How to Care for Your Pastor
Pastor Philpott wrote this book with the hope that the Body of Christ might be able to value, preserve, and encourage those who are called to its preaching and teaching ministry.
Some of the sixteen chapters are...
- The pastor is a person
- The pastor is busy, but not too busy
- The pastor is vulnerable
- The pastor may become spiritually bankrupt
- The pastor must be free to fail
- The pastor will be angry
- The pastor needs to enjoy the work and find satisfaction in it
What are the problems, pressures, and needs of those who pastor the people of God? How can the fellowship of believers encourage and minister to these key members of the church family? The aim of this book is to provide some answers for these questions.
Christians care about their ministers, elders, shepherds, priests, and pastors – whatever the title may be, for it is they who bear the burden of leadership. (For simplicity sake I will use “Pastor” as it seems to be the most common description.) These pastors are the Moses’, the Joshuas’, the Davids’, and the Timothys', it is they God has called to speak His Word, bring guidance to the faithful, comfort the bereaved and afflicted, work with the rebellious, and encourage the hopeless. What, though, can the saints do to hold up the arms of those whom God has placed over them in spiritual authority.
First, the leaders can be appreciated for who they are. Ministers are often seen as superstars, perfected saints, demagogues, dictators, deluded persons, eccentrics, “holier-than-thou” types, and stuffed shirts. Such caricatures are usually errant and never helpful. Second, the problems peculiar to church ministry can be understood in relation to the minister. It is my guess that many of the saints don’t realize the challenges their leaders experience. The real life of the pastor is often hidden, either intentionally or unintentionally, from the congregation. And third, believers can come to fuller understanding of their relationship to God’s appointed authorities in the body. The shepherd is a sheep too, but has been made a shepherd of sheep; nevertheless, he is still one of the sheep.
There will never be a perfect pastor. And there will not need to be as long as we know there cannot be. Jesus, who is himself the Head of the Body, is the only perfect one. Our Minister is perfect, wholly trustworthy and faithful, the King Who will never fall off the throne.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The Pastoral Ministry: Preaching the Gospel, Teaching the Word
“I understand you are a priest, or reverend, or pastor—I’m not sure which is the right term. I always wondered what it is people like you do.”
“Pastor is the word I use for myself, and mostly I work an hour a week, Sunday morning you know, then I take it easy the rest of the week playing golf, fishing, attending meetings—that kind of thing.”
“No, not really. What I actually do is I preach the good news of Jesus to non-Christians and teach the Bible and its doctrines to Christians. It is a full-time job, and I love it.”
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What does a pastor do? There are a number of answers. The above dialogue, though made up for this chapter, does express how many people view the pastoral ministry. And whenever I am asked to describe who I am and what I do, I tend to respond in much the way I expressed above. Preaching and teaching, this is what I do, and I need my church to support this work, for if they don’t, I will not be able to do it.
Someone might state, “The primary responsibility of a pastor is to love the congregation.” I agree. My loving of the congregation means that I want each person to be genuinely converted and to grow up into the fulness of Christ. Therefore, I preach the gospel and teach the Word. This is agape love, and it is the seeking of the highest good for each person. That great good is being in fellowship with the Maker of heaven and earth. All sentiments, feelings, and brotherly or sisterly love pale into insignificance compared to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This is chapter one; it weas not in the original version I wrote in the 1970s. I now know that the preaching and teaching of Jesus is the single most important job of a pastor that must be supported and encouraged by his church.
A Key Passage
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Acts 2:42 is a key passage because it states the priorities of the early church, that church very close in time to Pentecost and before gradual, inevitable corruption entered into the churches.
“Apostles’ teaching” is first in the list. The content of that teaching would be what Jesus both said and did—essentially what we find in the four Gospels. We also find aspects of the apostles’ teaching in the other letters and books of the New Testament, those written by Luke, Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude as they applied what they learned from and about Jesus and communicated it to the early church, both Jewish and Gentile.
Jesus told His disciples to make disciples of others, to baptize them, and to teach them all that they themselves had been commanded (see Matthew 28:19-20). The last thing Jesus told His disciples was, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). There was one last opportunity to speak face to face, and Jesus gave His disciples what was foremost on His mind: they must be his witnesses. This is top at the list, the great priority in the job description of every pastor—everything else is secondary.
Paul made clear the great importance of the Christian witness when he said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The outcome of that faith is everlasting life, but there must be a hearing of the word of Christ—thus the need for the preacher. Indeed, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. God elects, calls, and saves, but not without the agency of the preacher.
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And
how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
The pastor is a preacher and a teacher. First comes preaching and those who are converted are then taught. Preaching, then teaching—a simple model for the work of the pastor/preacher/teacher.
Preachers and teachers: God’s gifts to the Church
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul lists gifts given to the Church by Jesus Christ: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” Notice that “pastors” is joined to teachers by “and,” which is a coordinating conjunction in the Greek and leads to the idea the two are closely linked together. It may be concluded that the pastor is also a teacher.
All Christians are preachers in the sense that all Christians are to bear witness to Jesus and the gospel. However, pastors do much of the preaching. To the Corinthian church, Paul explained how very important the work of preaching is. After describing the dramatic change that takes place when a person becomes a Christian and becomes a “new creation,” Paul wrote:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
How clear the immense importance of teaching and preaching is! Pastors, above all else, need to be supported in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and in the teaching of the Apostles’ doctrine. The Scripture makes a huge point of it. Paul instructed Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
The “elders”—possibly a synonym used for pastors used by the early church—did preach and teach, and for that reason were to be accorded double honor. What “double honor” means is not perfectly clear, but to say these preachers and teachers were to be supported and encouraged in that work is not missing the mark.
Pastors need help
Why would pastors need to be encouraged in the work of preaching and teaching? Over the years, I have formed some opinions about this, being a Gospel preacher and Bible teacher myself.
One, the unconverted do not like hearing that they cannot save themselves, since they are dead in their trespasses and sins (see Ephesians 2:1). What non-Christians like to hear is that there is something they can do to make themselves acceptable to God.
Prior to my conversion I did not like hearing that I was hopelessly lost and unable to do a thing about it. I would have preferred being given something I could do like joining the church or being baptized or helping others, anything to do other than turning from sin and trusting that the blood of Jesus was powerful to cleanse me of my sin. Rebel that I was, like we all are, the story of salvation did not sit well. I took it out on the preacher, too. I thought he was a dumb hick from Arkansas and delighted in saying so to members of his congregation. He was from Arkansas, but he was a courageous, bright, and committed preacher of the Gospel. And he kept it up until I was converted. Thank you, Lord!
Criticism from those who hate the Gospel may be intimidating or taken personally by pastors. The reactions of those who are under conviction of sin can have a chilling effect. To counter this, congregations can encourage their preachers to continue with the Gospel.
Two, not all members of churches respond warmly to being taught what it means to be a committed follower of Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). How Christians struggle with this! We bring baggage of various sorts into our new life in Christ, and leaving that baggage behind can be a painful process.
Three, there is an enemy who delights in dragging people into hell with him, and he is angry with pastors who preach a clear and strong Gospel. The devil will tolerate gospel light that has a works salvation motif running through it. A doctrine of grace and good works combined is no threat to the dark side. In fact, the devil will encourage that sort of preaching. Many are attracted to the dumbing down of the biblical Gospel.
Four, those who think they are converted but are not—people in the congregation itself who may have considerable influence in the affairs of the congregation—may attempt to move the pastor into preaching that will not “offend.” This is often masked as preaching so as to attract new congregants or to ease up on existing congregants—people who obviously have heard enough evangelistic messages. However, my experience tells me that born-again Christians love to and need to hear the Gospel preached, and preached in many ways and from many texts. About three out of four of my sermons have a clear Gospel message, even when I am preaching doctrine to the choir, as it were. I think of the young C.H. Spurgeon who wandered into a Methodist chapel when the pastor could not make it due to a snowstorm, but nevertheless he heard a Gospel message and was converted. If something similar were to happen at Miller Avenue, I want the message of the Gospel to be heard. I am not always preaching for conversions, but the central story of the person and work of Jesus will appear, and prominently, in most every sermon. Nothing is so interesting as the Gospel, and we do testify that we love to hear the story of Jesus and his love.
Five, troubles in the church family, the pastor’s family, troubles with money, the local community, health problems and so on, serve to wear preachers and teachers down. Congregations may be able to help in these times. I am convinced it takes more physical energy and spiritual strength to proclaim the Word and the Gospel than any other topic. No research data exist on this, as it would be largely unmeasureable, still this is my sense of it.
Six, pastors will take public stands on moral issues such as homosexuality and political corruption and will thereby earn the disrespect of those who take offense. This has happened to me on numerous occasions. Presently, our Miller Avenue Baptist Church is sponsoring an outreach to those who struggle with homosexual temptation and want to be Christians. This effort has come to the attention of the local media, and a number of pieces have appeared in local papers attacking us; of course, much of this is aimed directly at me. Some pastors are courageous enough to stand up for truth and justice but still cannot do it alone without strength and encouragement from the congregation.
Congregations can be aware that their pastors experience these troubles and may find means to help bear some of the burden. It is often enough for people to understand the pressures that may descend on the pastor. For me, this often makes the difference, just to know others know, care, and are praying with me. In Psalm 23, David did not say that God delivered him from his dark and dangerous valley, but that God walked with him through it. I count on it that not only does God walk with me, even carries me at times, but that my brothers and sisters in Christ are with me as well.
Ideas on how to encourage preachers and teachers
A simple “thank you” goes a long way in encouraging pastors. Flattery is not called for, but a word of thanks is appreciated. Even when I have preached what I thought was a poor sermon, people have pointed out something in the message that helped them—and I was encouraged.
Attentiveness is a big boost. There are several people at Miller Avenue I watch while I preach or teach. They look me in the eye; they even lean forward during the sermon and have their Bible open with a pen in hand. Paying attention, keen to learn and grow—this may be the very best way to encourage a preacher or teacher. Asking questions on subject, if the format allows, is a definite stimulant. Questions that are well thought out, not off the top of one’s head, and questions not meant to trap or upstage a teacher but are honest, real requests for clarification will keep a teacher motivated to prepare well and understand the labor is not in vain.
Doing what you say you will do is a way to encourage church leaders. Yes, I have impulsively volunteered and not followed through; we all have done this. In the church, however, the impact of failing to keep our commitments can be significant. I would rather have someone decline a request, even taking time for consideration, than say yes and not act on his or her good intentions. A pastor’s confidence can be eroded in the face of continual disappointments.
Being on time, with bright eyes and a smile on the face—indicate a readiness to hear and absorb. A thumbs up or a pat on the back is good, too. Bringing others to hear the preaching and teaching is very uplifting.
A congregation can make sure the preacher and teacher have good study tools. Usually, this is not necessary but might be needed. An English dictionary, Bible dictionary, exhaustive concordance, interlinear Greek-English New Testament and interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament are valuable. My favorite single volume commentary on the whole Bible is the International Bible Commentary, general editor F.F. Bruce. I have several sets of commentaries and many commentaries on individual Bible books. My favorite book on preaching is by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. Lloyd-Jones’ book is so encouraging to me I attempt to read it through every year. C.H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students is both inspiring and informative.
Preachers and teachers need time to study, and this may have to be secured by the congregation. Often the morning hours before lunch are the best, and many wise congregations protect their preachers and teachers from interruptions and other appointments during this time. Perhaps the best reason why pastors are paid a salary is so they can study and prepare. Good sermons and Bible studies don’t just happen! Be patient with preachers and teachers—it takes years to develop preaching and teaching skills. I commonly tell young pastors that it will take ten years of regular preaching to reach the stage of a beginner. This may seen like an exaggeration, but I think not. It seems to me and to some who have known me forty years, that I am only now preaching my best sermons.
Ideas on how to discourage pastors (a short list)
Words are powerful; once spoken they cannot be retracted. Here is a list of questions and comments that I am not fond of hearing and that can discourage a pastor with even the stoutest of hearts:
- Why are there so few of us?
- Where is everybody?
- What are we doing wrong?
- Where is the blessing of God?
- Why are we not growing?
- That new church sure has exciting programs
- I wish we had a preacher like that new church has.
- Why did the Smiths leave the church?
- I wish we would do things differently around here.
- We get too much Bible preaching here.
- We don’t get enough Bible preaching here.
A Concluding thought
A favorite text at ordinations is 2 Timothy 4:1-5, where Paul, writing one last time to Timothy, his beloved partner in the work of ministry, speaks about the great work of a pastor. As you read it once again, see how directly it speaks to the subject of this chapter.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they
will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, to the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Pastors have faults and inadequacies. To have men who will preach the Gospel and teach the Word you must encourage and support them.
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For further thought…
- What do you want most in a pastor/teacher?
- Have you ever known a perfect pastor?
- What would giving "double honor" to a preacher/teacher look like?