I read this tweet the other day and it made me reflect on the grace we as congregants need to show our church leaders. Exhausted and hurt are not part of the description of pastoral work, but based on the comments in the thread that followed the tweet, it seems to be a common sentiment. Part of the reason may be self-imposed “bad boundaries,” as this post notes, but it is my observation that we generally don’t treat our pastors very well. We expect them to be on call, to do the work of the church, to teach, to counsel, to evangelize, and to deliver a dynamic and entertaining sermon every week. We often complain when other teachers in the church take the pulpit. We skip church when the senior pastor goes on vacation. We resent the sabbatical.
Of course, I am painting with a very broad brush, but I don’t think I am too far from the experiences of many senior pastors. Many pastors leave the ministry within a few short years of their callings, with 1,500 clergy leaving pastoral ministry every month (Barna Research Group). In fact, most clergy (up to 90%) across all denominations will not stay in ministry to retirement age. So, the question is, how can we, the lay congregation, show grace to our leaders, especially our senior pastors? How can we help them know they are appreciated, prayed for, and supported?
I think the first thing we as congregations can do is stop putting our senior pastors on pedestals and expecting them to be all things to all people.
The character of a pastor-shepherd must be beyond rebuke, to be sure, but scripture never places the entirety of church ministry on the shoulders of one man. In fact, the principle role of a senior pastor is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The work is supposed to be carried out by the congregation, not the pastor.
Elders share the teaching and leading responsibilities of the congregation. They are godly stewards who give instruction and have authority within the local body to ensure that the responsibility of managing church policy, ordaining teachers, and being role models to the congregation. Deacons also share in the responsibility for the maintenance of the church and ensuring it runs smoothly. Dividing the load allows the senior pastor to focus on teaching the congregation so that they are able and confident to do the work of evangelism and discipleship.
What might that look like? Pastors should be free to allow elders to visit the sick, preside over weddings and funerals, care for the shut-ins, and meet the physical needs of congregants. We, as laity, should not expect our pastors to accept every invitation we offer, nor should we grumble when we are shepherded by our godly elders (Acts 11, 14; 1 Timothy; 1 Thessalonians 5; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5). We should rejoice when elders step in to teach from the pulpit; we gain from their knowledge of the word. Our senior pastors are called to equip us, not to serve us. At the same time, they are not Jesus; they are broken human beings just like us.
Secondarily, we must cooperate and submit to their leadership, being appreciative of the work they are called to do.
Yes, I used the word. Submit. But we are called by God to submit.
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 ESV
Included in the idea of submission is to esteem and appreciate the work our pastors do (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). We support them in our giving, paying them a fair salary so they are free to do the work. We seek to understand their vision for the church so that we are able to cooperate.
We can show appreciation through attention during teaching times, asking questions, sending notes of affirmation, and taking concerns to him directly. We demonstrate support by imitating his leadership and remembering his teachings.
The most important thing: Pray
Church leaders take on a greater share of spiritual attack than most of us because they are equipping us to do the work of the kingdom. We must be on our knees for our pastors, praying for courage, wisdom, faithfulness, and joy.
“Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared
many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning
and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that
he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer
without naming him before your God, no family prayer with carrying your
pastor in your hearts to God.”E.M. Bounds
If we as congregations begin to treat our pastors as shepherds instead of servants, perhaps we will see a resurgence in long-term relationships between leaders and churches. It may mean a loss to UPS, but what a tremendous gain for the eternal kingdom.
Akin-John, F. (2017) Biblical qualifications of a true pastor.
Bounds, E.M. (1990). The complete work of E.M. Bounds on prayer. Baker Book House.
Brewer, D. (2017). The importance of supporting your senior pastor.
Linton, G. (2021). A church’s responsibility to its pastor.
MacArthur, J. (1991). Biblical eldership. The Master’s plan for the Church. Moody.
Maxwell, J. (2019) Why pastors leave the ministry.
Rinne, J. (2014). 10 things you should know about church elders.
Tautges, P. (2011). Eight responsibilities of church members to their leaders.
Wilhite, S. (2016). Seven ways to care for your pastor.
Williams, M. (n.d.) What does the Bible say about the duties of a pastor?