Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14
Next month, I will be starting my 7th year as a pastor over a congregation, either as a senior pastor, or as a campus pastor. In the last 6 years, I have done my best to teach the people of my churches everything I could about living a Christian life and being the church (not just going to church). There are times, as a pastor, where I feel discouraged. In fact, we all have times where we are discouraged. What makes the pastor's experience unique is that it is, in fact, our job to encourage others. This can make it hard to reach out for encouragement...especially if that pastor believes that doing so will cause discouragement in the people they are leading.
As a pastor, I know that there is a spiritual bull’s eye on my back and the enemy seeks to take me out because he knows that if you take out the shepherd, you can take out the sheep. This Sunday began with person after person messaging me to let me know they weren’t going to be at church. Our attendance was really low and I was discouraged. I preached what I thought was a great message with all the passion I had, but didn’t seem to get the response I thought I should. After the service, I spoke to my wife about how I was feeling and she told me something that got me thinking…and then convicted me. She said, “I have gone to church my whole life and I never knew how what I did affected my pastor until I married you.”
The reason I say that I was convicted, and I have been all day, is that I now realize that this is an area I have completely neglected teaching about, because I thought it would seem self-serving. I believe this is one area that I have fallen very short as a pastor and as a teacher of the Word. Because my pride does not allow me to often admit when I’m hurting and need help, I have avoided teaching something that is desperately needed. I want to correct that mistake here by telling you that YOU have far more influence on your pastor than you realize.
I want to help you, as a member of a church body, understand the heart of your pastor. This is not just for the sake of my church, either. I know that there are many who read these blogs who do not attend my church. The only way I know how to do this is to be completely real and completely open with you. With that said, I want to share with you some ways that you can help to encourage your pastor. I’d like to start with a parable that will help you to put yourself (at least in some part) into the shoes of a pastor.
Imagine that you have invited your entire family and in-laws over to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, thought about each person’s favorite foods, spent the entire day before preparing the food, and got up early Thursday morning to finish cooking a huge meal for everyone. How could your family best encourage you? If they all showed up early, joined in to help set the table, ate up the food with great enthusiasm, and told you how much they really enjoyed themselves, how would you feel? What if you did all that work, then got a bunch of last minute cancellations all morning long, had only two or three people show up, and had them sit silently at the table, eat quietly, and then leave without helping or even telling you what they thought of the meal (or worse, just criticizing it)? In each scenario, how easy would it be to put everything you had into a big dinner the next Thanksgiving?
1. Faithful Attendance
As a pastor, I spend a lot of time praying for you. All week long, I am praying for you, for your family, for your struggles, for your trials, for your spiritual growth, and that God will use me to help grow you in your walk with Him. I spend, on average, between 20 and 30 hours a week to study for and prepare a sermon with the belief that it will help to inspire you, grow you, encourage you, and bless you. I get up 2 hours early on Sunday mornings to spend time praying that God will use the sermon to speak to your heart and to help you.
When you (physically) come to church, you encourage me. When you come week after week, you really encourage me. What you are saying to me (even without saying it) is that you value my gift and call, that you value me as a pastor, and that I’m not in this alone. When you do all you can to be here, it tells me that our time together means as much to you as it does to me. That helps me to come back week after week and give everything I have when I show up.
Each seat in our sanctuary speaks loudly to my heart. The empty ones are loud, and even louder when I know they should be filled by someone I have spent hours praying for that week…even louder still, when the only reason that person isn’t there is that it just wasn’t important to them that morning. When the seats are more empty than full, the devil uses them to attack me. He is a wonderful liar and the attack he uses often is that I must not be a very good worship leader, preacher, teacher, or pastor, because if I was, more people would want to come to my church.
The empty seat can be one of the most discouraging things a pastor will see all week, and the filled seat can be one of the most encouraging. I really wonder how the attendance in church would change if people really understood how much power they had to encourage their pastor by just showing up and how much it hurt their pastor when they didn’t.
2. Invite Others
Now that you know the influence an empty seat can have, you’ll understand better why this makes a difference. Inviting people to church (or better yet, bringing them with you), tells your pastor, “You have made such a difference in my life, I want my friends to experience this.” You are literally telling your pastor that you not only value them as a pastor, but you are endorsing them as a pastor. Fresh faces bring new life into a church service. It energizes your pastor like you may never quite understand.
Here’s something else it tells your pastor. “Pastor, you are not in this alone. I am going to build this church with you. I’m going to fight this battle side by side with you. I am not here just to be here. I’m here to join you in this mission to build the kingdom of God and reach the world for Christ. I have your back.” When I know people are actively out there getting new people into our church, it energizes me to work even harder, pray even harder, study even deeper, preach even bolder, and pastor even better. Simply, it encourages me.
3. Pray For Your Pastor (And Tell Them)
Your pastor has a target on them and is constantly under attack from all sides. I need your prayer constantly. When you pray for me, you join me in this mission. As with everything on this list, you are telling me that I’m not in this alone. It means a lot to me that you pray for me. It means even more when you tell me that you are praying for me. When you pray for someone, you are taking time to focus on that person for a period of time, you are calling out their name before God, and you are asking for God to bless them.
The added bonus is that when you pray for your pastor, God makes your pastor better and you get a better pastor out of it. When your pastor struggles, the church struggles. That’s why writer in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 says “Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” Your pastor needs the people of the church to cover them in prayer to keep them encouraged.
4. Participate, Don’t Just Spectate
It means a lot for you to just show up, but if you really want to encourage your pastor, throw your whole heart in and participate in the service. When the music is going, clap your hands, raise your hands, sing along, look happy to be there, and dial up the energy. When the sermon is being delivered, nod along, say “amen!” when they are really doing a good job, clap on the really good points, take notes, and make eye contact. I cannot tell you how discouraging it is to feel like you are preaching really well and have the entire room be completely unresponsive like they didn’t hear anything you just said.
I have spent all week praying about and preparing the sermon. It means a lot to me when I can see that it means a lot to you. What’s more, you can bring so much more out of me by engaging with me. The “sermon part” of the service is a lot more symbiotic than people realize. I have noticed that I preach a lot better in a church that understands this than at a church that doesn’t. If you don’t know how to act, just follow the queues from the preacher. If they are getting loud, you get loud. If they are quieter, you can be quieter. It’s a give and take relationship that ultimately causes everyone to leave the service encouraged. It’s not just the pastor that is encouraged by this, either. When I’m in the congregation, I get a lot more out of sermons when I am engaged and I feel more free to engage when others around me are participating.
This is true for more than just services. Remember, the biggest way to encourage your pastor is to find as many ways as possible to remind them they are not in this alone. When there’s a work day, be there and work. When there is an event, show up and jump in to help. The less your pastor feels like they are alone in the ministry, the better encouraged they will be.
5. Use Your Words
This is the simplest way to encourage your pastors, but it’s profoundly powerful when done the right way. Tell your pastors what they mean to you and be specific. Don’t just tell them you appreciate them; tell them what you appreciate about them. Don’t just tell them you liked the sermon; tell them what point in the message spoke to you. Share with your pastors areas in your life you have grown because of God working through them.
Be honest and sincere. Mean what you say and don’t say what you don’t mean. Over the years, I have had many people tell me that God told them to help me build a church and had those same people leave because it was easier to go to one that was already built. That isn’t encouraging. It’s discouraging. Instead of feeling like you have to make some kind of promise you won’t keep, just tell your pastor what they mean to you, how they have helped you, what they have taught you, and what you appreciate about them. This is true not just of me, but it also means a lot to me when people tell those things to my wife and make her know how valuable she is to them. When my wife is encouraged, I am encouraged.
I’m not discouraged. I’m not going to quit. I’m not even thinking about it. I just realized that this is an area I have not been open about with you, my family, and because of that, we have all missed out at times. I hope that this will serve to help make us an even better church, an even stronger family, and an even more effective ministry. I love you all and appreciate all you do to encourage me. You encourage me more than you will ever know. Thank you so much. I look forward to growing, working, fighting, praying, rejoicing, and ministering alongside each of you for the glory of the King.
Pastor Josh Scroggins
New Beginnings Family