Pastors typically have a strong sense of calling to ministry. Many experience deep satisfaction in seeing lives change and knowing they’re investing in eternal realities. Yet serving as a pastor is more pressure-packed than church members realize.
According to a research study cited by Soul Shepherding, 75% of pastors often feel extremely or highly stressed. George Barna’s research team recently reported that close to 40% of pastors had thought about quitting. A Lifeway study revealed that nearly 1 in 5 pastors (18%) report some degree of depression. Factors causing stress include unrealistic expectations, conflicts, isolation or loneliness, personal financial needs and negative impact of their heavy workloads on the family.
It’s imperative that church members alleviate pastoral stressors that hinder ministry and sabotage joy.
In Galatians 6:6, Paul urged believers to exercise sensitivity to their leaders: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” To a different group of church members, Paul added, “We request of you that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Apply the following suggestions for loving your pastor well. Allow these tips to serve as catalysts for your own brainstorming.
Mail a handwritten letter. Research has revealed that due to its rarity, an encouraging note written by hand has a more positive emotional impact than a typed letter, email or face-to-face compliment.
Start with “I thank God for you because__________________.” Compose several paragraphs explaining why you’re grateful. (Cite a sermon that comforted you or a personal trait you admire, such as a capacity to listen well or the diligence required for weekly sermon preparation.)
Pray for Your Pastor
Be sure he’s on your weekly prayer list. Periodically, let him know that you prayed for vibrancy in his daily walk with Christ; for effectiveness as a teacher; for discernment in handling differences of opinion within the church; for wisdom in program initiatives and for specific needs of his spouse and children. To pray more intelligently and specifically, ask your pastor for requests to take before God.
Half-way through my first year of teaching at a Bible college, I received a two-page letter. Except not a single word was addressed to me! My predecessor in the Church Ministry department, who understood how stressful the first year is when all lesson plans and courses are first-time originals, wrote out every word of her prayer for me that week. She revealed a keen sensitivity to needs and stressors faced by a new faculty member.
What a first-class gift of encouragement! Once every few months, send your pastor a similar letter showing how you interceded that week.
If you’re a member of a small group sponsored by your church, when you meet, pray regularly for staff members by name.
The Blessing of a Book
Give your pastor a book. Not one on how to do pastoral tasks, but one that will fuel his soul, buoy his spirit and instill resiliency. Consider these four titles, all written by someone with decades of vocational ministry experience:
- John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You
- Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath
- Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World.
- Terry Powell, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants
Ask the spouse or the church secretary if your pastor has expressed a desire for a particular resource. Or ask a vocational Christian leader you respect to recommend a book that encourages leaders.
Inside the book cover, write a sentence expressing gratitude, then add this: “I pray that the content of this book will enable you to keep on living and serving strong for our Savior.” Do this and he won’t conclude that you think he isn’t already living and serving strong, or that you think he’s discouraged or emotionally unsteady.
Gift of Time
Babysit the kids so your pastor and spouse enjoy an unhurried meal out. Better yet, give them a restaurant gift certificate to cover the meal!
Before the pastor’s family returns from vacation, mow their lawn, trim the hedges or rake leaves.
Take the pastor and spouse to a concert or sporting event—something fun!
Ask if they need any chores performed around the house, then recruit several competent handymen and schedule a time for the work. (Most pastors today don’t live in a manse, and many pastors aren’t handy enough to handle repairs themselves.)
Lay leaders in your church, such as the governing board, can ease a leader’s financial pressures and facilitate personal growth in one or more of the following ways. Be an advocate for your pastoral staff by passing along these suggestions to your church’s governing body.
- Consult research on pastoral staff compensation to see if salary amounts for your lead pastor and associate staff members should be increased. Check with your denomination’s headquarters or google for up-to-date resources.
- Due to the intensity of pastoral tasks and persistent demands on the pastor’s time, consider a minimum of three weeks of vacation. One church I know starts a young, less experienced staff member at two weeks, but adds an additional two long weekends off (Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday).
- Provide adequate professional development funds for one all-expenses-paid conference each year. If your pastor isn’t learning new things and interacting with others in his field, your church suffers. Since a lot of pastoral time is spent studying and teaching, also give a book allowance. One church ministry guru with a national following says that local churches are far behind most institutions and business organizations in budgeting for professional staff development.
- To ensure that your pastor takes care of physical health, pay for a membership to a fitness center.
- Every two or three years, pay for a marriage enrichment weekend for your pastor and spouse.
- Offer your pastor a sabbatical of three months for every 5-7 years served. The purpose should be rest, nurturing family relationships and personal spiritual renewal.
Which suggested way to “really love your pastor” will you implement this week? What additional ways of caring for your church staff can you add?
By encouraging your leader and mobilizing other church members to do so, you’ll keep your pastor from being among the 75% who often feel “extremely or highly stressed.” And you’ll increase the likelihood of a long and effective tenure!
I want to thank crosswalk.com for publishing a version of this article earlier in October, 2023. At crosswalk.com you’ll find daily devotionals and helpful articles in the categories of faith, family, church, plus news & culture.
One of the four suggested books to encourage pastors is one I wrote, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants. The following link takes you to more information on this resource, where there’s a link for a purchase at Amazon.