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Eight Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

by Victor Parachin

Sometimes pastors are the loneliest people in
the church. Often their hours are long, the pay
minimal, the criticism considerable and constant.
Feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and
defeat may begin to plague the best of them.

Paul's admonition to "serve one another in love"
(Gal. 5:13 ) should encourage us to remember
our shepherds. Here are eight ways to make
their lives better.

1. Cut the criticism

Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers, creator
and host of television's "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood,"
once gave an address describing the time he
was a student at Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary and attended a different church
each Sunday in order to hear a variety of preachers.

One Sunday he was treated to "the most
poorly crafted sermon (he) had ever heard."
But when he turned to the friend who had
accompanied him, he found her in tears.

"It was exactly what I needed to hear," she
told Rogers.

"That's when I realized," he told his audience,
"that the space between someone doing the
best he or she can and someone in need is
holy ground. The Holy Spirit had transformed
that feeble sermon for her--and as it turned
out, for me too."

Unlike most workers who are evaluated once
or twice a year, clergy are often critiqued
weekly after each worship service. It's not
unusual to hear people say "the music was
poor," "the hymn selection was awful," or
"the sermon was boring." We would do well
to remember that most spiritual leaders work
hard to make worship a unique celebration
each week.

2. Pray regularly

Ask God to shower your pastor with an
abundance of love, hope, joy, faith, peace,
power, wisdom, and courage. Pray for your
spiritual leader's maturity and growth in the
faith. As you pray keep in mind this wisdom
from German writer Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe: "If you treat a person as he is,
he will stay as he is; but if you treat him
as if he were what he ought to be, he will
become what he ought to be and could be."

3. Express appreciation in writing

A spoken compliment is always welcome,
but a written one can be read over and over
again for years. So, when you hear or see
something you like from your minister,
write an appreciative note.

4. Use your skills to bless

Are you proficient with computers? Help your
pastor master the church's new computer. Are
you a mechanic? Offer to service the car free
of charge or at a reduced fee.

One pastor I know recalls: "I was pastoring
my first church -- a small congregation with
limited resources. While there, I developed
a series of dental problems and could not
afford treatment. What a joy it was when
a dentist in the church offered to treat me
for free. Correcting my dental problem involved
nearly a dozen visits. He treated me carefully
and cheerfully each time. I have thought of
that dentist many times since then and the
memories of his kindness continue to
bless my life."

5. Squelch gossip

If you hear a negative comment, respond
with a positive one. If misinformation is being
spread, correct it with the accurate information.
Or, if people are gossiping, just walk away.
Remember the Bible soundly condemns
gossip and careless speech. James 1:26
says, "If anyone considers himself religious
and yet does not keep a tight rein on his
tongue, he deceives himself and his religion
is worthless." And Psalm 34:13 reads, "Keep
your tongue from evil and your lips from
speaking lies."

6. Offer to meet a need

Some people make their spiritual leaders
defensive and angry by saying, "You
need to _" That approach is seldom
welcome and almost always counterproductive.
If you see a need, approach your spiritual
leader by saying, "I'd like to help by _" If
you see an area that can be improved, take
responsibility for working on it.

Be an active participant in your church. Get
involved by teaching a class, leading a workshop,
singing in the choir, feeding the hungry. Ask
your spiritual leader where and how you can
employ your gifts.

7. Be openly responsive

Nothing so animates and excites a spiritual
leader as seeing people respond to the preaching
and teaching. Imagine the surprise and delight
of a pastor in Virginia Beach, Virginia, who,
when greeting a visitor to his church, found
she came because of the kindness of a church
member who was her neighbor.

"I'm recently divorced, a single parent and new
to this community," she told the pastor. "To
keep up with rent and provide for my three
children, I must work two jobs. That leaves
me very little time for yard work. I was relieved
when the weeds didn't overrun my yard as I
had feared they might. However, when I made
an unscheduled trip home in the middle
of my workday, I discovered the reason why
the weeds had not taken over my yard.

"My 86-year-old neighbor -- a member of your
church -- was on his hands and knees pulling
my weeds. I barely knew this man and he was
embarrassed to be caught in this anonymous
act of kindness. He explained that he heard you
preach a sermon on the importance of living a
life of compassion and kindness and decided
to put that sermon into practice by weeding
my lawn."

One pastor's heart filled with joy when a group
of women in Washington, D.C., responded
to a sermon preached from the words of
Jesus--"Do not judge, or you too will
be judged" (Matt. 7:1). After hearing
the sermon, the women decided to give
a baby shower for the young woman who
provided childcare while they met for
Bible study. She was unmarried, close
to going on welfare, and without support
from her family or the father-to-be. The
young woman was moved to tears by
the surprise baby shower.

Later, the women explained to the pastor,
"Your sermon taught us that it's possible
to reach out to someone in need -- in this
case, an unwed mother -- without judging
or condoning the situation."

8. Throw away the measuring stick

Don't expect that your present spiritual
leaders will do things the same way their
predecessors did. Lay aside personal
agendas and preferences. Instead, focus
on how your leader is being used by God
to do effective ministry now. By serving
your shepherds, you will ensure that they
will not only be encouraged but will feel
appreciated and continue to minister with
enthusiasm and energy.

Copyright 1999 by Victor Parchin and
Christianity Today.  Used by Permission
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