Perhaps you have seen this photo that has gone viral on social media (probably mostly shared by pastors that want people, if only for a second, to begin to understand the burden they carry):
Though no source is cited, I can tell you from my limited personal experience that I was surprised some of these numbers are as low as they are. While these statistics sadden and frighten me, considering I have been called into lifelong ministry, I am glad that this photo went viral, not because I want to throw a pity party or because I so desperately want people to understand the struggle – but because of the four words at the top: “Pray For Your Pastor”.
The fact is, your pastors carry a burden far heavier than most people can imagine. Isolation, fear, and frustration often hover over pastor’s heads like a dark cloud. Because this is true, we must support and encourage our pastors. Fellow pastors, we must pray for and encourage one another – and we must make that a priority in each of our lives. Here are five easy ways to support and encourage your pastor:
1.Pray for them daily.
Maybe it sounds cliche, but the fact is that praying for your pastor is the single most beneficial thing you can do for him and his spiritual and emotional health. For most pastors, just hearing that someone is praying for them makes a huge impact because so many struggle with isolation and rejection. If you don’t already, add your pastor and his family’s name to your daily prayer list and then let them know weekly that you are actually praying for them. It will mean more to them than you know.
2. Act out your prayers for them.
After you pray for your pastor, find ways to be the answer to your own prayers. In his book “Prayer”, Philip Yancey says, “Bonhoeffer grasped the nature of prayer as partnership with God’s activity on earth…We cannot simply pray and then wait for God to do the rest.” It must be noted however that Bonhoeffer also warned against self-reliance on one’s activity so much so that we forget to rely upon the power of prayer. Yancey continues, “Praying can be a risky enterprise, I have found, as the Spirit often convicts me of the very thing I am praying about. ‘Lord, help my neighbor, a single mother, in her hard life.’ Hmm, Have I offered to take her son skiing lately? ‘Father, I pray for Brandon and Lisa’s troubled marriage.’ What am I doing to support them, keep them together, hold them accountable? …Sometimes, like the boy who asks his parents to solve a math problem while he plays video games, we ask God for things we should be doing ourselves.”
Though we must heed Bonhoeffer’s (and Yancey’s) warnings to not neglect prayer in favor of our own action, we must also not simply pray and hope that God does the work. As you pray for your pastor, find ways to act out your prayers, to actually bring them joy, to actually encourage them, to actually bless them.
3. Support them publicly, stand up for them publicly.
One of the most frustrating things about church ministry is that is always the dissenters and complainers that speak the loudest. Because this is usually the case, pastors hear way more about what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing better than the things they are doing well. If you agree with your pastors words, actions, and choices, let him know. Don’t only let him know, let the whole congregation know. Silent support does your pastor very little good. If the loud-mouthed complainers who knock everything your pastor does speak up, then you speak up even louder. Support and stand up for your pastor publicly – it could make all the difference.
4. Stop criticizing their every move.
Stop expecting your pastor to be perfect and to have a perfect family. No one is perfect, and no one has a perfect family. The stresses of ministry weigh heavily on a pastor and his family, which makes it even harder to live up to the unrealistic expectations that so many people have of their pastors. The fact is, you shouldn’t expect them to be at every meeting, every kids athletic event, visit every elderly person, make every hospital visit, always have a smile on their face, never get angry, never show signs of weariness or depression, and so on.
And when, already struggling with all these things, pastors have their every move, their every decision, their every sermon criticized – it wears them down quickly. Stop going up to them and telling them what would have made their sermon better. Stop complaining to them about things out of their control. Stop expecting them to be omnipresent. And PLEASE, stop whining about how awful something is without offering a solution.
5. Write them a short, simple, encouraging note.
Take 5 minutes and write your pastor a short and encouraging note. I have saved every encouraging note and letter I have ever received from my congregation. They mean the world to me and they give me something I can go back and read during dark or frustrating times. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be long – it just needs to be encouraging. Let them know you are thinking about them, let them know you are praying for them. Very few things go as far as a short, simple, encouraging note.
These are just a few easy ways to support your pastor. What other ways would you recommend supporting your pastor? Pastors, what others ways can people support you and your families?