Honouring God’s Servants
How do we properly honour and support our pastors? Derek Prime offers some advice gleaned from more than 50 years in pastoral ministry.
The telephone call was a surprise.
First, it was from the USA, and, second, because of the nature of the request. I was being invited to take part in a radio discussion for the week in the year when Christians in the USA are encouraged to show gratitude and honour to their pastor or pastors.
It got me thinking about the subject’s validity.
I wondered if the order should be reversed so that honour comes before gratitude. Then I started reflecting on how healthy our respect is for those the Lord Jesus has given us as His undershepherds.
Sadly, the language and practice of the secular world has overflowed into the church. Pastorates may be undertaken for a set period rather than being open-ended. Ministers’ performance may be evaluated on a regular basis, perhaps with a contract up for an annual review. I feel uneasy about this for a number of reasons.
First, the church may not have sought God earnestly in prayer about the choice of a new pastor. Neglecting this priority, they feel that they have made a mistake in the appointment and should, in effect, give the pastor the sack. It presumably means that they could not genuinely say, “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit to call this man.”
Second, the idea of an annual review and the end of a contract brings an unsettling pressure upon the pastor. The enemy of souls can make it a snare for him to think more of pleasing people – church members – rather than pleasing God. Should not the church want above everything else a godly pastor whose clear objective is to please God above everything else?
Third, if a pastor is regarded simply as an employee of the church, subject to a secular contract, it may be that he’s not the one to lead: whether as chairman of elders’ meetings or church business meetings.
I admit that some pastors may think this is a good idea because it relieves them of the pressure of such meetings. But can a pastor legitimately opt out of endeavouring to lead God’s people? I would place honour before gratitude so that both the man and the office he holds are respected.
Honour your Pastor
We must remember that it is the Lord Jesus who sets our pastor or pastors over us. So, how can we honour him?
- By not seeking a particularly close or special relationship to him and his wife, since pastors are pastors for the whole flock not just some of them.
- By remembering that there is no one who is a perfect pastor, for his feet are made of clay like all of us.
- By only speaking well of him. Inevitably issues arise in church life, the most important are spiritual, but some are practical with regard to church premises or the way things are organised. If criticism is valid, then an opportunity should be taken to speak face to face.
- By recognising the importance of his undisturbed mornings for study.
Honour should also be given to the pastor’s wife. She may often be overlooked and she needs to be taken care of sensitively. Let me give some examples of how this may be done.
- If she and her husband have young children, she will inevitably be restricted in getting out to various meetings such as an evening service, the church prayer meeting or house groups. Someone can perhaps child sit alternate weeks to allow her to go out. This is ideal if it can be the same person whom the children like and respect.
- A small group of women, perhaps of different ages, could meet with her on a monthly basis during the daytime for prayer.
- Make sure she and her husband take their day off each week and if something hinders that possibility, like a funeral, that they take another day off in lieu of it. All the church should know when the pastor’s regular day off is each week, and perhaps be reminded of it from time to time!
- By praying daily for her and her husband and their family. It perhaps sounds trite, but nothing is more important. They may know nothing about it, but they will experience the benefits of it. How helpful it is when we turn into prayer Scriptures such as “There is a future for the man of peace” and the exhortation to “love one another fervently.”
The subject of prayer prompts me to add the importance of the pastor’s fellow-elders supporting him in prayer like this, but also by meeting for prayer with him before every church service. Nothing can encourage him more.
All of these things are ways in which we can honour our pastor. But there is also a place for gratitude expressed in a variety of ways.
First, simply say “thank you” when that is how you feel about something he has said or done. But never be effusive or over the top. I remember an elder choosing to say after a sermon, “I heard you well, pastor.”
Second, support his leadership when you do not always know the reasons why he and the other spiritual leaders have come to a decision that would not have been your first choice – and, remember, it may not have been his!
Third, seize the opportunity of special occasions like an anniversary of his coming to you, or the number of years he has been with you, to say thank you.
Fourth, ensure that sabbatical leave does not require the pastor himself to take the initiative. Different ways of achieving a sabbatical may be necessary when young children are part of his family.
Fifth, give equal thought to honouring and caring for his wife.
So, I’m a bit uneasy about a week to show gratitude to the pastor. Instead, perhaps the key question we need to ask is, “How much do we honour the Lord by honouring His servants?”