Friday, September 23, 2011
DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR - ENCOURAGE YOUR PASTOR!
During the 1980's I was World Vision of Australia's 'Leadership Enhancement Consultant' - a sort of minister-at-large. Part of my responsibility was to write a Leadership Letter (GRID) which went to 23,000+ pastors/leaders. This one produced by far the greatest amount of feedback - over 600 letters. See if you can figure out why!
If one part of Christ's body is praised, all the other parts share its happiness (1 Corinthians 12:26).
A church of encouragers is a church that's alive! The deepest principle in human nature, said William James, is the craving to be appreciated.
The ministry of pastoral leadership is both easier and harder than it ever was. We now have more helpful conceptual tools for this complex job, but the demands are greater, more diffuse, and often more verbalized. Current research indicates that pastors are under increasing stress. A key cause is the disparity of role expectations between clergy and parishioners. Pastors have ideas about their ministry-priorities; 'laypeople' exert pressure to be/do otherwise.
One solution here is to clarify role-definitions. I believe every Christian leader - pastor or other - should have a prayerfully considered written 'Ministry Description'. It may change over time, so don't write it in stone.
I'd encourage my pastor these ways:
ACCOUNTABILITY. A congregation ought to be aware of pastors' gifts and limits which determine their ministry-priorities. The best encouragement comes from those who understand the pressures - emotional and spiritual - under which the pastor and the 'manse family' live. (What are your pastor's day/s off? Don't phone the vicarage on that day, or at meal-times, unless it's urgent [which is rarely]).
BIBLICAL PRIORITIES. A lot of discouraging things happen in churches because we don't understand what the church is about! The church does only four things: worship (everything we do for the glory of God, together and individually); community (caring for one another); formation (growing into Christ); and mission (everything we do for Christ in the world). Means to these ends include finance, music, buildings, organizational structures, special- interest groups, etc. When means become ends, and occupy a disproportionate amount of a church's time, 'fiefdoms' develop, precedents rule, and there is death in the church. We are called to increase on this planet the love of God and neighbour, not to build empires.
COMMUNICATION. Some churches print little notepads: 'I just thought of you' or 'A note to encourage you'. The habit of encouragement is to be encouraged! St. Paul's letters to his friends are a good model. Once or twice at one church we set aside time in a worship service to write 'warm fuzzies' to others. If you appreciate your pastor, tell him or her! The only feedback they often receive are inane remarks about the sermon at the church door. By the way, never raise a critical (or trivial) issue before - or immediately after - worship and preaching: leave it till later.
What if you aren't 'being fed' in a 'dead church'? There's no simple answer. Luther and Wesley tried to stay in their churches: so should you. But you aren't as strong as Luther or Wesley: so join a small nurture group. You'll have to live in the tension between 'rats deserting a sinking ship' and spiritual survival: communicate with your pastor or elder frankly on this one.
Churches that love their pastors show it. An Anglican congregation had a surprise party for the rector's family, with skits, concert and 'the works', presented them with a basket of fruit, photo-album of the evening, etc. Some rural parishes are good at this sort of thing.
DISCIPLING. 'Go and make disciples' is still Jesus' mandate. How? The way he did it. So every pastor should be encouraged to find his 'three, twelve and seventy'. The pastor's not a grown-up office-boy. Half a pastor's time ought to be spent with God, and half with the people, (and the rest in administration! as one harried pastor added). Half the 'people-time' ought to be spent with leaders.
EXAMPLE. Your faith hope and love have a greater influence on your pastor than you may realize. What you are is more important than what you say. The Bible underlines the power of imitation (I Corinthians 11:1).
FELLOWSHIP. The Germans have two words, Gesellschaft (society, association, eg. people in a bus) and Gemeinschaft (community, fellowship, eg. an intimate family group). For the church to be the latter, people must be 'networkers', incorporating newcomers into fellowship-groups. When this isn't done people are lost through the 'back door'.
GIFT-GIVING. Paul wanted to give a spiritual gift to his Roman friends, to make them strong (Romans 1:11). He also needed their gift of 'rest' for himself (15:32). The gift of encouragement helps others show love and do good (Hebrews 10:24-5). The church supports the pastor materially (and in other ways) while he or she helps others spiritually. Re the pastor's stipend: always err on the side of generosity, even if your church struggles to meet its budget. If you look after your pastor, he or she will look after you! Does your church have a special fund for continuing pastoral education? You'll reap the benefits if you encourage your pastor to travel, read, study and learn about other churches. Don't be mean regarding office equipment or other professional tools: some pastors buy their own dictaphone or telephone answering-machine! Is the car allowance adequate? (If 'yes' offer a 'company car' in lieu of the pastor owning one!). Book allowance? (If not spent each year, it shouldn't accumulate. Some pastors aren't reading enough! (See Proverbs 19:27). Hospitality allowance (preferably a credit-card arrangement)? Pastors should generally choose whether they purchase their own home, or live in one provided: many are buying their own these days. If they live in the church manse or rectory, is there a sensitive way to find out what you, as church-landlord, can do to make their life more comfortable? Does the pastor's wife need baby-sitting help? If there are small children, could you do a shift on the telephone if it's busy? If their garden doesn't win awards, could you do the pruning or mowing? If there's no office secretary, the pastor will need all kinds of help (but only if you can keep confidences). Every church should plan to have a staffed office. And you can teach your pastor! Secure persons welcome books and photocopied articles given by non-judgmental colleagues in the ministry. We learn from each other, as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). But if you ride your pet hobby-horse too much, your pastor will learn to get out of your way!
HOLISM. Some pastors feel guilty taking time off: they tend to work harder than their Creator! Jesus sometimes left needy crowds to retreat to the desert. Few pastors are lazy: more are workaholics. So encourage your pastor to have fun! (Offer tickets to the football grand-final, or the opera. Offer them before buying them: your pastor can say 'no' if he/she wants to!). Pastors - and their spouses - are the loneliest people in our community, but many want to be their 'special friend'. Friendship is something offered, invited and reciprocated. If the pastor doesn't respond to your overtures, that's not a rebuff, but maybe a survival-tactic. He or she may need close friends outside the church.
INNOVATION. When a new idea is suggested, don't be a 'permission- withholder'. Think and pray about it. Always encourage idea-birthers: history is littered with 'it can't be done' pessimists. Suggest new ideas, courteously, but don't 'take your Bible and go home' if they're not accepted.
JUSTICE. Encourage the preacher by practising your Christianity in the world. The Judge will ask: 'What did you do to alleviate poverty, hunger, injustice on the earth?' Many so-called 'alive' churches are selfish churches, 'glee clubs' interested mostly in saving their own souls. The hymns and songs we sing are an index of our concern. In some churches they're mostly 'God loves me and I love him'. Nice: but broken people are still left on the side of the road.
KINGDOM. Encourage your church/pastor to be open to learnings from other Christians. 'Church' and 'Kingdom' aren't the same. Your church or denomination is a tiny part of God's Kingdom. The church is the 'scaffolding' of the Kingdom. I can know God within the confines of my Communion - but only a bit of him. In Revelation's New Jerusalem there is 'neither temple nor sword' - no church, no state. A 'sect' identifies God and his truth with my little group: there are too many sects today! The love of God is broader than the measure of our church's mind!
LEADERSHIP. The pastor is servant of the church (but the church is not his/her master), a leader of fellow-ministers (but the captain-coach is not the whole team!), and a shepherd (or, better, rancher, training fellow-shepherds to care for others). Dynamic churches let their leaders lead, and exhibit what Peter Wagner calls 'the divine art of followership'. When your pastor phones with an invitation to serve, that's a high honour! The Scripture is clear: 'Obey your leaders and follow their orders. They watch over your souls without resting, since they must give to God an account of their service. If you obey them, they will do their work gladly; if not, they will do it with sadness, and that would be of no help to you' (Hebrews 13:17). Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). One pastor's induction sermon had three points: 'As pastor, I am your servant-leader: don't idolize me (I'm a fellow-struggler with you), don't ostracise me (we need each other), don't criticize me (I appreciate honest feedback, but remember I'm human - and sensitive!).
Another 'L' - loyalty. Speak highly of your church and its leadership to your fellow-members and outsiders (1 Corinthians 1:10).
MANAGEMENT. Pastors have two key hassles - the management of volunteers and the management of time. How can these be alleviated? Volunteers are best led when (a) they're committed to a grand vision (legalistic niggling and back-biting are signs of its absence), (b)
they know their gifts/skills match their ministry, (c) they're made to feel their contribution is very strategic. Time management (a) is also a function of the longer-range vision, (b) involves setting goals and formulating plans to achieve these, and (c) is about managing interruptions (some of Jesus' best ministry happened this way). Respect your pastor's 'macroscopic' vision. He/she's an 'overseer' (Greek - episkopos) - although in our culture you can ask questions of your leader's dreams before you own them! And only physical presence of the pastor. Be a self-starter, but keep your pastor informed.
NAMES will never hurt you? They do. Let's encourage our terminology to catch up with our theology of the laity: there can't be a creature called 'the minister' - all Christians are ministers. And let's abolish 'laity'! The Protestant Reformation, says Elton Trueblood, opened Bible reading to ordinary Christians. We now need a new Reformation, opening the ministry to ordinary Christians.
OPTIMISM. Be positive in church meetings and committees. Look for possibilities. There's always a better way. A fault-finding spirit is deadly - literally! (Church 'business' meetings ought never be occasions for destructive negativity but for formation- dissemination and gathering, and celebration). And don't complain that there are too many churches in your area: people are being born into your parish at a greater rate than are being 'born again'.
PRAYER. To know we are prayed for is a tonic. Paul prayed for Timothy night and day. Timothy gave Paul joy (2 Timothy 1:3-5). 'Every Paul needs a Timothy, every Timothy needs a Paul, and every Paul and Timothy need a Barnabas'. Never criticize a person for whom you do not pray, and pray very hard before you 'exhort' that one. Use 1000 words of intercession for every one of rebuke!
QUIET. In quietness and confidence is our strength. Some Baptist elders in Melbourne told their pastor to get away for three days a month for meditation and prayer, at the church's expense. The ideal arrangement for a pastor is to have a special place and time each day for uninterrupted prayer and spiritual reading; another place for study, and an 'office'. Church leaders should retreat/advance once or twice a year for spiritual stock-taking.
RISK-TAKING. Outstanding pastors tend not to be conformists. They feel safe taking risks - and occasionally failing - because they are surrounded by mature people who don't have a phobia about always 'playing it safe'.
SMALL GROUPS. When I was pastoring a church nothing was more encouraging than to have someone ask 'How can I join a small group? I want to grow as a Christian'. Everywhere in the world, where a church is alive, believers meet together in house churches or informal groups. These groups do the same four things the church as a whole does: worship (praise-singing, informal and/or liturgical prayers), fellowship (matching spiritual gifts and personal needs), formation (Bible study, prayer for one another) and mission (concern for the lost through evangelism, acts of mercy and justice). Secure pastors can delegate to trained under-shepherds the care of persons in these groups. Three kinds of group-leaders are needed, in one, two or three persons: pastors, teachers, and 'hosts/hostesses'.
TEACHABLENESS. The preached Word is Christ's Word, more than mere human words. Be a 'doer' as well as a hearer of that word. And 'growing is acceptable': the Lord has much more truth to break forth from his Word if we have ears to hear. There's nothing more discouraging for a pastor than a parishioner who isn't teachable.
UNDERSTANDING. Pastors carry awesome emotional and spiritual burdens. Don't add to them unnecessarily! There's the constant challenge to stay fresh and relevant in preaching. Living a shop-window existence - being 'everything to everybody' - isn't easy. They, too, struggle with their sins and self-worth. They are sometimes angry, but we Christians have no way to legitimize anger. They search for an authentic vulnerability, but often have to 'play a role' to keep up a serene facade. They are 'wounded healers', 'broken potters', sometimes even 'lost shepherds'. They are unique persons: so don't compare them with other (previous) pastors. Ask: what are the special strengths of this servant-leader? Others have spiritual gifts to complement these. (Who/what are they?). Let your pastor be himself or herself (Romans 15:7). Perhaps your pastor will sometimes teach an idea you consider 'unsound'. Be patient and cautious before opposing it (I Timothy 5:1, I Peter 3:8). Sometimes they may not proclaim 'the whole counsel of God', playing one or two favourite themes. But if he or she has been given an insight into, say, an approach to justice or spirituality, beware of joining those who from ancient days have persecuted true prophets. Those persecutors were defending 'orthodoxy' too!
VISITATION. Is the pastor 'employed' to visit the 'sick, sorrowing and sinful'? Yes, and no. His or her main task (Ephesians 4:11-12) is to equip all the people of God to serve one another. Visitation, says the key New Testament text on the subject, is to be done by all who have 'pure and genuine religion' (James 1:27). Let's hope the pastor doesn't have a monopoly on that! Pastoral care ought ideally to be focussed in the small-group life. So the first 'port-of-call' for help is the elder or group-leader.
WORSHIP is the most important thing God's people do together - and apart. The acid tests of authentic worship: # How often are we 'lost in wonder, love and praise' before our God? It's thrilling leading an expectant congregation in worship. # And how is praise-worship translated into work-worship in the world?
XENOPHILIA - love of others/strangers - is a unique mark of the Christian church versus the love of 'like persons' in a social club. 'Clubism' is a prevalent disease in churches. Often 'friendly churches' are poor at evangelism: unconsciously they don't want new people upsetting the group chemistry. They don't welcome 'outside' young people: they may wreck the buildings; or the handicapped: they may spoil the services; or 'other' Christians: they may challenge our favourite assumptions. One pastor wrote: 'A church that works hard at bringing visitors to services is a church that encourages the pastor. He feels: "my people must be proud of our worship to want to bring a guest".'
YOURSELF. If every church member encouraged others as much as you do, what sort of church would it be?
ZEAL. 'The blighters won't work' is a common clergy complaint! 'Or if they do', one pastor said, 'they're slap-happy, and I pick up the pieces!'. Find jobs before they find you. The ABC of church membership: Attend, Believe, Contribute. This morning I read: 'When each separate part of the body of Christ works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love' (Ephesians 4:16). If you want to be great, do humble tasks. A Chinese proverb says 'the tallest bamboo bends lowest'. Don't be an 'armchair halfback'! If you have professional, teaching, practical or business skills, use them. Too many hang up their expertise with their hat at the church-door! A pastor who can say 'When I give so-and-so a job I can forget about it' is an encouraged leader. But some pastors and church-folk are 'out every night of the week': that's not called for. One church wrote '3-4 nights at home each week' into their pastors' Ministry Description. Is your church-work an 'extra burden' on top of a busy week? Your church service is mostly a respite from your other work: the pastor (unless a 'tentmaker') doesn't have a break.
FINALLY, 'Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain' (I Corinthians 15:58). 'The servant does not deserve thanks for obeying orders... It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to, say, "We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty"' (Luke 17:9-10).