Someone from Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner called the other day and asked me to speak to their men’s breakfast next Sunday morning on “how to encourage a pastor.” I like that assignment. I believe in affirming these men who are called of God to do the most exciting, most difficult work on the planet.
A few years ago when Mike Miller of Lifeway wrote a book on “Honoring the Ministry,” my church fed steaks to 125 pastors and deacons from all over New Orleans and we brought in someone to teach that book. Encouraging pastors is a longtime passion of mine.
Now, I’ve noticed something. When the Lord knows what I’m going to be speaking on the following Sunday, He likes to help me get ready. (Ahem.) That’s why He sent Charlie and Karen Tackett to the church where I was speaking last Sunday.
The pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Metairie, Scott Smith, was on vacation with his family, seeing our nation’s capital for the first time, and I was filling in for him. Someone approached me just before the service and said, “We have some missionaries here today. Could we give them a few minutes in the service?” You bet.
Charlie Tackett told the congregation, “My wife and I are missionaries to pastors. We go all over this nation, seeking out pastors especially of smaller churches. Some of them feel isolated and lonely and they have no one to talk to. When you have a problem, you call a pastor. Who does he call? Some would say, ‘He calls God.’ Well, that’s right, but sometimes a pastor would like to have a sit-down with a human being. That’s when we show up. We take the pastor and his wife to a nice restaurant, and we listen to their concerns and love them and pray for them. Our whole lives are devoted to encouraging pastors.”
All of which raises a good question: how would you go about encouraging a minister and his wife? I know lots of ways that people have used with us over the years, some better than others.
Now, if your pastor is struggling to pay his bills, money is always a welcome gift. Or a gift certificate to the grocery store. In my first pastorate after seminary, when Margaret and I had two small sons and were struggling to make ends meet on an inadequate income, I did a funeral in the middle of winter in the worst weather, wearing my thin blue suit. After leaving the cemetery, I ran by the hospital, and when I got back to the church office, there was a large box on my desk. Mrs. Ethel Keeling had bought me a new London Fog all-weather coat. I wore it for years, until it was stolen from the next church I served, but that’s another story.
Should you give the pastor a plaque for his wall, saying how much you appreciate him? How about an after-church fellowship with sandwiches and koolaid and everyone coming by and hugging the pastor? Or maybe just a pat on the back?
How about a resolution of appreciation by the deacons or the entire church? Maybe some letters and notes from people? A gift certificate to a restaurant? Or take the pastor and his wife to that restaurant? Or some turnip greens and tomatoes from your garden?
Those are all nice, not a thing wrong with any of them. But they’re not the encouragement the pastor really needs. As important as each one is, none of them reach him at the deepest level.
The word “encouragement” is a wonderful word. At its heart is heart. The Latin word “cor” means ‘heart.’ To encourage someone is to give them heart. Discouragement means to lose heart.
From Hebrews 13:15-18, here are five ways to give heart to the en-hearteners, encourage to the encouragers.
1. HAVE A GREAT ATTITUDE. “…offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually….giving thanks to His name.” (13:15) Nothing demoralizes a minister like church members who are always complaining. Nothing meets their standards, everything has something wrong with it. Likewise, nothing encourages him like being surrounded by believers filled with the joy of the Lord.
Maybelle Montgomery was such a member of a church I used to pastor. She was elderly and lived modestly, but to hear her, you would think she was on top of the world. When the hospital called to say she had been admitted to the emergency room with a broken hip, I dropped what I was doing and rushed to see her. She spotted me coming in the back door and called out so half the ward could hear her, “Praise the Lord, preacher. He left me one good leg!”
Pastor Jack of New Bern, NC, had taken a group of his people on a mission trip to the Caribbean. On the island of Tobago, they visited a leprosarium and held a worship service in the chapel. Perhaps fifty patients gathered with the visitors to sing to the Lord. Many of the lepers were visibly afflicted by the disease, making a sad sight. As the group from North Carolina stood in front of the chapel, they noticed one little lady who sat on the back row, turned completely to the back wall. Finally, Pastor Jack announced that they had time for one more hymn. “Does anyone have a favorite you’d like us to sing?” Now, for the first time, the patient on the back row turned around. The pastor found himself looking at the most hideous face he had ever seen. The leprous woman had no nose and her lips were gone. He was staring at much of her skull. She was raising her hand into the air, except there was no hand, just a bony projection reaching up from her elbow. While the stunned pastor stared, she said, “Could we sing, ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?’ The pastor was so overcome, he had to leave the service. Another church member stepped up and led the song, while one of the deacons followed Jack outside. “Will you ever be able to sing that song again, Jack?” he asked. “Yes,” he said, “but not in the same way.”
You can always find reasons to complain. Always. But, as a person of faith, you can always find reason to rejoice and praise the Lord.
2. DO YOUR WORK WELL. “To do good…forget not.” (13:16) The absolute finest way to encourage a preacher is to do your work well. If you teach a Sunday School class or lead a choir or minister to children or chair a committee, throw yourself into the task and give it your very best. Arrive at your assignment on time, know your pupils, pray for those under your leadership, give your best service to the Lord.
Few things demoralize and discourage a minister more than church members who take responsibilities and do not keep them. The nursery workers fail to show up or to tell anyone they were going to be out. The Sunday School teacher goes away for the weekend and does not arrange for a substitute. A committee chair does not do his homework, and renders shoddy service to the Lord.
Pastors have to deal with a puzzling reality of church life. Many church members serve their employers more faithfully for a paycheck than they serve God in their church. Missing a day of work is a major consideration to them. Missing a responsibility in church matters hardly at all.
And we wonder why pastors get discouraged and feel their labors are going for nothing.
Do your job well. Give the Lord your best. The pastor will take note and I guarantee you, he will be encouraged.
3. GIVE GENEROUSLY. “To do good and share, forget not.” (13:16) If you want to discourage a pastor, withhold your offerings. Want to bless him? Give regularly and generously into the offering plates. Rightly or wrongly, pastors feel affirmed when the offerings are coming in and all the bills are being paid.
If you want a good reason not to give your offering, you can always find one. You don’t have enough to live on, you have some unexpected expenses this month, you’ll make it up next time. But the favorite reason not to contribute to church–the top of the charts, the all-time leader of the non-givers’ hit parade–is: “I don’t like what they’re doing down at the church.” Or what they’re not doing.
A great way to end a pastor’s ministry is to stop giving. Many people use this approach to undermine him with the certain knowledge that if things get bad enough, the deacons will fire him or see that he is terminated.
Question: what does the Lord Jesus Christ think of this approach? He has not left us in the dark.
Remember the widow who gave the two tiny coins into the temple treasury? The one who impressed the Lord Jesus so much He called her to the attention of the disciples? (Find her story at the end of Mark 12, among other places.) She had the best reasons of all for not giving. One, she was poor, desperately so. Two, she was down to her last two cents. Three, her gift would not make much difference even when she gave it. Four, the Lord knew all these things and He surely understood. But number five is best of all.
Five, the people in charge of the temple were crooks. I mean, mafioso, cosa nostra types with a hit contract out on Jesus. If anyone on the planet had reasons not to give, she was the one. Yet, here is the Lord Jesus complimenting her for giving the last coins in her possession. Her giving actually encouraged Jesus Himself. The same way it does your pastor.
4. FOLLOW HIS LEADERSHIP. “Obey those who have the rule over you and submit yourselves….” (13:17) I call verse 17 the scariest verse in the Bible. God commands church members to do the toughest thing you may ever do–to put yourself under the authority of another man, a pastor, and to follow him. “They keep watch over your souls,” He says, “as those who must give account.” That’s the scary part for the minister. He’s going to have to stand before the Lord at judgement and account for every one of these people. How would you like to be in his shoes? “Let them do this with joy,” He says, “and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
We were voting to call a new associate minister to our church staff. I asked the congregation to do something unusual. On the “church register” which everyone in the service signed during the morning worship service, I asked them to write whether or not they would commit themselves to following his leadership. Most said yes, but one man wrote, “I will follow him so long as I agree with the decisions he is making.”
The best I can figure, that computes to: I will follow him if I were already going in that direction in the first place. Which isn’t following at all. To submit and obey means whether or not I agree, I will go along with his leadership. Not because he is smarter, but he is the pastor. In the military, you salute the uniform, not the man. Now, to be sure, if he is a godly and smart pastor, he will seek the counsel and input of all his church leadership before taking the congregation on new and uncharted directions.
After the victory of the Israelites over the Canaanites in Judges 4, Deborah and Barak celebrated with a song of thanksgiving. The second verse of chapter 5 records this line: “That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord.” (It reads a little different in the KJV due to the difficulty of some of the Hebrew here.) What a great arrangement–leaders doing their job and the people doing theirs.
We’ve all seen times when leaders were leading but no one was following. We’ve seen members willing to work and wanting to go forward, with no one leading. Worst of all is when no one leads and no one follows. Best is when both leaders and workers are on the job.
5. PRAY FOR THE PASTOR. “Pray for us.” (13:18) On many occasions, the Apostle Paul implored his readers to pray for him, that God would empower his words and make him an effective missionary. Nothing blesses a pastor like people lifting him to the Father day by day.
A pastor of a thriving congregation preached an inspiring sermon one Sunday morning. That afternoon, he was scheduled to speak at a church across town and invited some of his deacons to accompany him. On their return, one of the men said, “Pastor, that sermon was wonderful this morning when you preached it in our church. But it bombed this afternoon in that church. How do you figure that?” The minister said, “Gentlemen, never forget. Poor preaching is God’s judgment on a prayerless congregation.”
I was Miss Annie Cogsdell’s pastor for the last 10 years of her life. She was a tiny thing, and some kind of infirmity had drawn her body to the point where standing upright, she wasn’t four feet tall. Church members would pick her up and bring her to church, and when she could no longer take care of herself, they made arrangements for a nursing home. At her funeral, I told the church something they had not known. “No matter where I saw Miss Annie–at her home, here at church, or at the nursing home–she always said the same thing. She would press her small, misshapen hand into mine and say with her tiny, weak voice, “I…pray…for…you…every…day.” There was not a dry eye in the house. Then I said, “And now that she’s gone, I find myself wondering, Who’s going to pray for the pastor?”
Who’s praying for your pastor?
Do your job with a great attitude. Give your tithes and offerings regularly. Follow the pastor’s lead. And pray for him.
Five of the very best gifts you could ever give to a man of God. Nothing will encourage him more.