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. Even still, we live in a day in which faithful and true shepherds experience a high rate of burnout, depression, or leave the ministry altogether. We live in a fallen world where sin knows no boundaries, sheep within the church bite, wolves have crept into local churches, and life is just hard. All of these factors make the work of pastoring God’s flock an immensely difficult task.
As a pastor, I’m personally thankful for encouragers in the local church. These individuals are often the wind within my sails, much like Onesiphorus for the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. 1:16). So, with that in mind, here are five practical ways which you can be an encouragement to your pastor. Know this: whether he tells you or not, your pastor needs your encouragement!
1. Pray for Him
The work of pastoring is not only mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing, it is also spiritual work. Often the pastor is on the front lines of waging against spiritual warfare. He can often see how the Lord is working within the church and how the enemy is attempting to trip up, grab a foothold, or lure away disciples. We battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). On top of this, most pastors know they are not able enough or 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 to help him as he leads. If he is serving in a church where he is the only pastor or elder, he likely feels alone and solely responsible for shepherding the church. If he is blessed to serve alongside other pastors, the weight is certainly dissipated but still felt.
The Apostle Paul also experienced the weight of pastoring (2 Cor. 11:28). It’s a heavy load, and we haven’t even begun to mention other important aspects of the pastor’s life and calling; his own personal 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. Let me encourage you to go one step further. Let him know as often as you do pray for him. Let him know how you are praying for him. It will bless his heart and refresh his soul.
2. Get to Know Him
The pastorate can be a demanding and consuming vocation. You are always on call, and it can be challenging to get away. Yet behind every pulpit, suit, and tie, behind every manuscript or sermon outline, in every office desk of the pastor sits a man who in many ways 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 can often be the fixation of his critics. He has a heart, he probably has needs, and he certainly has feelings. He hurts like you and is doing his best to live a life honoring to 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. Honestly, he is someone you would 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. Even better, grow to love him, and don’t be afraid to tell him that. 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!
3. Know He Loves You and is For You
God does something special in the heart of a true shepherd. He 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 as well. 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. For did you know that 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 to keep watch over your soul. He wants what is best for you. Yet, that doesn’t mean he will always prescribe to you what you believe 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. Sometimes his sermons may even “step on your toes.” I can promise you this, my aim in preaching is never to offend. 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, my friend, hurts worse than a stubbed toe. It may be tempting to become frustrated, angry, and recoil from your pastor in those moments. You may even think he is against you. Hopefully, that is not true. 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. That is likely the aim of your pastor, your sanctification (1 Thessa 4:3). This was the Apostle Paul’s aim and prayer as well.
One thing I can say without hesitation and with complete sincerity in my heart: I love the flock the Lord has entrusted to me. I love those who have left and have gone to other churches. I even love those who have hurt me. Sheep bite from time to time. I love them because Christ has called me to love others, and as pastor he continually increases my ability to love the flock. For is this not how the world will know we belong to Christ, that we have love for one another? (John 13:35)
4. Extend Grace to Him
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.
Far too many pastors live under and within what is 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 finally exposed. Moreover, that same spirit is often impressed on to his family too. His wife and children better not miss a beat, always be on their “A-game,” and never let anyone down.
Know this, give him time, and I promise you your pastor will let you down. In time, he will do something that fails to meet the standard of your expectations. Give it enough time and I promise the opportunity will come in which you can write your pastor off as a disappointment. Because he’s not above sin, and he is also not above even 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 thing you desire when you fail? Grace! Just like you, he’ll never be beyond the need of grace in this life.
5. Support and Follow Him
Not only is the ministry challenging, but ministry can be 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 the change required to move forward is met with insistence to see that the needed change never comes, or certainly not without a fight. In moments like these we need others to stand with us! The truth is 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 or see the hardship of pastoring 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!
Do you want your pastor to remain strong? Sometimes, it will be difficult for him 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 or 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!
We have opportunity for a lot of things, beloved. When things don’t go our way, we may be tempted to become frustrated and voice our disappointment about your church or your 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: know 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 this year be the year we seek to build one another up.