Last Thursday, October 1, several pastors in and near Roseburg, OR responded to the horrific murder of eight students at Umpqua Community College. Many others were wounded physically and many more were damaged emotionally, and, perhaps, spiritually. Like the hero first responders who advanced to stop the attacker and bind the wounds of the suffering, these pastors waded into an ocean of grief to pray for and comfort those whose hearts were ripped open by a wicked and violent act. And their work is not yet complete. There will be funerals, many home visits, and continued counseling. And when the community and the world turns its attention elsewhere, grief, anger, and depression will remain for months and years and even a lifetime for many, and pastors will continue to give care and comfort.
Fortunately, events like last Thursday are rare for a community, but ministering the love and presence of Christ to those who suffer is not unusual for pastors. If you are not a pastor, you probably can’t understand that many pastors say that they would rather serve a family suffering from the death of a loved one than perform a wedding. Among the reasons for this are that death provides a unique opportunity to point to the hope of the resurrection and the need to know Jesus Christ. A pastor’s heart is like that of the shepherd who leaves those who are safe and secure to seek for the one who is lost and hurting. The calling and work of the pastor is difficult. A pastor rarely rests his head, confident that he completed all of his work. Sunday is always coming, and there are always others to visit and counsel and with whom to share the gospel.
Each October churches are encouraged to honor their pastors and show them appreciation. Many reasons exist to honor a faithful pastor who labors to bring a fresh message from God’s Word each week, among his many other tasks. In addition to the burden of the church, many pastors are compared to other pastors who are deemed more “talented” and more “successful.” Within the last week someone told me that sometimes they stay home from church so they can watch their favorite preacher, a mega-church pastor, on his live internet feed. We preachers and pastors serve God first, and such things shouldn’t stab us like a knife to the belly. But pastors are human and they too can get hurt. Another person told me last week that a pastor friend of his, whose church had several thousand members, battled depression and felt he didn’t “measure up” because a nearby church had thousands more. His depression became so severe that he took his own life. Obviously he had problems. Faithfulness to his calling, and the joy of knowing God, wasn’t enough for him. But the fact is, many pastors battle discouragement.
Your pastor is God’s gift to your church and your community. He loves God and he loves His people. He was called by God to lead the church in the proclamation of the Word of God and in prayer. He is worthy of respect, love, and, yes, honor. Allow me to suggest a few ways you can show appreciation to your pastor.
Consider providing your pastor an extended retreat for prayer and study each year. Such a retreat should be a week at minimum, but there may be good reason to consider a two-week retreat, during which your pastor will plan sermons and seek God’s presence and direction for himself and the church. When I look back on my 19 years as a pastor, I preached too much and didn’t take enough time to retreat from the daily pressures of ministry. Many of my “breakthroughs” came when I was on vacation or doing a mission trip because the weekly routine was broken. But I should have retreated for extended prayer and study. Help your pastor to do this.
What else can you do to honor and appreciate your pastor? Some “dos” include: pray for him every day, tell him thank you, support him with your participation in ministry, encourage him to seize opportunities to attend pastoral trainings and other “iron-sharpens-iron” opportunities, send him on a mission trip (and don’t count it as his vacation), and forgive him when he makes a mistake (or when you think he makes a mistake). Also, respect his wife and family, understanding that their involvement in ministry will shift and change depending on the ages of children, work schedules, health issues, and other family dynamics.
Some “don’ts” include: don’t compare him to other preachers. Don’t expect him to spend all of his time in the church house, but help him connect with people and needs in the community. Don’t speak badly of him to church members, and certainly not to those who aren’t members of the church. Most who complain about their pastor don’t pray for him. Please don’t do that. Every day he is dealing with matters concerning heaven and hell and life and death.
I used to tell our church that I want to forgive others because I need forgiveness. I want to extend grace to others because I need grace. I want to be generous with others, because I need others to be generous with me. Everything that you need, your pastor needs. He carries a heavy burden. He cares about your children. He serves the young and the old. And he’s trying to lead the church to look to the fields which are ready for a spiritual harvest. You can be his friend. You can walk beside him in ministry. You can encourage him.
And know this, when tragedy hits home, when the need is great, your pastor will be there. He’ll be there whether or not you’re a “good church member.” He’ll minister to your family. He’ll love your kids. Just like those pastors in Roseburg are doing this very day.
God bless our pastors. Encourage them with Your presence and Your strength. Amen.