The wife and I didn't make it to T4G, so we've been listening through some of the talks occasionally as part of our devotions. The main session talk by C.J. Mahaney (available here as audio and here as video) was called "When A Pastor Loses Heart" and was all about how to be encouraged (as a pastor) when you lose heart. Of course, it was also pretty encouraging to those of us who are not pastors and hope that we're never cursed with the blessing of that particular office. Heck, I'm not even the kind of person who struggles with discouragement (I'm far too awesome for that), and I was encouraged, so clearly it was a worthwhile talk.
As I was listening, one of the things that I kept wondering was: how do I encourage my pastors? Or, at the very least, how do I keep from discouraging them, however unintentionally? The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is probably an area that I need to give more attention to in my own life. On the one hand, I'm not a terribly encouraging person- I'm more likely to laugh at you if you trip and fall in front of me (and help you up, of course, but I'll be laughing while I do it) than I am to sympathize and encourage you to do better next time. On the other hand, I go to a big enough church that functionally I never have more than a ten to fifteen second conversation with any given pastor every few weeks. So I've got sort-of a double-whammy of a handicap when it comes to being an encouragement to my pastors.
What, then, should I be doing to be an encouragement to a pastor who might otherwise be discouraged? What are ways that I can encourage my pastor in and be a faithful servant to him in his ministry?
1) Don't judge your pastor in relation to "celebrity" preachers. One of the dangers of the rise of mass culture (as discussed by Carl Truman both on his blog and at T4G) is the availability of truly excellent preaching on a regular basis. With a click of a button I can download decades worth of the sermons of John Piper, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, or, well, whoever, and listen to them as often as I like. (In case you're wondering: early Piper/early Dever is good for the gym at 20-30 minutes, just the right amount of time for a go on the treadmill; later Piper is good for yard work at 30-45 minutes; and later Dever and Driscoll are good for longer drives being mostly an hour or more.) The problem is, these pastors are not only sharing the Gospel, they are especially gifted speakers. My pastor may not be so gifted a speaker. That doesn't lessen the value of the Gospel he shares; if anything, it should make it more precious. The fact that a poor communicator can still share the Gospel and (hopefully) see fruit in conversion should remind us that the skill and person of the pastor are not the foundation of our faith.
This means that practically, we should be very careful not to assume that we have some sort of "right" to the best of pastors. We should not hold up these well-known "celebrity" pastors and use their ability as the standard of judgment. Rather, we should be content with a pastor who regularly and clearly articulates the Gospel to us. That is the food we need, not the titillation of pleasing speech.
2) Don't treat your pastor as a servant. He is there to serve you, of course, but do remember that as a pastor, that service is 1) preaching the Gospel; 2) administering the sacraments; 3) disciplining you as needed. Anything he does beyond that is nice, but not specifically Biblically mandated. So remember that when the pastor takes time to grab lunch with you, asks you how things are going, or goes out of his way to bless you, all of that is something he does not because he has to, but because he wants to.
3) Do serve your pastor well. And I think (though not being a pastor I could be wrong about this) that the best ways to serve your pastor well are to:
- Fight your own sin. Not just avoiding discipline (though that will certainly serve your pastor as well), but also growing in holiness is a regular encouragement to pastors.
- Serve others. One of the issues that my church is struggling with is the fact that we've nearly doubled our membership (since I joined six years ago), without doubling the number of volunteers for service opportunities. This is most definitely not serving the pastor well, since the problems caused by the gap get back to him. Serving others of course goes beyond simple volunteering, and includes regular fellowship, accountability, building and maintaining relationships in the church, etc.