How Can We Support Our Pastors?
Consider the following sobering survey results of the personal and professional lives of the clergy:
- 90% of pastors work over 46 hours a week
- 80% believed that pastoral ministry affected their families in a negative way
- 33% said that being in ministry was an outright hazard to their family
- 75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
- 50% felt unable to meet the needs of the job
- 90% felt they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
- 70% say they have lower self-esteem now than when they started out
- 40% reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
- 37% confessed to having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
- 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
I am starting this series because I believe most congregations do not know just what a strain the pastoral ministry places on the pastors and their families. And I think this is also a factor in the pastor shortage many are experiencing. So, in this post, I want to share with you three things you can do to provide support for the one called by God to care for the sheep under his care.
Offer sincere and constructive feedback on the sermon.
“Pastor, that was incredible…” while I love to hear that, it did not help me hone my craft. I told my wife early on that “… since you are the only one who will have the courage, to be honest with me, please tell me the truth about my preaching.” Early on, some of those conversations were brutal, but then again, so was my preaching. But my wife's honest assessments, it help me refine my craft.
As I travel around and visit congregations, I hear this story far too often. “Our pastor preaches sermons that no one wants to hear. They just don’t connect with us. They do not spiritually feed the people.” So I ask them, did you talk to your pastor about that? And the answer is a resounding NO!
The next time you want to give your pastor encouragement, make your comments specific, not general. Direct your comments to what the Holy Spirit did through him. “God taught me ________through your sermon today.”
Or “pastor it would be helpful if you explained this term or theological phrase”.
“Pastor your illustration distracted me from the message.”
Remember when giving feedback that for many pastors the sermon is like their baby. So, when you give feedback do so with a gentle and loving spirit. Any feedback should be designed to be a blessing, your goal is to assist in the development of your pastor not add more burden to his ministry.
Give him encouragement after the mediocre sermons.
I had a member who would come up to me after one of those and say, “Pastor, that was a warm sermon.” I asked him after hearing that a few times what he meant, and he responded, “Not so hot.” He wanted to remind me I needed more work on delivery or preparation.
Encouraging your pastor in his preaching is important. It will not only help him, but it will benefit the entire flock. If the pastor has a teachable spirit, he will grow in his proclamation of the gospel, and you will get more out of the sermons.
Encourage him in caring for and leading his family.
Since many pastors are also husbands and fathers, they have an added responsibility. And the role of husband and father comes before that of a shepherd. In writing to the young pastor Timothy, the apostle Paul had this wise advice to for him.
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:4-6.
As you can see from God’s word, those roles should be more important in their life than their capacity as a pastor. So, if you want to have a happy and healthy pastor, insist that the man called to serve not neglect his home life, encourage him in leading his family, and care for them as you care for him.
I want to encourage you to support your pastor’s professional development. You want your pastor to attend conferences where he will continue to develop as a shepherd and leader. There is something healthy about getting out and seeing other ways of doing ministry. Unfortunately, many pastors feel guilty about asking for this opportunity to grow, so they don’t.
But members expect them to know the latest ministry approaches and trends, and some members feel they are being cheated if their pastor is not there every Sunday. If you want to burn a preacher out and start a call process every three years, operate your ministry with that failed approach.
From some 8,000 laypeople and ministers with whom we have conferred, five principal pastoral problems emerge a loss of nerve, a loss of direction, erosion from culture, confusion of thought, and exhaustion. They have become shaken reeds, smoking lamps, earthen vessels...spent arrows. They have lost hearts. But we can revive them!
My encouragement to congregations is to hold up the prophet’s hand. Pastors and their families need your prayers, your encouragement, your support, and your participation in the Gospel. They also need authentic relationships. I will leave you with this latest Barna Research to ponder.
Frequency of Interaction with Pastors Outside of Church Service & Events
When church members were asked if they regularly met with or spoke to the lead pastor of their church outside of church service and events, here are the sobering facts.
One in five Christian adults (20%) answers yes.
What about respondents who could not only identify as Christian but also exhibit some level of commitment to their local church?
One-third of churched adults (32%)—those who have been to church at least once in the last six months—say they regularly interacted with their lead pastor outside of formal church settings.
Forty-three percent of practicing Christians—self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month—answer similarly.
Let me leave you with an action item. I would encourage everyone who reads this to regularly let your pastor and his family know you appreciate them and the ministry he is providing. This may surprise you, but as a parish pastor, I heard way more complaints about my service than encouragement.