(Please see Part 1 for context)
I was in the "ecclesiastical trenches" as a Pastor for 15+ years, so I know how difficult it can be, as well as how rewarding. My time in the ministry are some of my fondest memories. Also, and I say this with no exaggeration, I still have nightmares and get queasy about parts of it. (Years of therapy have helped!)
While it's something I would never do again, I have great admiration for the men and women who do it sincerely; not for personal gain, but because they genuinely want to help the folks entrusted to their pastoral care. I think they deserve respect and support.
So here's my question: While many are under their care, who takes care of them?
More specifically, what can YOU do to support and care for your Pastor?
Casual research reveals two consistent suggestions:
First, you’ll be encouraged to “pray for them.” While I don’t want to discount this, please don’t make it the only way you care for your Pastor. Put some action to your intercession.
Second, you’ll find lists of practical, personal things to show appreciation. I also don’t want to diminish such expressions. (Though at the end of this entry, I do have more to say.) Who doesn’t want to feel appreciated? Yes, people usually say “Thank you” as they exit the church service on Sunday, but beyond that, it’s often a thankless job.
Prayer and Practical Appreciation are great activities to start showing support for your Pastor, but they are not a great place to stop.
Allow me to suggest cultivating a few attitudes that I believe would also go a long way:
1. Hold your Pastor in esteem, but keep them in perspective
Your Pastor lives under a microscope that only sees a small (public) section of who they are.
Not to point out the obvious, but your Pastor is...human!
They are a unique mix of many qualities—some good and others are...not.
Your Pastor is flawed and fallible.
She gets tired, angry, confused and afraid. And hurt by criticism.
He will have bad days at work, which might include Sunday, during the sermon.
Your Pastor may question his beliefs. She might have times of intense doubts.
I find members who have their Pastor on a pedestal and others who hold them in a prison; the Pastor can do no wrong, or the Pastor can’t do anything right.
Keep your Pastor in perspective, and you can help lessen the pressure they (or others) might have for them to be more than they are or attempt more than they are capable.
2. Try on that “Pastoral Robe”
The old saying “walk a mile in my shoes” metaphorically applies here. Take the time to imagine what it must be like to be the Pastor, responsible for all the people and things (and more) I mentioned in Part 1. According to research, your Pastor probably struggles with inadequacy, stress and a sense of being overwhelmed.
How would you want to be treated?
What could you do to help lighten the Pastoral workload?
3. Become an advocate
No one is suggesting you blindly follow any person; that’s dangerous and there’s too much of that in the religious community already. But there are still ways to support and care for your Pastor:
You can stand up to assure your Pastor makes a living wage, has ample time to rest, is treated fairly, etc. (I've known church members who felt a low salary would keep the Pastor humble, but in reality, it only adds to the stress.) Don’t be neutral if you think your Pastor is being neglected, overworked, or taken for granted.
How many times have you sat in church and listened to the sermon, then gone home and had “roast Pastor” for lunch? You can speak up when your Pastor is being torn down by gossip, unwarranted criticism, unrealistic expectations, etc. That creates a hostile environment for the work of the ministry...and the Pastor trying to oversee that work.
You can step up when the Pastor needs help, and encourage others to do the same. There isn’t time to refute the prevailing perception that the ministry is the primary/sole responsibility of the Pastor (Don’t get me started!), but one of the best ways to care for your Pastor is to take some of the tasks as your own. Granted, not everyone can preach or teach, but most everyone can make phone calls, or clean up after an event, or serve on a committee. After all, it’s your ministry, too. (That’s why “trying on the robe” might give a new perspective.)
Your Pastor probably senses a “call” to the ministry, but that doesn’t make them a superhero.
What can...what will...you do to give your Pastor care and support?
Further thoughts about those personal/practical expressions of appreciation:
I won’t try to offer all the possibilities for practicals way to show appreciation to your Pastor; there are many excellent articles that cover that, if you want to Google "appreciating my pastor" and find them. The list of ideas will include such things as giving them a gift card (Amazon, restaurant, coffee shop, groceries, etc.), organizing an Appreciation Day, or as simple as writing them a note of encouragement or citing something specific from a sermon that you liked. Not just "I liked your sermon," but acknowledge the amount of time they spend preparing, tell them what you learned, perhaps something you didn't know before you heard it, or let them know how it inspired you. (I loved getting those!)
The only thing I would add has to do with giving gifts. Please give it some thought. Make it useful and helpful to them, not just a casual gesture from you:
- Many people think they can show appreciation by inviting the Pastor (and spouse, if applicable) to dinner, or out to a restaurant. And I'm sure your Pastor would welcome such generous hospitality. But remember: your Pastor will probably see it as “on duty” since they’re spending time with a church member. Also, find out what they like to eat, and possibly what they cannot eat. (As one who has numerous severe food allergies, these events were stressful, concerned about offending my hosts with a nasty reaction to the food. Another lesson learned the hard way.) As an alternative, consider giving them a gift card for a local restaurant, then offer to babysit their children, if applicable.
Side Note: I once noticed a church member seemed angry at me. When I pressed, she finally admitted that I'd never come to their for a meal. "When I was a kid," she explained, "Our Pastor would come to dinner all the time. I assumed you didn't like us." I told her I would love to come, but would never just drop in and didn't feel comfortable inviting myself. (Our congregation at the time was in the hundreds.)
- Giving them a copy of your favorite book sounds good, but they may not share your tastes, or someone else might have given them the same book. (I think at one time I had five copies of The Purpose-Driven Life, and each was inscribed with a special message from the giver. No way to exchange it.) That’s why a bookstore gift card with a note of appreciation would be more useful; they can buy the book they want. And I can assure you, your Pastor has many books they want to read.
- Avoid giving them a Bible. (Can I make that stronger? NEVER give them a Bible!) I cannot tell you how many embossed Bibles I received from members who assumed every Pastor needs one. Truth is, most Pastor already have several, and a couple of them are probably their favorite already. (How do I dispose of a Bible, much less one with my name on it?)
Your Pastor is doing heavenly work, with earthly limitations. It's a vast responsibility, and they are only one person.
Appreciate and cherish them. Make certain they know they're appreciated.
Please, take care of your Pastor.