In the Silence of the Mind: October 3, 2013
Pastor’s Appreciation Month – Part 1 of 2
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When Brandon first came to me about writing a regular feature on the site, he placed the caveat that I could write about anything I wanted, not just music. Now, while I will more regularly write about music as I have in the first three parts of In the Silence of the Mind: Purity in the Media (which will have a concluding part or two after this brief interruption), occasionally there are just other topics that need to be addressed. This, I feel, is very much one of them.
You see, October is Pastor’s Appreciation Month… something overlooked by most. Speaking from the ranks (and at the risk of that revelation making this entire post look self-serving) of those who are in vocational ministry, I can tell you without hesitation that by and large pastors are often under-appreciated. While some could certainly point to the token pastor who drives a Lexus and lives in a mansion, that is by far not the typical pastor. In fact, one former pastor who recently left the ministry described what he was going through/had been through as a form of PTSD and his psychologist did not disagree.
Now, please understand (as I point out in the book excerpt, below) that your pastor DOES have some pretty intense guidelines that they have to live up to. Your pastor is called to a higher standard. However, often times congregants confuse their standards with God’s standards. Pastors who are doing their best (pastors are still prone to temptation and may be attacked with even more intensity by the enemy) to live up to God’s standards are worthy of, in the Bible’s words and the subject of part 2 of this article, “double honor.” But, before we can move on to “double honoring” your pastor, we need to see the other side of the equation. And, as always, I hope you see my heart in this and don’t read this post as condemning or condescending in any way. If those elements are there, they are simply due to my own error in judgment, not in intent. The goal of this series is to hopefully show you the simple truth that your pastor should receive “double honor” and hopefully inspire people to take Pastor’s Appreciation seriously… not just this month, but as a habit.
When we think of pastors, we often think of their role to us. We think about how their sermon was, whether or not we feel loved by them, and… you know, how their hair was this week. Very little time, as Christians, is spent thinking about our role to our pastor. In what my editor called “likely the most difficult chapter” of my book, I take a look at the roles and responsibilities WE have to our church and even our pastors. I have provided an excerpt from that chapter, below, but I wanted to touch more on this topic in light of some recent conversations I’ve been a part of or have been witness to.
As I mention in the book (in the excerpt below), I took a pretty wild ride during my corporate career. I worked for a major computer company during the worst of the economic downturn. From day to day I never knew if or when I would come into work and find that my department just didn’t exist any longer. Tensions were high for everyone, trust was low, and to explain my particular “career path” at that time would take a book in and of itself.
However, nothing can compare to the ride I’ve been on as a “vocational” pastor. At the risk of placing “vocational ministry” on a pedestal, this is one of the few lines of work that satan has declared all out war on. As a pastor, you are similar to a civil servant in that you stand on the front lines of battle on behalf of those God has placed in your care. Though I could be in danger of both under and over spiritualizing at the same time, I don’t think satan cared how many computers I shipped in a quarter… but he sure cares how many people I’ve reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These past couple weeks, I’ve seen some rather disparaging comments from pastors and former pastors I know and love. From an outsider’s perspective, this may be shocking to hear, but, this is not an uncommon tale. I’ve attended more than one or two pastor’s meetings where the topic and focus quickly became how difficult ministry (or seasons of ministry) has become. Certainly, this is not unique to ministry. Each of us has hard times and good times no matter what job we work.
Where ministry becomes unique, however, is that as a pastor you are literally placed as the “head/forerunner/leader” of the people God has placed in your church. The pastor is called to go before God for these people and seek His will for the church, His guidance for its government, and His heart for their care. Hebrews 13:7 lets us know that God has placed pastors to watch over our souls. I’ve had some great managers in my corporate career, but none of them were responsible for such a great weight of glory. None of them were called to watch over my soul, to shepherd, and to help lead me closer to God.
Because of this great mantle God places on pastors, satan attacks pastors hard. That’s one thing most don’t get taught in seminary. Unfortunately, he often attacks through the very people the pastor is called to be a watchman for. As believers, we’re called to uplift our pastors, pray for them, and champion them. So, then, why is it that hurting pastors often cite attacks from their own congregation (sheep bites, as they’re often called) as the symptoms of the enemy’s attack? What is our role to our pastors? Why is this important to you and I?
In light of this, I thought I would share two lists. The first list is something we are all called NOT to do to our pastors. The second list include ways that you can honor your pastor. That list will be given next week. In addition to this, I have provided the aforementioned excerpt from my book Here’s How: An Introduction to Practical Discipleship below. While adding the excerpt may make this post look like a HUGE wall of text, I wanted to provide it for the deeper thoughts and background.
How to destroy your pastor’s ministry, sanity, and will to live:
1) Take their sacrifices for granted
I worked a lot of hours to make it in the corporate world, but it wasn’t all consuming. As a pastor, you’re “on call” 24/7 and 365 days a year. It comes with the territory, and it is what makes ministry a calling, rather than a job. But, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy. A 60+ hour work week is often the norm, rather than the exception for many pastors. The mythical pastor who only works an hour on Sunday is just that; a myth.
So, what’s a great way to destroy their ministry? Ignore these sacrifices and expect more from them than it would be reasonable for anyone to be able to handle. Pastors are God’s chosen “head” of the little-c church, but they’re not Superman. Churches and church members that expect their pastor to be it all and do it all are setting that pastor up for ruin. Ministry is often like an iceberg; only 10% of it is actually seen by the congregation. 90% of what pastors do often goes unnoticed.
2) Try to take control
One of the strangest seasons of ministry I’ve ever experienced was when some members of the church did everything they could to take control. They felt like things should be a certain way and did everything they could to make the church in their image. Remember, however, God has called the pastor of your church to spend time with Him and discover His vision for your congregation. No pastor should use this as an ax against his congregation… but, neither should the congregation try to force a pastor to do things “their way or else.” God has called the pastor (and, depending on the church structure, elders) to lead the church. Power plays made by people who have a sacred cow to defend (like when worship styles change, or how money is spent), or want the church to be exactly how they think it should be hurt the pastor, undermine what God is trying to do in that Body, and, ultimately, hurt the ministry of that church. Everyone should have a voice in how a church is run, but God calls the pastor to hear His voice on the matter first and foremost.
3) Undermine them publicly
Social media is a great way to share our every thought. But is that the place to nit-pick your pastor’s faults? No. In fact, Biblically, we’re called to speak well of our church and our pastor publicly. If we have a concern, we’re supposed to go through proper steps and proper channels. But, it’s just so much easier to speak our minds on Facebook. Undermining your pastor, their role, and/or their ministry can be deadly to your pastor’s health. After all, would you want someone talking about you and your job in a way that is amazingly both “behind your back” and “for all to see?”
4) Pretend they have no boundaries
It’s 4 A.M. and you have a prayer concern you’d like to share. Why not just call up your pastor and let them know about it?
Another way that ministry differs from most other “jobs” is that, as a pastor, you are expected (somewhat rightfully so) to be “on the job” every moment you’re alive. And, to be fair, this is something that does come with the territory. But, your pastor is human too. They need days off. They need time with their spouse and kids. Certainly, your pastor is and should be there for all major emergencies whenever they may come… but they also need to be able to turn their phone off for a day and know that the world will still be there when they get back. They need to know that you’ll understand if someone from your small group comes to check on you instead of them.
At Gateway Conference last year, pastor Robert Morris made the point clear that if your pastor is ignoring their family, never taking days off or a sabbath, and constantly thinking about the church, they’re not being a good pastor… they’re sinning. Read that again. Yet, we want our pastors to do these very things. Sure it’s fair to expect a lot of your pastor, but it’s never OK to expect your pastor to sacrifice their family, health, or sanity on the altar of the church.
5) Don’t honor them financially
Have you ever thought about your pastor’s job description? They are called to lead, preach, teach, guide, visit, support, uphold, have meetings, go to sporting events, be a part of the community… and so on, and so on. Have you ever thought about what we expect of them in these roles? We expect that they are going before God, spending hours in study, reading, preparing meeting notes, ensuring that their sermon isn’t boring and hits all the right notes… and it would be good if they have at least a Master’s level in their education to boot. Now, have you thought about what your pastor gets paid for all of this?
Sure, there are some (very public) pastors who make more than most feel is reasonable and drive a brand new Lexus… but that’s not the pastors I know. Most pastors I know are struggling to make ends meet. They make just enough to pay the bills, but not enough to really take care of their family. Many, even in “full time” ministry take on extra jobs to fill in the gaps, but this also divides their hearts, time, and attention. I speak from experience. As one who gave up a high paying role in the corporate world (with no regrets or thoughts of money), I often wonder if I’m honoring God by having to keep three jobs… and still having to consider whether I could pull a fourth to help with the bills and get insurance covered.
These are some ways destroy your pastor and their ministry. This list may strike you, but it is honestly much shorter than it needs to be. Your pastor may be hurting… Pastors appreciation month is upon us… Take it seriously. You never know what struggle he/she is facing while standing in the gap for your congregation. They often sacrifice so much of themselves and their family for their congregation’s spiritual well-being and are rarely thanked, defended, or championed… Appreciate the war they go through as spiritual leaders and honor them back by praying for them, calling out divisive spirits that may have taken root in your church, and be the first to appreciate them publicly before your church in tangible ways.
Be sure to check back next week for the follow-up article on how to DOUBLE HONOR your pastor and support their ministry. And, as always the altars are open… I mean the comments section is open for rants, +1’s, and meme pictures I forgot to include.
EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT FROM “HERE’S HOW: AN INTRODUCTION TO PRACTICAL DISCIPLESHIP”
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Taken from Lesson 9 (Committing to Christ’s Body):
The next area in your commitment to your local church is that of your pastor. Hebrews 13:17 says that God has given us pastors as those put in place to watch over our souls. Our response should be respect, support, and encouragement. Quite literally, this verse tells us that we should obey and submit to them. That, of course, sounds very negative in today’s “me-centered” culture. It shouldn’t be.
There’s a lot that is assumed in the context of this verse. Most prominently, the assumption is that your pastor is properly submitting to and obeying Christ first. I’ve seen both sides. I have been blessed with wonderful senior pastors who are submitting to Christ and I have seen, very close to home, pastors who don’t follow God’s will and the destruction they can cause. The simple fact is, however, it takes a healthy pastor to have a healthy church. If your pastor is not spiritually, mentally, and emotionally (to some degree even physically healthy) the church cannot have a deep and abiding health in itself.
I’ve spent the better part of two decades of my life in retail sales. As a part of that, I took the wildest ride I could have ever imagined entering the corporate world during the lowest point in the economic recession. I have come into work and been told that my department no longer exists and been one of only a handful to move on to another role that may or may not exist for much longer. I’ve moved departments, changed managers, frequently moved desks, and saw many people have to leave in the name of corporate restructuring. At the same time, I was responsible to earn the company millions of dollars each quarter in order to keep my job. Believe me, I’ve seen some crazy stuff in the work world, but nothing I’ve personally done compares to the weight of the responsibility of being a pastor. Nor does the reward. God gives us pastors (literally shepherds) to watch over our souls. Our response to a good pastor (as God would define them, not our own personal definition) should be respect, support, and trust.
As one who gave up a corporate career to devote his life to the ministry, I’ve seen church members do and say horrible things to their pastor that far exceed even my days in “corporate restructuring.” I’ve known way too many shepherds whose flock have abused, taken advantage of, and worked to subtly (and not so subtly) tear them down. As a pastor, you rarely hear the words “thank you” spoken. And yet, you’re expected to put countless hours into sermon prep, another set of countless hours making hospital visits, attending (and leading) events, and being ready at all hours of the night to deal with any and all personal concerns. You’re expected to put your family on hold at a moment’s notice, raise and entertain other people’s children, and all the while keep the church “running” as if it were a local business. Then, if someone takes one word wrong, or God starts stepping on their toes through a sermon, you’re suddenly the worst thing that ever happened to that place. While this certainly isn’t the day-to-day norm, of course, it is certainly all too common.
Please don’t get me wrong, all of those duties come with being a pastor, and they should be done joyfully. I can say without hesitation that accepting a calling into vocational ministry is a blessing and a treasure. But, we as followers of Christ are called to love one another. We’re called to bear one another’s burdens. We’re told not to gossip, not to slander. We’re told to take care of those in need. We’re even told that there is a proper process for airing grievances with one another. What we forget is that this list applies to our attitude and relationship with our pastor, too. In fact, 1 Timothy 5:17 says that they should receive double honor.
When was the last time you honestly thanked your pastor? Today sounds like a good day for that. Forgive me for this little tirade, but in the name of decency and etiquette your pastor either can’t or won’t say these things to your church. Maybe it’s time for your church to take “Pastor’s appreciation month” seriously. Maybe that month shouldn’t be the only month the church goes out of their way to make the pastor (and their family, who make even greater sacrifices to allow the pastor to do all of these things) feel appreciated. If this sounds a little harsh, I apologize. Perhaps you’ve supported your pastor in amazing and visible ways before your congregation. What if you’re in the minority, though? Just imagine the spiritual growth and health your church can experience if the church itself is supporting its shepherd rather than giving him “death by sheep bites.”
Remember, your pastor has a certain well-defined list of qualities he must continue to exude, as I mentioned above. There is certainly a process for dealing with pastors who are not taking their role as shepherd and leader seriously. That process should not, however, include any of the following: undermining, gossip, public campaigns, private meetings, power plays, political maneuvering, or even just a cold shoulder. The deep truth in this is that if your pastor becomes unhealthy it is difficult for the church to be healthy. Healthy churches grow and honor God. Unhealthy churches, on the other hand, shrivel and become inward-focused to the grave. If you are passionate about seeing the Church and your church grow, one of your spiritual duties is to fight for your pastor. After all, God has entrusted headship over your congregation to this person. He goes before God so that he can shepherd and lead as God has asked him to as he goes before the people.
What would happen in your congregation if even a vocal minority started publicly and privately honoring, uplifting, and taking care of your pastor? How would that free him up to seek God more passionately and, thereby, serve your congregation with even more power, energy, zest, positivity, and spiritual health? I promise, following this advice will pay back in spades. Healthy pastors are essential to fostering healthy churches, and just as your pastor has a role from God to shepherd and lead your congregation; your congregation must honor, respect, trust, and uplift your pastor. I promise a healthier Church if you do.
 Not “to be the only one allowed to do ministry since, after all we’re paying them to do it.”
 October, just in case you were wondering.
 I imagine someone may assume I’m passive-aggressively writing from experience at my own church. Luckily, God has blessed me with a supportive congregation. However, I have watched too many close friends and fellow pastors work through the pains described above. Some have even left the ministry to, get this, provide a healthier environment for their family.
*Author’s note: This article is being posted one day earlier than normal because I’m taking my own advice and taking my first full day off in a few weeks. See you next Friday.