On Sunday evenings after church, when you’re watching the game or taking a huge monster-nap, your pastor is beating himself up for the entire Sunday service. Every mistake in the sermon, each typo in the bulletin, the joke that bombed, that shrill comment in the announcements — he’s replaying that loop in his head while wrapped in a snuggie and chowing down on cheese puffs.
I’m not trying to pull fake pity, but we often show grace for other people in the church for the same mistakes the pastor makes, but pull back such grace for the pastor.
Maybe we can show them a little grace, too.
Certainly there are some pastors who are not qualified. But most of us are trying our hardest, praying constantly, wanting the very best for you while remaining completely loyal to God’s calling. It’s not easy.
Here are five ways you can encourage your pastor.
1) Be real with your pastor. He wants to be real with you, too.
There’s a weird moment when you see your teacher or your boss for the first time at a grocery store or a movie theater. Suddenly, we realize they have a life. They don’t just live in a dungeon with their work clothes thinking about how to make your life harder. They kick off their shoes one foot at a time. They occupy the same world of Facebook and iPhones. They even have the same needs.
I don’t always want to talk theology — sometimes I just want to eat a hamburger with you and be a human.
Your pastor has the same hopes and hobbies and insecurities that all of us do. He certainly has a huge anointing, but he’s still just a regular guy. He crumbles at criticism. He has his own family. He gets tired and discouraged and sick. He probably watches the same TV shows that you do. He understands that reference to Doctor Who. And he will talk with you all day about these things. Not in a weird spiritualized way, but just to laugh, to listen, to enjoy. He occasionally needs room to take the label “Pastor” off the front of his name.
2) Assume the best of your pastor without expecting perfection.
Pastors are frail and fallible and have the same three lb. squishy brain that you do. We don’t get it right every time. We hate being put on a pedestal. We also hate it when others put words in our mouth or presume our motives: just like you would hate it, too.
There will be times when your pastor will say a shrill phrase in a sermon, or he’ll be frantic on Sunday mornings because of the packed schedule, or he’ll look uninterested during meetings. It’s possible that he’s exhausted from an entire week of hospital visits and weddings and graduations. Maybe he’s juggling a tough child at home with bills over his head and a family that doesn’t approve of him. Your pastor has a whole life of worries and priorities, on top of leading a group of uniquely hurting people.
Most pastors I know are truly trying their best, giving their all, using all the time they have to take care of both their own family and their church. Just as with anyone else, I would give the benefit of the doubt and offer a very wide grace.
3) Let your pastor know if he did something right.
Many of us live in an environment of criticism in which we only look for what went wrong. At the workplace, there are entire meetings devoted to picking apart all the shortcomings of the business operations. This is not only shortsighted, but extremely damaging to the entire workforce.
People need to know what went right, even more than what they got wrong. You can only correct mistakes for next time — but you can build on the things that worked and celebrate those steps forward.
I remember once telling my pastor after a remarkably great sermon that I loved how he handled the Scripture. He asked specifically what I meant. We went over it together. For the next two months, he took my suggestions and preached some of the best sermons of his life. He was able to improve because I was able to speak strength into him. Before then, I had only been harsh and critical about his speaking — but after, I understood how crucial it was to construct instead of deconstructing all the time.
I don’t mean to toot my own here, but pastors often live in a brutally punishing culture in which they only hear from their congregants when things go bad. They rarely hear when something went well or they said the right thing in a sermon. While pastors are not doing this for approval, no person is meant to be starved of encouragement for too long.
Since at least half a pastor’s job deals with words, then words are hugely important to them: and your words of grace can cultivate the best out of a pastor and nourish him in those difficult seasons of ministry. Text, call, email, or social media: even a quick hello will fill his heart.
4) Trust and encourage your pastor’s vision.
Imagine you plant a church in your city. You’ve been praying for months, even years, to get every detail just right, from the schedule to the stage to the budget to the calendar to the mission statement. Suddenly you’re inundated with hundreds of different opinions about how your church ought to be — and each opinion is just as different as the last.
This is a tricky area. On one hand, the church doesn’t belong to any one person, including the pastor. Everyone has the right to a voice. It’s so unlike a business, since it’s a place filled with volunteers and no one can really be “fired.” But the pastor is anointed to lead a fragmented group of people with different walks of life while also listening to their concerns and serving their individual needs, all under one vision. It’s ridiculously hard to balance, and no one can understand it until you’re there.
In my experience, many congregants assume they can lead better than their pastor, but they also don’t want the dirty responsibility of serving and listening. Your pastor has to do both: to lead and to listen. He’s trying to think about the whole church. The vision he’s excited for will often require a lot of patience and perseverance. It’ could sound messy, impractical, or overzealous.
But instead of shooting it down too fast, consider what it would look like if every person in the church could get behind the leadership, who has been praying more than anyone else, and to simply be unified by this Christ-appointed direction. It’ll be tough. It won’t get quick results. But that’s part of trusting your pastor, that he has really thought this out for the most fruitful impact for your people and your city.
5) Pray for your pastor like crazy.
Ask your pastor, “How can I pray for you this week?”
Watch his jaw drop.
We almost never get asked about our prayer needs. We never get to vent. How much do we share? When does weakness look like disqualification? When does “struggling” look like selfishness? We’re scared to share. We’re scared to look like we don’t have it together.
Prayer opens the space for grace and vulnerability. It allows us to be real, to exchange our viewpoints by sharing our needs.
It’s a simple question. It will change the way you see your pastor. It will humanize him. It will bring him to ground level. Just ask. Then pray.