Starting another pastorate here in Springfield has got me thinking about one of my former seminary professors. Dr. Bob Simmons served as Professor of Missions at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and prior to that was a missionary to the Philippines. He and his wife Mary have meant a great deal to me through the years through their kind words, imparted wisdom, and continued interest in my ministry path. I recall his preaching the annual associational sermon one year in which he told church members what they could do to help their pastors. I’ve remembered his outline and the general theme of his message.
The first thing churches can do for their pastors is listen to them. Baptist churches, in particular, go through something akin to a courtship leading ultimately to “a call” to be the pastor. Once this occurs, the pastor begins the process of learning the people, community, and mechanics of the church as a whole. It’s important to remember the wonder of how God brings a pastor to a local church, working through fallible human beings to accomplish his purpose. Most times this process appears to work well, although there are times that the match doesn’t gell. Even so, pastors worth their salt will put the time and energy into preparing sermons week after week. This is challenging task to be interesting, fresh, and have something new to say each time. Churches would do well to tune in to their pastors not only when they preach but also as they lead. Pastors are not perfect, certainly, but something special happens in that preaching moment. I am considering the fact that pastors do their own material and not get them from others off the internet and pass it off as their own.
The second thing churches can do is lift them, and by this I mean in prayer. I haven’t been at this work as long as others, but can attest to how important it is for members to pray for their pastor. There are constant demands on time and the hours take a toll physically and spiritually. To be sure, it is a great privilege to be a pastor but there is a relationship and responsibility on behalf of the church. Unfortunately, there have been too many examples of pastoral moral failure and infidelity, both personal and financial. These situations wreak a great deal of damage on the body of Christ and some churches never fully recover. Our battle is primarily spiritual in nature, and therefore we must not overlook our greatest weapons of prayer and the memorized Word. Many pastors wear so many ministry hats that they are frazzled with the work load, not to mention trying to maintain a family life. Wise churches will lift up their pastors daily. It’s important that God’s people pray for the courage and wisdom of their ministers.
The third thing churches can do for their pastors is love them. This should be obvious and in some regard the very idea of asking a church to love its pastor is presumptious. It’s clear from the Bible we are to love one another and the other reason is that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” In what is called “the honeymoon phase,” pastors and churches can only see the good and positive sides. Over time, the warts and blemishes become more noticeable and it becomes obvious that neither is without flaws. This is where it’s important to keep loving each other anyway. Pastors make mistakes, often in an effort to lead and do something constructive for their church. Sadly, I have heard of examples where churches mistreat their pastors and other ministers. This is how I heard about the Ministering to Ministers program (MTM) for clergy who have experienced church abuse. No one really wants to talk about forced termination that much, it’s not something denominations want to bring into focus. There are a number of pastors (and staff) working in almost intolerable situations because the people are so unkind.
I came across a book review of Dr. John Killinger’s book about what they don’t teach you in seminary. One of his statements referred to a meanness in some church members that is simply hard to understand. I can believe this, and it makes me wonder how some church folks can look themselves in the mirror knowing the grief they are putting their pastors through. Fortunately, there are many loving and kind persons in the church but these can be overlooked with there is difficulty. With all the pastors out there having troubles, it makes me appreciate what kind of a situation I have now. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to show love for pastors is to love their families and take care of their financial needs. The spouses and children of pastors come under a lot of scrutiny and there is pressure to maintain a normal family life. It’s tough not to bring church stuff into the house, but when the church loves its pastor the stress becomes more manageable.
These aren’t the only areas the churches should focus on, but they are keys to overcoming many of the pressures that pastors and congregations face. There are many things pastors wish their congregations knew, and vice versa. But, when churches listen, lift, and love their pastors the work becomes a “joy, not a burden.” Pastors who serve these kinds of congregations are truly fortunate and should express their appreciation regularly. Dr. Simmons’ words have stayed with me, and I wish that every church could have heard that sermon at FBC Meridian, MS several years ago. It could go a long way in strengthening and lengthening the abbreviated tenures of pastors in Baptist churches.