Protect Your Pastor

 
by Kel Willis 

Interact Magazine 1997
Volume 8 Number 3

A group of church leaders was discussing the possibility of inviting a young man to be their pastor. I asked them the question, ‘If he responds positively to your invitation, what will you do to protect and care for him?’

The idea of the pastor needing protection seemed to be an entirely new concept to them. One of the group asked,’Isn’t it the pastor’s role to protect and care for us and the congregation?’ ‘Isn’t he the shepherd of the church?’ asked another.

Of course what these people were saying is absolutely true. The primary role of the pastor is to equip the people in his congregation for spiritual growth, maturity and service (Eph.4:11-16). This includes being a shepherd who leads, feeds, protects and cares for the flock of God (Acts 20:28). The pastoral role also includes that of being a model of godliness (1 Tim.4:12) and being a servant to those being led (1 Pet.2:3-5; Heb.13:7).

However there is another very important aspect. The pastor and his family need the ongoing encouragement, support and input of others within the church family. Without this, pastors find it more difficult to grow spiritually and survive in Christian work. Those in pastoral ministry are frequently seen to be transitory and therefore not really part of the church family in an ongoing sense. That’s one reason why they sometimes feel alone and isolated. Pastors themselves sometimes compound the problem by feeling that in order to avoid a perception of favouritism they should not build good friendships within their local church, and so they remain aloof and difficult to relate to.

Whilst pastors do have a special role in the local church, we need to understand that they are, above all, human beings who like the rest of us have feelings and emotions that allow them to be hurt and damaged by the things that others do and say. Along with the rest of the congregation the pastor and his family are members of the body of Christ and the same relational and ministry principles that apply to others also apply to them. 

I well remember a lesson I learned whilst a student in Bible College. I had criticised the action of a staff member and the principal, a very wise and godly leader, drew me aside and said, ‘One day when you are a leader in Christian work, you will realise how very vulnerable that position makes you to the negative attitudes and actions of others.’ He then added, ‘The more prominent and visible your role makes you, the more evident to others your inadequacies and faults will become. The things that we simply accept in others seem to loom large in those who are leaders. The more visible we are, the more vulnerable we become.’ I’ve been reminded of those words many times since!

It’s very clear in the Scriptures that leaders are to be models of godliness and constantly demonstrate a wholehearted commitment to Christ and His Word. However, they will never be perfect, and we probably wouldn’t be able to relate to them if they were! Imperfection does not indicate a lack of wholehearted commitment to Christ. The apostle Paul made it clear that he was aware of his own inadequacies, but at the same time he was single-minded in his desire to know Christ (Phil.3:10-15).

Pastors Under Pressure

Human nature being what it is, it’s often easier to negate a person than to encourage them. A pastor said to me recently, ‘People rarely tell me when I’m doing things well, but they always tell me when they think I’ve done something wrong!’ I meet with pastors every day who are struggling to survive in the ministry. The tragedy is that most of them wouldn’t be in that position if they were properly cared for and protected by their church.

Around 50% of all ordained clergy are no longer in the ministry. The attrition rate amongst clergy is higher than for any other professional group, which indicates that there is a combination of pressures in pastoral ministry which few other vocations contend with. Let’s look at what some of those pressures are.

The Pressure of Unrealistic Expectations

These are a major pressure in pastoral work. When a church calls me to ask advice in finding a pastor, I always ask what qualities they are looking for. Most want someone who can preach and teach well, with good people skills and a heart commitment to pastorally care for them. These things are fairly basic to effective pastoral ministry. However, many in our churches have different ideas as to what ‘good’ means! There are those who think that ‘pastoral care’ means the pastor will visit every member regularly, that he will preach like Spurgeon and never get into conflict with anyone, regardless of what people say and do.

Many people also expect the pastor to be a good manager, counsellor and organiser, to be equally at home with children, teens and adults, to teach Scripture in schools and be involved in a variety of other activities in the church. When he doesn’t measure up to these expectations, people begin to criticise and complain. This places greater pressure on him to ‘perform’.

The idea that the pastor should do everything is not only unbiblical but inhibits growth in the body of Christ because he is trying to do what other members of the congregation are gifted to do. This situation therefore undermines the body life principle. When a church calls a pastor they should do thorough research and have a clear understanding of his gifts and abilities. The pastor, like any other member of the congregation, should be then released to minister according to the giftedness God has given (1 Pet.4:10), rather than having to fit a traditional mould or expectation.

1 Timothy 4:6-16 provides a good pattern for any pastoral ministry. The focus is on being a godly model. The foundation for all effective ministry is God’s Word, both in terms of knowing the Bible well and of experiencing its outworking in one’s life. The challenge in ministry is to teach and model the message of the Scriptures with a wholehearted commitment.

But whilst there is frequently a huge gap between the people’s expectations of their pastor and his ability to fulfil those expectations, this can also be true of the pastor’s expectations of the congregation he has been called to.

The Pressure of Time

This problem dogs pastors who lived in a world where there are constant calls upon their time and energy. Their average working week is around 55-65 hours. In my experience, most evangelical pastors, because of their commitment to the gospel and deep sense of call and commitment to ministry in the church, are never able to ‘finish work for the day’. There is always another deadline to meet in preparing things like sermons and Bible studies, another person in crisis, phone calls to return, letters to write or another meeting to attend.

I remember sitting with a group of church leaders who were questioning their pastor about his use of time because he didn’t have the time to take the Infants School Scripture Class! The church had over 100 members and 14 activities that occurred every week. It demanded good sermons and the pastor’s involvement in both leading some of the home groups and training others to do so. He was chaplain of both Brigade groups and taught 7 high school Scripture classes. He did all this and they wanted to add more!

This group of church leaders was shocked to hear that the average pastor spends between 10 and 15 hours preparing each new sermon. If he speaks twice on a Sunday, that’s almost 50% of his time! Indeed if less time is spent, he won’t do well in the pulpit. Added to this is time spent preparing Bible studies, Scripture lessons etc. Sermons and studies that impact others must first impact the person who presents them. This involves both research and prayerful preparation, without which the sermon will lack that vital cutting edge that comes with good Bible exposition presented in a relevant way. This of course is what most congregations want.

Pressure is also created by the need to spend meaningful time with the church leadership. Effective pastors significantly invest in the lives of key people – those with evident leadership skills. Effective leadership doesn’t just happen; it is developed through the process of equipping, encouraging and giving clear direction. This usually comes through the pastor.

We haven’t mentioned the pastor’s family, who absolutely need him to spend significant quality time with them. And what of his own growth and development, his relationships with others both in terms of ministry to them and his own need of support from them? All of these are largely governed by time constraints.

Churches and their leaders need to be more realistic in assessing their pastor’s time involvement. They should seek to protect him from the demands that rob him of the necessary time to do well the things that ought to be priorities in every pastor’s life.

It’s a good thing for churches to have a triennial review process, not just of their pastors and pastoral teams but of their whole church leadership. Any such review should be deliberately positive, seeking to affirm strengths and recognise potential. If there are negatives (and there are in all of us) they should be worked through in light of the broader positive perspective. A positive review can have the effect of releasing people to effectively do the things they do well.

Economic Pressure

This affects most young pastors, especially if they are serving in smaller churches. I know this is a sensitive issue but it does need to be addressed. The fact that 70% of pastors’ wives work either part or full-time is in itself a concern for many older members in our churches, who can remember the time when we employed a pastor and got his wife as a co-worker for free!

But whilst some wives work because they want to, most do so out of sheer economic necessity, especially when their children are young and going through their educational process. I recently heard a group of pastors discussing the issue of clergy pay. One of them said, ‘It’s just as well the saying ‘When you pay peanuts you get monkeys’ doesn’t apply to pastors!’ Indeed, in that particular group two had university degrees and others had various secular qualifications. All had spent at least four years in theological studies and had continued to attend seminars and conferences designed to better equip them for their role.

Nobody becomes a pastor because of the salary package or the fringe benefits! Pastoral ministry is more than just a profession; it’s a life and lifestyle that we enter out of a deep conviction that God has called us to do so. How much money we receive doesn’t determine our workload. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors live in substandard housing, drive decrepit cars and are paid less than any member of their congregation whilst working harder and significantly longer than most.

Salary packages differ from denomination to denomination and from church to church. Some smaller churches find it difficult to provide an adequate salary. Larger ones obviously have greater potential to do so. But as a basic rule the pastor’s salary should be about the average of those received by members of the congregation he serves. An arrangement such as this helps the pastor to relate to the whole church family.

Economically, the lot of pastors has certainly improved over the years, but there are still some in our churches who don’t see the need to care for their pastor in the realm of finance. A passage of Scripture that we should all apply in our relationship with our pastors is 1 Timothy 5:17-18: ‘The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”’ 

To honour your pastor is to respect and affirm him, and from a Christian perspective it surely includes loving and caring for him. But this passage goes further, exhorting us to give our pastors ‘double honour’! There is a clear implication that financial support is part of our expression of that honour. 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 adds to the concept: ‘Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.’ If these principles were practised in our churches, what a difference it would make to many of our pastors.

Having said all that, pastors should take care that material things don’t hold a greater place in their lives than they ought to. We are exhorted to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have, because God has said He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Any thinking person coming into full-time Christian work might expect their salary package to be considerably less than it would be in the secular realm. That’s one reason why having a deep and abiding conviction that God has called you into Christian work is essential.

In Philippians 4 the apostle Paul writes of his gratitude for the generosity of the Philippian church and his confidence that God would bless their generous spirit and in turn meet their needs. People who are mean-spirited express that in their attitudes and actions. They always act with a self-centredness that makes it impossible for them to see beyond themselves to the needs in others and the opportunities to contribute to them.

The Pressure of Conflict

The debilitating process of trying to resolve conflict in others and the frustration of trying to work with people who are dissatisfied with the pastor in one form or another create pressures that drive many pastors out of the ministry. Let me say at the outset that whenever there are people gathered together, a level of conflict is inevitable and normal. It can flow out of seemingly unimportant conversation or relatively minor issues. It’s what we do with conflict that’s important. When we apply the principles of acceptance, love, thankfulness and forgiveness we can grow in the process of working through conflict.

Some conflict situations have been left unresolved for years. These arise from factors as diverse as personality clashes and people ‘protecting their turf’ (powerbrokers). When a pastor comes to a new church where there are unresolved issues, the immediate temptation is to try and resolve them on his own. Some pastors see themselves as the ‘white knight’ galloping in to fix everything up. The problem is that in some conflict resolutions there will be people who perceive themselves to be the losers, even though proper Biblical resolution often has the potential to enhance both parties in their Christian lives.

I spoke with a pastor who had been in a church for only two years. During that time he became involved in several difficult conflict situations. Even though some had been resolved, there were those who resented the fact that he had highlighted the conflicts in their church and others who felt he had misunderstood their friends. The pastor himself had become the bad guy, the focus of the resentment and the unresolved bitterness they still felt. The pastor moved on, feeling he had not had the support of the church leadership and some of the key people.

The pastor is frequently seen as transitory, with people easily misunderstanding his role and motives in confronting conflict issues. Where possible, the church leadership should take the primary responsibility for dealing with difficult situations. Whilst the pastor will be involved in the process, he must be protected from being seen to be acting as a ‘policeman’ in the church. Leaving the pastor to ‘carry the can’ may isolate him from the people affected by the conflict, making it extremely difficult for him to fulfil his pastoral role – what the church really called him to do. 

If conflict and difficulties arise that are beyond the experience of the leaders, it may be necessary to call in a consultant. This process not only protects the pastor from any negative backlash, but also shows good leadership.

The Pressure of Not Being Appreciated

This is a difficulty most people face from time to time, but when your whole working life involves contributing to others, when 95% of the telephone calls to your house are from people who want something from you, and when people rarely say thanks or affirm your value to them, it’s difficult to continue ministry with enthusiasm. An attitude of thankfulness is basic to every aspect of Christian living, especially thankfulness to God for the wonder of His grace and love revealed in the Gospel (Col.3:15-17; 2 Cor.9:15). 

But we are also encouraged to be thankful for each other. The prayers of Paul were a constant testimony to this (Eph.1:16;1 Thess.1:2). In Hebrews 10:24,25 we are told to consider how to encourage one another. The word ‘consider’ contains the idea of thinking carefully how to do it. It’s a good thing to periodically sit down and make a list of all the things we can thank God for in our pastors and church leaders, and then make a point of specifically encouraging them. I have a friend who writes a brief note of encouragement to someone every day. What a special ministry!

Praying for your pastor and church leaders is one way of expressing encouragement. We have a friend who has prayed for us every day for 35 years. What a blessing she has been! The spiritual health of your pastor is crucial to the health of your church. Ask how you can regularly pray for him. Why not use Colossians 4:2,3 as a guide for your prayer: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.’

I’m sure we sometimes forget the huge element of spiritual warfare we engage in when we seek to minister to others. Ephesians 6 reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against ‘the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.’ Christians need to support their pastors in effective intelligent prayer that brings deliverance and authority (2 Cor.10:4; Eph.6:18,19).

A pastor who knows he has the support of his congregation will have a greater freedom in ministry to them. Refuse to allow people to undermine your pastor in your presence. When they criticise him, insist on the application of Matthew 18:15, offering to go with them to see the pastor. Encourage them to be thankful. This doesn’t mean that we ignore failure or ineptness, but it does mean that we deal with it in a biblical way. Negativity that is not dealt with undermines people’s confidence in leadership and erodes the work of God in their lives.

Every Christian worker operates under significant pressure; it’s the nature of ministry. But that pressure is made lighter and the work more joyful when those being ministered to give their encouragement and support. 

© Rev Kel Willis (1997)

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