by Daniel Henderson
When it comes to church leaders, the rare negative exceptions tend to make the most sensational news. Rarely do the faithful, godly pastors receive the recognition they deserve; recognition that would help us all keep a balanced and grateful perspective on the landscape of pastoral ministry.
The headlines are all-too-frequently sprinkled with reports of high-profile pastors who have been unfaithful to their marriage vows. Stories of financial scandal surface occasionally. One might begin to think that all pastors are immoral, dishonest, or otherwise unworthy of our trust.
The ratings-addicted media always milks these situations for all they are worth. Sadly, the credibility of the Christian message, the integrity of pastoral ministry, and the name of Christ is soiled in connection with the news of spiritual leaders behaving badly.
Tough Times for Ministry Leaders
Apart from the sizzling headlines of the exceptional scandal, we know that those in pastoral ministry face tough times overall. According to Focus on the Family, 1,500 U.S. pastors leave the ministry every month because of church conflict, family problems, marriage challenges and, in some cases, moral failure.
A recent New York Times article reported that members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than most Americans.[i] Studies also indicated that, in the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.
The Good News
Yet, there is good news amidst the scandals and risks. As a matter of perspective, there are roughly 320,000 churches in the United States.[ii] Many of these are small churches, served by a bi-vocational pastor, or no pastor at all. Some larger churches employ a team of pastors. Estimates tell us there are 600,000 clergy in the United States.
It is good to remember that for every high-profile negative news story there are hundreds of thousands of pastors who are walking in integrity, loving their spouses, caring for their families, sacrificing for their congregations, preaching the Word, and faithfully fulfilling their calling.
Of the estimated 1,500 pastors who leave ministry every month, there are hundreds of thousands who endure and even thrive. There are multiplied thousands every year who enter ministry for the first time and also return to ministry after a break from the grind.
Our Role of Positive Support
More importantly, we can all make a positive difference by supporting and encouraging our pastoral leaders. This is great news – and something every believer can embrace because we know how vital it is and how much is at stake. We can each do something to help stem the fallout and failure among church leaders.
Of course, October is Clergy Appreciation Month and provides a great opportunity to do the right thing. In reality, our leaders are worthy of appreciation 12 months out of the year. First Thessalonians 5:12-13 tells us, “…honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because of their work” (NLT). Hebrews 13:7 also says, “Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives…” (NLT).
Here are five key ideas to implement in October and all year round:
Pray for Your Leaders – The Apostle Paul often asked for prayer (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; also Ephesians 6:18&19; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Charles Spurgeon said, “I know of no greater encouragement than that my people would pray for me.” Our prayers are a gift that God uses to provide power and protection for our church leaders. Prayer also keeps our attitudes aligned with the heart of God. It is hard to be a prayer warrior and critic at the same time.
Give Practical Encouragement – The squeaky wheels in the church tend to get the “grease” of attention and energy from leaders. One negative letter can easily outweigh the impact of five positive ones. Take time to let your leaders know, via notes, e-mails, and phone calls, of your deep appreciation for their life and ministry. Be specific. Encourage others to do the same.
Provide Tangible Blessings – Most pastors live on a limited budget. Special tokens of kindness that provide memorable experiences are always appreciated. A gift certificate for a nice meal, an overnight get- away, a visit to the bookstore, or a mini-vacation is always a blessing beyond words.
Protect Their Reputation – Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches; Loving favor rather than silver and gold.” A pastor’s reputation is valuable beyond calculation. One of the great gifts you can give your pastors is to counteract the typical gossips and critics found in every church. Whenever there is some juicy tidbit of “news” circulating in the church, you can either add water or gasoline to the fire. Become known as one who supports and protects your pastor and his family.
Don’t Forget Their Families – The spouse and children are the unsung heroes of pastoral ministry. Often they are forgotten. Consider all of the above expressions of support, and apply these ideas in thoughtful and specific ways to each family member.
Fueling Their Joy and Endurance
When our leaders don’t stay in the fight, it makes it hard for us to win our imperative spiritual war. Discouraged pastors cannot serve to their full potential. Each of us can offer great encouragement to help them thrive and endure. Hebrews 13:17 challenges us to follow and support our spiritual leaders because they watch out for our souls, as those who must give account to God. Then the passage adds, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Let’s fuel the joy of our leaders. It is profitable for them, their families, our churches, and our Christ-honoring mission in this world.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.