Note: This post was written in partnership with The Good Book Company. However, I’m writing it from my own personal experience as a pastor.
What’s the most awkward passage for a pastor to preach?
Maybe one from Galatians where Paul uses the word “circumcision” approximately 57 times?
Or maybe a passage out of Leviticus regarding uncleanness?
Or maybe the one where David asks Saul what price he must pay to marry Michal (let the reader understand).
Nope, not even close.
It’s Hebrews 13:17, which says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
If a pastor preaches this passage, it seems incredibly self-serving, right? I mean, what pastor feels comfortable telling his congregants to obey and submit?
But here’s the deal. After spending 8 years as a pastor, I can confidently say that being a pastor is really, really hard. While you certainly experience much joy, you also must endure regular criticism, discouragement, attacks from Satan, and the soul exhaustion that comes from pouring yourself out for people.
With that in mind, there are certain things that us “regular” church members can do to increase the joy they experience in ministry. Ponder that for a moment. Your actions can be the difference between your pastor serving with joy or serving with “groaning” (as Hebrews says).
Personally, I want a pastor that is able to serve with joy.
As Christopher Ash says in his very helpful forthcoming book The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask):
What will motivate a pastor not only to begin this work but to persevere in it with patient endurance, never turning his hand from the plough?…Answer: unless there is at least some whisper of joy in their hearts as they do their work, some spring of gladness in their step, they will never persevere to the end. And—and this is the point—it is we who will suffer.
In other words, if your pastor isn’t able to serve with joy, you will end up suffering.
Of course, all this raises the crucial question: what can church members do to make their pastor’s job a joy?
Here are 4 things.
1. Pursue God On A Daily Basis
A pastor’s primary job is to help you pursue Christ. To shepherd you and lead you and encourage you in your faith. As Paul says in Philippians 1:25, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…” Your pastor delights to see you make “progress” in Christ.
Few things are more heartbreaking for a pastor than seeing a member of his church walk away from Christ.
On the flip side, few things are more encouraging than seeing someone running hard after Jesus. If you want to be a blessing to your pastor, pursue God on a daily basis. This doesn’t need to be complicated or overly “spiritual”.
Read your Bible.
Repent of sin.
Fellowship with other believers.
Be involved in the life of the church.
As Ash says in his book:
The very best thing you can do for your pastor, and I for mine, is to repent daily of sin and trust afresh daily in Jesus. To be honest, if you and I do this…even if we are terrible at looking after our pastors in other ways, they will probably keep on pastoring year after year.
Want to make your pastor’s job a joy? Then consistently, faithfully pursue God on a daily basis.
2. Be Committed To The Local Church
It’s hard to shepherd someone you don’t see very often. If you only attend the Sunday gathering and other church events on a sporadic basis, how can they possibly know what is happening in your life? How can they pray intelligently for you? How can they care for your specific needs?
If you want to bless the socks off your pastor, then show up regularly on Sunday and develop deep, meaningful relationships with other members of the church.
As Ash says:
If simply turning up regularly is one marker of belonging—and one that is hugely encouraging to our pastors—a second marker is that we will invest intentionally in building deep relationships with our brothers and sisters in the church.
Do you want to make your pastor’s job easy? Do you want to fuel his joy in ministry? It’s not complicated. Be involved in the life of the church. Be a committed member, not a sporadic attender.
3. Be Honest and Transparent With Your Pastor
Put simply, your pastor can’t effectively shepherd you if he has no idea what’s going on in your life. And the unfortunate reality is that most “catastrophes” in the lives of church members are the result of years of unaddressed problems.
In other words, a guy doesn’t simply wake up one day and randomly decide to have an affair. Rather, he slowly gives into temptation more and more over time, all while never seeking the help and encouragement of his pastor (or anyone else, for that matter).
If you want to make ministry a joy for your pastor, regularly bring him into both the highs and lows of your life. Tell him about your joys and sorrows. Instead of only talking to your pastor when things are blowing up, have an ongoing conversation with him about your life.
Ash helpfully puts it this way:
Openness between church members and honesty between church members and pastors are prerequisites of a healthy church. A church in which there is hiding, secrecy and deception is a terrible parody of what the church of Jesus Christ should be.
Pastors, let me also encourage you to share your struggles with fellow church members. Don’t give them the impression that you’ve got it all together. If you want them to be transparent with you, some transparency on your part is also required.
4. Take Care Of Your Pastor
Pastoral ministry is uniquely depleting. Your pastor is consistently pouring himself out on behalf of you and your fellow church members. He sits through difficult counseling sessions. He endures criticism. He spends hours every single week preparing a sermon.
The reality is, your pastor needs care, just like you do. He needs regular refreshing. His spiritual, physical, and emotional tanks need regular refilling. If this doesn’t happen, the end result is almost always burn out.
How can you care for your pastor? Ash recommends five simple ways:
- Give your pastor the freedom to regularly read and study outside of sermon preparation.
- Send your pastor to conferences so that he can be encouraged and sharpened by other pastors and leaders.
- Allow your pastor to take regular study leaves so that he can take extended time for reflection, prayer, and solitude.
- Give your pastor regular days off where he can briefly step away from the cares of the church and be refreshed.
- Ensure that your pastor takes regular vacations and doesn’t work himself to death.
Your pastor will probably be hesitant to ask for some of these things because he’s worried it will seem self-serving. That’s why you must take care of your pastor. You must ensure that he’s getting the necessary refreshment and refilling.
If you want to make your pastor’s task a joy, take good care of him.
Joy Instead of Groaning
The difference between a pastor who serves with joy and one who serves with groaning is remarkable. The pastor who serves with joy is ten times more effective and will last so much longer in ministry.
And the reality is that your actions as a church member have a direct impact on how much joy your pastor experiences.
I want my pastor to serve with joy. Don’t you?