Obey your leaders and submit to them, 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.—Hebrews 13:17
Recently, there’s been some talk about the discouragement pastors face in their ministry. Even though discouragement is the reality of what is, it’s not what should be. But as much as God places the accountability of care and shepherding into the hands of men called pastors, he also places the accountability of bringing joy to pastors into the hands of the congregation.
That’s Hebrews 13:17—this is not a message so much to pastors but to the congregation. The author says to the church, “It is over you the pastors have charge and for you they will give an account to God, so you—let them do this with joy!” The grumbling, complaining, and heartache that can come from members of a congregation, even if it is just a draining few, creates no benefit in the church either for pastor or congregation.
So here’s some thoughts about how you, as a member of a congregation, can bring joy into the life of your pastors:
1. Pray for your pastors and their families, and let them know you’re praying for them.
Many church members do pray for their pastors, and this is good. However think about how you feel when you’re going through a difficult time and even when things are going well, and someone comes up to you and lets you know they’re praying for you. It makes you feel good, it lifts you up, and it brings a new joy. It’s like with love in a marriage—a guy can buy his wife flowers, take care of the kids so she can have a night out with her friends, clean the house after a long day at work, etc. and it all shows that he loves her and it’s good. But he needs to say, “I love you” as well. Yes actions speak louder than words, but words with actions provide a double whammy. So pray for your pastors, tell them you’re praying for them, and, oh, tell them you love them as well.
2. Do something special for your pastors on occasion.
Maybe find out if there’s a certain book he’s interested in and buy it for him. Maybe see if you can watch their kids some Friday night so he and his wife can have a night out. Maybe give him a card telling him how much you appreciate his work. Maybe offer to mow his yard one afternoon. It doesn’t have to be complex, just a special gesture that says, “You’re appreciated, we thank you, and we care.”
3. Realize that though they might have ESPN, they do not have ESP.
The pastor does not know what you’re thinking, what you’re going through, or even if you’re in the hospital unless someone lets him know. And that someone should be you if you’re able, or someone close to you if you’re not able. Don’t just sit back and hope the prayer chain gets to him, because for some reason it often doesn’t. All the pastors I know love to pray for and with their brothers and sisters in their congregation. It’s part of the heart of a shepherd wanting to care for and build up the sheep. But it is actually discouraging to not have things to pray for as a shepherd, or to find out five days after you got home that you were in the hospital.
4. Realize your pastors are human too.
And that means they cannot operate 24/7 with no sleep. They need a Sabbath day of rest too which they usually don’t get on Sunday. It also means, just like you, they have a roller coaster of emotions—there are times they are happy and times they are sad, times they are joyful and times they are discouraged, times they’re full of life, and times they are worn out. Like you would a spouse, child, or friend—try to take notice of their mood and respond appropriately. Also realize they face temptations too and they are sinners saved by God’s awesome grace. Be willing to forgive their offenses just as you want them to forgive yours.
5. And speaking of offenses…don’t gossip and complain when a pastor does something you don’t like.
If he does or says something that truly offends or hurts you, and you feel sinned against, the Bible gives you one recourse listed in Matthew 18 and it starts with going to the person. It’s not a time to gossip. It’s not a time to complain to a deacon. It’s not a time to hold it in and bear a grudge for months on end while you smile and shake his hand at worship or when he visits your home. You talk to him, and if that doesn’t resolve it, you take another person or two, and if that doesn’t resolve it then it becomes more of a public manner.
And with that, if he does something that’s not really a sin but you just don’t like it—again either go and talk to him in private with love and grace, or keep it to yourself and get over it (Philippians 2:14, Colossians 3:13). If you’re not willing to say something to him then it must not be that big of a deal and it certainly is no one else’s business. But the words we do speak are to edify and bring grace (Ephesians 4:29).
6. Instead of simply telling your pastor “That was a good sermon” or “I really appreciated what you said,” tell him why/how it impacted you.
Most pastors hear “good sermon” a lot. And even if it is with sincerity, after a while it begins to sound like empty words. “They’re just complimenting me because…” Most pastors, however, aren’t truly interested in their sermons being “good” as much as they are seeing the Word of God actually make a difference in your life. Let him know how God is using the Word.
7. Finally, and most importantly, set yourself to grow in Christ, live in humility, seek unity within the church, and grow in love.
For this one, I’ll just let Paul’s words speak for themselves (Philippians 2:1-5), “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort form love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”