I am convinced that there are few jobs more challenging than that of pasturing a local church. Too often we take our pastors for granted rather than honoring and loving them well. Having been one and now for many years serving them as a consultant I have some suggestions for how we can bless those who bless us with their ministry.
Pay a living wage – actually, be generous in your compensation. Paul tells Timothy that “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). There are few more sad attitudes than stinginess on the part of congregations toward those who serve them. Generosity is not only biblical but it sends a strong message of love.
Be generous with time off and respect days off. I grew up as the son of a missionary doctor. I know what it is to have a father who was always on call, day, night, birthday parties and even days that were supposed to be off. Then in the pastorate I experienced the difficulty of getting enough rest and like my dad, always being on call. I would literally get out of town on my day off so that I could get adequate rest. Wise congregations are generous with vacation (at least a month) and respect days off so that their pastoral staff can recharge. The rest of us get days off each week – our pastors need to as well. It is called the Sabbath rest which for pastors does not happen on Sundays.
In addition to time off, be generous with study weeks where your pastor does not need to preach so that he can study, read, think and prepare for future messages. A week out of the pulpit is not a vacation week – trust me. It simply gives time to catch up on all the things that get pushed aside by the weekly responsibility of preaching.
Give your pastor the benefit of the doubt when issues come up where he comes under criticism. When I had a church with three hundred and fifty congregants I had three hundred and fifty individuals who all had an opinion about what I should do and how I should do it. Pastors cannot please everyone and meet everyone’s expectations. In addition we often hold them to expectations that we don’t even hold ourselves to. They are human, we are human and they and we will disappoint, fail, get into relational scraps and sometimes do dumb things. I certainly did.
Related to this – be circumspect about criticism and generous with praise. It is easy to criticize and healthy leaders are open to the opinions of others without taking it too personally. But, there is a whole lot said to pastors that is not helpful, constructive or encouraging and far too little thanks and appreciation. Words have great power to build up or destroy. Loving congregations are gracious with their words rather than destructive.
Surprise them with love. Want to keep you pastor? Love him and his family. Surprise them with a gift card, send them away on an all expenses paid weekend, help them with special needs they have. Pastors give – a lot. Shower them with love.
Give them a generous book allowance. Pastors by nature and by work are readers. They needs books and actually read them. Many leaders don’t understand that books are the tools of pastors. You may need to skimp on some budget items but don’t skimp on giving your pastor the tools he needs to serve you well Sunday after Sunday. In addition, because pastors are learners and because we all have high expectations of them, make funds available for ongoing learning so that they continue to grow. The more they grow, the more you grow. Your ongoing investment in them in an ongoing investment in your church.
Finally, make a sabbatical available to your pastor every five years. Give them three months to learn, grow, read, think and plan for the next run. It will come back to you in spades.