Very few people understand the weight of shepherding God’s people within the local church. It is a high calling of the Lord. To be sure, it is so difficult that, at times, the only thing that sustains a pastor is his calling from God.

We live in a day in which faithful and true shepherds experience a high rate of burnout, depression; far too many leave ministry altogether. In our fallen world, sin knows no boundaries, sheep bite, wolves creep into churches, and life is hard.

As a pastor, I’m thankful for encouragers in the local church. These individuals are often the wind within my sails, much like Onesiphorus for Paul (2 Tim. 1:16). Know this: whether he tells you or not, your pastor needs your encouragement! Here are five ways you can do that:

1. Pray for Him

The work of pastoring is not only mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing; it’s also grueling spiritually. The pastor is on the front lines of waging spiritual warfare. He often sees how the Lord is working within the church and how the enemy is attempting to trip up, grab a foothold, or lure away disciples.

Most pastors know they aren’t skilled enough to lead the church in their own power. He needs the help of the Lord, but also the help of other godly men and women as he leads. If he’s serving in a church where he’s the only pastor, he likely feels alone and solely responsible for shepherding the church. If he is blessed to serve alongside other pastors, the weight is certainly diminished but still felt.

Paul also experienced the weight of pastoring (2 Cor. 11:28). It’s a heavy load, and we haven’t even mentioned other important aspects of the pastor’s life and calling: his own holiness and walk with Christ, his family, and personal struggles. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your pastor is a commitment to pray for him. And go one step further: let him know as often as you pray for him.

2. Get to Know Him

The pastorate is a demanding and consuming vocation. You are always on call; it can be challenging to get away. Yet behind every pulpit, suit and tie, behind every manuscript or sermon outline, in every pastoral study sits a man who is just like you. He has hobbies and interests. He has a family. There are things he likes and things he dislikes. He has quirks that sometimes attracts the fixation of his critics.

He has a heart, he has needs, and he certainly has feelings. He hurts like you and is doing his best to live a life that honors Christ. Believe it or not, he probably wants to laugh and, for once, be able to let his guard down and not be taken so seriously all the time.

Bottom line: he’s a person. He is someone you’d probably enjoy if you took the time to get to know him without placing expectations or assumptions about who you think he may be or what you want him to be. Instead, simply let your pastor be himself and get to know him. Invite him to lunch. Have his family over for dinner. Ask if he and his family would like to join you in an evening of fun together. Find simple ways to get to know the person God has called to be your pastor.

Every Sunday, as Ms. Wynell Pierce is leaving church, she greets me with a handshake or a warm hug, only to say, “I love you, pastor, and we love your family!” She means it, and I know she does. It means the world to me.

3. Know He Loves You and is For You

God does something special in the heart of a true shepherd; the Lord gives him a genuine love for the flock entrusted into his care. In the same way, we should love our pastor. It is important to know that your pastor loves you. He prays for you, and he desires for the Lord to bring about his purposes in your life. He wants you to grow and mature into Christ. He is thrilled in your excitement, and he hurts with you in moments of pain. He has a vested interest in your spiritual growth and maturity. One day, your pastor will stand before the Lord and give an account for you (Heb. 13:17).

Your pastor in every way is a “soul doctor.” He is called to keep watch over your soul. He wants what is best for you. Yet that doesn’t mean he will always agree with you as to what you think is best for you. Sometimes the Lord may even use your pastor to speak a word of truth you do not want to hear in the moment but need to hear it.

Sometimes his sermons may even “step on your toes.” I never aim to offend a particular person in my preaching. I have no joy or desire to step on anyone’s toes or hurt anyone. Yet, I also pray the Lord will pierce hearts, and that hurts worse than a stubbed toe.

You may be tempted to become frustrated, angry, and recoil from your pastor in those moments. You may even think he is against you. The Lord uses the preached Word and your pastor as a strong voice for you to consider your ways before the Lord and to repent. Your pastor’s aim is your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). This was Paul’s aim and prayer as well.

4. Extend Him Grace

It may come as a surprise to you, but your pastor sins just like you. He has questions, doubts, and even fails in faithfully following the Lord. Just like you, the Lord is at work in your pastor, sanctifying and conforming him to the image of Christ. He has bad days, sometimes looks back in regret, and often wishes he would have responded differently to situations. Your pastor is not perfect—and he knows it.

Far too many pastors live within what is sometimes called a glass house. People often look on and wait for him to stumble. They hope to catch him in a moment of weakness or when his very real sin nature, which we all have, is exposed. Moreover, that same spirit is often impressed on to his family. His wife and children had better not miss a beat, always be on their A-game, and never let anyone down.

Give him time, and your pastor will let you down. In time, he will do something that fails to meet your expectations. Give it enough time, and I promise the opportunity will come for you to write off your pastor as a disappointment. He’s not above sin, and he’s also not above sinning against you. What do we do in those moments? Sure, we could write him off, talk about him, leave the church, or call for his resignation. Though, I doubt we would want that for ourselves. May I lovingly suggest that you extend to him the same grace you desire when you fail? Just like you, he’ll never be beyond the need of grace in this life.

5. Support and Follow Him

Ministry can be extremely lonely. Often, a pastor’s decisions are met with suspicion, questions, or outright resistance. Sometimes what is clearly the path ahead is charted with difficulty. Sometimes needed changes in a church are met with resistance. People will rise up against the pastor. In moments like those, pastors need some members to stand with them. We need others to lock arms with us in both the good and bad moments of ministry.

I remember the words from one of my deacons like it was yesterday. It was during a particularly difficult season of ministry, and I’m sure he could sense the hardship I was walking through. Over lunch—to the best of my recollection—he said these words to me: “Pastor, I want you to know that I am with you. I am behind you and I’m standing with you. I agree with everything you are doing. It’s biblical and the right direction for our church. I also know it’s tough; these have been some difficult days, but don’t you quit! I support you, and I am with you, brother.”

It’s difficult to adequately express all the ways the Lord used the words of this godly man to refresh my heart and spirit, but I can assure you it was timely and life-giving to my weary soul. In time, these were proven to be more than words. He lived these words out before me, time and time again. It’s made all the difference.

Sometimes, it will be difficult for your pastor to lift his arms in battle (Ex. 17:12). See to it that you come to his aid and help him in his weakness. Do you want your church to be a strong church? A healthy church? Sometimes, this requires going against the grain of what has been the norm for a long time. Let me encourage you to get behind the man who God has sent to shepherd his local church. Support your pastor; build him up. Encourage him to stay the course, let him know you are with him, standing alongside him, and are following him as he follows Christ. When that happens, get ready and watch what the Lord will do in your church.

Make This the Year of Building Up

We have opportunity for a lot of things. When things don’t go our way, we may be tempted to become frustrated and voice our disappointment about our church or its pastor. In the flesh, you can use these moments as an opportunity to tear others down and build yourself up in return. Don’t be surprised when that feeling even feels justified.

But remember this before you speak a word of criticism or when you are tempted to voice your discontentment about your pastor, or about the way you feel things are going: your support and encouragement will go a lot further in bringing honor to Christ, blessing your pastor, and edifying the church (Eph. 4:29-32).

I think we can all agree that we’ve done enough tearing one another down. May 2022 be the year we seek to build one another up.