After 14 months in my new role overseeing our pastors’ health and development, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my reflections. I have met and chatted with well over 100 of our pastors throughout New Zealand. It has been an enriching and encouraging experience hearing how our leaders are faring. So here are some thoughts on how you can support your pastor.
Remember the beginning
If you were around at the time you pastor was called to your church, remember the energy, prayer and celebration that went on as you both realised where the Holy Spirit was leading. There is a real sense that we don’t choose our pastors, we are given them. They are a gift to the church. Your pastor will never forget God’s leading him or her to your church and neither should you.
Be careful of your expectations
We can be ambivalent about our pastors. We want them to be both kings and shepherds at the same time. We want them to be a living model of faith and lead the church forward, yet still down-to-earth enough to share in our struggles and journey.
Most pastors invest huge energy in pointing their church toward Christ and his mission. This is what drives them and why they are in leadership in the first place. While many have a range of gifts, they are not pseudo accountants, financial planners, property managers, physiologists or social workers. That’s where the body of Christ works so well because they don’t have to be. As Eugene Petersen says, “contrary to popular opinion, pastors are not Jacks and Jills of all trades.” Pastors are practical theologians with Christ’s heart for people both within and without the church.
Love their family
One pastor I met had enjoyed a few other roles over the years before ending up in pastoral ministry. He said he had never experienced the kind of pressure on his family life in any other setting. “Ministry,” he said, “puts a unique kind of spotlight on my family. My biggest challenge is to ensure I get time with my wife and kids.”
For some pastors this translates to a rich and wonderful life watching their kids become followers of Christ. For others, this journey is uncertain and fraught with frustration, challenges and a longing for the former. Boundaries can be difficult for pastors, particularly if they live in the manse or work from home. A survey of pastors in the mid-1990s across a number of denominations in Australia and New Zealand highlighted this. The majority of ministers (65%) found it hard to separate work and home life.
There are some practical ways you can help with this challenge. Treat their day off as part of a non-negotiable contribution to them and their family. If you pastor is married, suggest to your elders to consider the church sponsoring a marriage retreat or a weekend away on their own and organise some childcare for the time they are away.
If you know they are in a particular busy period, what about dropping a meal around to their home.
Random acts of love and appreciation radiate grace and enhance relationships.
Is amazing how a little appreciation goes a long way. For many pastors the only regular communication they get from their church is of a critical nature. Pastors are not afraid of critique or helpful suggestions but take care how you package your response. While email may be the most convenient form of communication it is not necessarily the best. Pitch, tone and intended emphasis of communication can be ambiguous at best and may be received contrary to the spirit in which it was sent.
Our congregational government ensures that we get to discern the Holy Spirit and its leading together. Unfortunately, sometimes our church meetings can resemble political gatherings more than Christian ones. How we conduct ourselves in church meetings should always glorify Christ and his example.
Would you invite a media team to cover your next church meeting, confident that the footage would show the church in a good light, or would you be embarrassed? Not that I’m suggesting we give the media access to our church meetings, but it’s an interesting thought to ponder.
If you have serious issues, why not discuss them with the appropriate church leadership prior to the meeting? For many pastors, these meetings and the way their church conducts themselves are one of their biggest challenges.
Your pastor is always dreaming about how the church can become more Christ-like. Sometimes this can be an incredibly fulfilling role while at other times a very lonely one. Appreciating your pastor as a gift to your church creates a default setting of grace rather than power.
• Grahame Walker is the leader of Pastor Health & Development for the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.