer, your pastor does, too. Pastors are ordinary men, but they hold an extraordinary office. The New Testament places unique responsibility on pastors to shepherd God’s people by teaching, preaching, counseling, leading and serving. This responsibility carries serious ramifications: pastors will face a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1) and will give account before God for the souls with which they’ve been entrusted (Heb 13:17). This is not an office to be entered into lightly.
The New Testament is not the only source of pressure that pastors experience, however. Our culture, with all of its resistance to authority and cynicism toward the Bible, eagerly anticipates the next report of a pastor falling into sin. This happens with sickening frequency, and with it comes yet more disrepute on the bride of Christ.
With all of this, it should be clear that one of the most loving and faithful things you can do as a church member is to pray for your pastor. Pray for him as you prepare for church, pray for him with your family, with other church members or ask him if you can pray for him in person.
There are a host of ways you can pray for your pastor: Pray that he would conduct himself wisely in a life of obedience that remains above reproach (1 Tim 3:2); pray that he would love and be faithful to his wife (Eph 5:25-33); pray that he would raise his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4); pray that he would love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30); pray that he would faithfully shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:1-3); pray that he would flee temptation (1 Thess 4:3-8); pray that he would be a man of unceasing prayer (Eph 6:18) and pray that he would bind himself to the Scriptures and commit himself to expounding the Word of God rather than his own opinions (2 Tim 4:1-4). This list is by no means exhaustive, but there is no better place to start than by praying God’s own words for your pastor.
The last thing a pastor or preacher wants to think is that he is the only one prepared for Sunday morning. That doesn’t mean you need to write your own sermon during the week, but you might be surprised how much more you get out of your Sunday mornings by simply being more prepared.
The truth is that Sunday morning begins on Saturday night. There are a number of extremely practical ways to be prepared for worship, all for the purpose of removing potential distractions and obstacles. On the physical side, consider laying out and ironing clothes for yourself and your family the night prior, be sure that the car is gassed up, pack any bags with Bibles and diapers and whatever else you bring as a family, make sure the alarms are set, get plenty of rest the night before, have breakfast planned and ready to go for the morning. All of these things, as simple as they may seem, will eliminate potential distractions on Sunday morning.
You don’t need to make a rule out of these things; we all know that life happens, but they are helpful means of removing potential stumbling blocks. You might think they’re unimportant, but Satan will use anything he can to keep God’s people from fully engaging in worship.
There are, of course, ways to be spiritually prepared as well. Take some time to pray alone or as a family, confess sins to one another that need to be confessed, sing songs of praise together at dinner on Saturday and read Scripture together. In fact, there’s a way you can read Scripture in preparation for worship that just may be the most significant way to prepare for worship. This isn’t something I thought up myself, rather, the Lord’s dear people at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where I pastor, have encouraged me in this way and I’m offering it so the blessing can be multiplied.
Here’s what you do: find out what text is going to be preached, and read the passage before you come to church. It’s simple and it’s good for you and it will encourage your pastor.
There are different ways to do it. Maybe you could read the sermon text at the breakfast table before you go to church, or maybe sometime on Saturday will work better for you. There are a number of ways your pastor will be encouraged by this: he’ll be encouraged by your asking what he’ll preach, and your telling him that you’re asking because you like to read the passage in preparation for worship. He’ll be encouraged when you ask him after church how to understand something you saw in the text that he didn’t have time to address in the sermon. He’ll be encouraged to see the Spirit of God drawing you to the Word of God – getting to hear that you’re reading the Bible will be like the farmer seeing fruit on those vines he’s been tending – what a joy to know that the people you serve are reading the Bible! He’ll be encouraged if you tell him you had trouble seeing the relevance of the passage, or understanding it, and then were helped by his sermon. He’ll be encouraged to hear that his sermon made you want to go back and read the passage more carefully, or to meditate on it more. He’ll be encouraged when you tell him that his preaching has helped you to become a better Bible reader.
Most importantly, he’ll be encouraged to see you apply the sermon by walking in the truth. One elder wrote about the people in the churches he served: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). In fact, he said that kind of thing repeatedly (cf., 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4). Nothing will encourage your pastor like giving him the joy of seeing you walk in the truth. Read the sermon text before church on Sunday and be conformed to the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another.
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us that God gave to the church, among other things, “shepherds and teachers.” Shepherds and teachers is simply another way of saying “pastors.” Paul is saying that your pastor is actually a gift from God. He’s still a sinner, but he’s a gift. Notice that Paul tells us that God’s purpose in giving these pastors is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13).
Does your church have the mentality that the pastor is there to be the professional and do the ministry and you are there simply to receive it week after week? That’s not how God arranged it. The pastor is indeed there to do ministry, but much of his ministry consists of equipping and building up God’s people to do ministry. As we noted above, nothing will give your pastor more joy than seeing you walk in the truth, and part of what that means is that you engage your heart and hands in the task of ministry. This isn’t simply to help your pastor do his job, it’s for the good of your soul and the health of the church.
Most of the New Testament’s epistles were written as letters to specific churches, where the many commands and exhortations to care for, comfort, encourage, forgive, honor, love and serve “one another” were not just abstract instructions. When people heard those letters read for the first time, they knew the actual people who were to receive their care, comfort, encouragement, forgiveness, honor, love and service.
They had pastors to preach and teach Scripture, to pray and to watch over their souls. But much of the horizontal person-to-person ministry was done by the church members. A church that lives like this is rare, precious. Too many view their pastors as professionals (and some pastors view themselves this way) and church members view themselves as consumers who come to church to get what they can from the church’s “products.” This might seem to be the more efficient way to do ministry, but this is not the way a body functions, and it isn’t the way church should be. The New Testament’s vision of church ministry is rare, but it’s been given to us by God, and the task of a New Testament church is to be faithful, not merely efficient.
Rather than improving the real fruitfulness of a church, this sort of arrangement actually augments the strain on and discouragement of the pastor. There are few things as encouraging to a pastor as seeing his people living as Christians and doing ministry.
There are all sorts of ways to participate in your church’s ministry. You could encourage other members, outdo others in showing honor, love others – especially those on the fringes, do evangelism, visit and encourage the elderly and homebound, meet in accountability with other members to encourage godliness, give financially, do missions, mentor someone younger in the faith, clean the church building, serve in children’s ministry, drive people to church who need rides, teach Sunday school and all sorts of other things.
Your pastor will be energized to keep at the task of equipping and building up the saints as he sees the members of the church acting like Christians, like people who love and follow Jesus.
This is just the beginning. Praying, preparing and participating are just three ways you can encourage your pastor, and there are many more.
As you support and advocate for your pastor like this, you will indeed be showing him the double honor of which Paul speaks, you’ll be esteeming him highly and you will be honoring God.