Your pastor might have several degrees hanging on his wall from prestigious seminaries and educational institutions. But rest assured, he has never taken a class on how to pastor a church during a global crisis. No pastors that I know have taken classes or attended workshops on guiding a church through a pandemic, social distancing, mask wearing, checking temperatures at the door, holding services online, or ministering to the sick in the hospital without being able to visit in person.
The bottom line is this: these are difficult and stressful days to pastor a church. When church members need spiritual help or are making decisions, those people expect their pastors to be patient and gracious with them. In the same vein, it’s wise for church members to be patient and gracious with their pastors. These men are navigating churches through uncharted waters.
Consider for a moment the role you can play as a member of your church to encourage your pastor during these demanding times. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that there’s a Biblical mandate for you to be easy to shepherd: “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” (Heb. 13:17, emphasis mine).
Let me suggest five ways you can be a joy or an encouragement to your pastor as he leads your church through the uncharted waters of responding to a pandemic.
- Pray. Charles Spurgeon has said, “No man can do me a truer kindness in this world than to pray for me.” Repeatedly we read that Paul pleaded with God’s people to pray for him (Rom. 15:30; Phil. 1:19; Eph. 6:19–20). Pray for your pastor. Then let him know that you’re praying for him by telling him, sending him text messages and emails, and offering to pray with him. Pray specifically for wisdom, patience, boldness, his family, his personal walk with the Lord, his sermon prep, and your church to fully support him.
- Encourage. Anyone can be a critic or cynic. But only those intentionally pursuing Christlikeness will be a constant encourager. What is an encourager? In simplest terms, an encourager is someone who is constantly looking to build and lift others up in Christ. Good church members intentionally and faithfully look to encourage their pastors. Do this by listening well to sermons, being faithful to whatever format your church is using to hold public worship, serving with a joyful attitude, avoiding critical or condescending speech, and being personally humble and teachable. Many seasoned pastors have told me that they owe much of their ministry longevity to the constant encouragers in their churches.
- Have patience. Be careful about jumping to conclusions as to why pastors make certain decisions. Instead, practice being slow to judgment, which is a mark of true Biblical wisdom (James 3:13–18). This global crisis is as new for your church leaders as it is for you. Be quick to give the benefit of the doubt. Be slow to form judgments or to speak unsolicited opinions. Be patient even when certain plans or decisions do not come to fruition. And remember, the same patience you expect from pastors you should expect to give to pastors.
- Be flexible. Odds are that your church has never functioned the way it is functioning right now. Maintaining the mission of a church during these peculiar times requires both church leadership and members to be incredibly flexible. Flexible church members consider the greater good of the church’s unity far more important than their personal preferences—no matter how strong those preferences might be. So even though online services, masks, social distancing, different service times, asking vulnerable members to stay home, and outdoor services might not be your cup of tea, keep in mind that your pastor is thinking of the greater good of the whole church. And that is always more important than our personal preferences or comfort.
- Avoid comparisons. When you’re tempted to compare your pastor or church with other nationally known or influential churches, keep this truth in mind: your pastor and your church are accountable to God for your church alone. Period. That means your responsibility is to pursue what God wants for your church in any given situation, no matter what another ministry might be doing. Telling your pastor what another influential pastor might be doing is usually unhelpful. Ultimately, your church needs to decide as an autonomous local church what brings God the most glory with the decisions it makes moving forward. That doesn’t mean we’re not thankful for other ministries with larger platforms. We truly are. But your church must consider its context and the stewardship God has entrusted to it. Instead of comparing your pastor with your favorite YouTube or podcast preacher, thank God for, pray for, and constantly encourage the one you have.
Remember, your membership in your church is a stewardship. The way you encourage your pastor is a big part of that stewardship. Encourage him well. That encouragement will be a spiritual benefit to you and to the rest of your church.
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:12–13).
Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.