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Pastoring pastors

1 March 2012 | by Richard Underwood

Pastoring pastors

Pastoring pastors is a gospel issue. God loves the church with a passion; it is the community through which He reveals His glory on earth (Eph. 3:21). The health and well-being of the local church is significantly influenced by the health and well-being of its leaders and of its pastor(s) in particular. The relationship between sheep and shepherd is a theme that is often explored in the Bible; for instance, Ezekiel 34, Matthew 9:38 and John 10. The snag is that the under-shepherds of the local church are themselves sheep – and sometimes their tails show.

Why do pastors need pastoring?

The simple answer is that they’re human. That means they are created and therefore have needs – by design. It also means that they are fallen and are constantly in need of the gospel. Even their highest motives and best efforts are tinged with the need to win approval or justify themselves.

The more complex answer is that pastors have an extraordinarily difficult job to do and the fall-out rate is too high. In some cases pastors suffer a loss of gospel unity through conflict, in others a loss of gospel integrity through moral sin, and in too many cases a loss of gospel vision through resistance and opposition. It all adds up to a serious loss of gospel confidence which damages the witness of the church and hinders the progress of the kingdom of our glorious Lord Jesus.

Most pastors I know work too hard. They know that they have to work at 100% capacity some of the time; they make the mistake of thinking they can do it all of the time. They have expectations of themselves which are sky-high and the church has expectations of them which are hopelessly unrealistic. Because many work from home and are ‘on-call’ 24/7, there are no satisfactory boundaries in place to protect home and family from the demands of church and ministry. One doesn’t have to drill too deeply to discover that many ministry homes are not the havens of peace and joy we would wish them to be.

Even when the pastor is spiritually healthy, he is often aware that some issues at church are wrong but knows that he will be severely resisted (or sacked) if he seeks to address them. Perhaps certain activities have passed their sell-by date but the pastor knows they have become too dear to those who lead them for him ever to attempt to change or stop them. He longs for the heady days of the early church when leaders were seeking change and their ‘proposal pleased the whole group’ (Acts 6:5).

Whenever I meet a tired and disappointed pastor – and I meet plenty of them – I can be fairly sure that his church rarely thinks about honouring him, submitting to him, following him or obeying him. It’s more likely that he survives on a weekly diet of resistance, criticism and poor pay. His godly dreams for the gospel were probably expunged years ago by interminable politics within the church. Mission has given way to maintenance; hope to survival. Too many pastors have their resignation letter typed and ready in their desk drawer and dream of the day when they will be filling shelves at their local supermarket.

How can pastors be pastored?

It goes without saying that pastors need to be pastored. How can this be accomplished? It’s ideal if your pastor is pastored by you – by his fellow elders and by the congregation he loves and serves. And in many cases this is exactly what happens. It’s an enormously encouraging sign when pastors testify to the way they are loved and supported by their churches. But, in my experience, the biblical norm is not seen often enough.

Sometimes, the issues that concern a pastor relate to his fellow leaders or to members of the congregation. That explains why peer-to-peer support is a vital supplement to the care he receives from the congregation. Only fellow pastors know what it feels like to be a pastor. A fellow leader with whom I worked closely and well was called into full-time ministry. After a short while, he called me to say ‘You never told me it was like this!’ He was beginning to feel the full weight of responsibility that he had never been required to carry as a ‘lay-leader’.

In short, every pastor needs a mentor who is ready to act as good friend, confidant, and accountability person. He may be a long-standing friend, a fellow student from Bible College days or an officer of the denomination or church grouping to which the pastor belongs. This individual needs to meet the pastor regularly – say every six months – and be ready to ask penetrating questions about family life, work-life balance, the pastor’s own enjoyment of the grace that is his in the Lord Jesus, the joys and sorrows of leading church right now, etc. In a right and proper sense, most people want something from the pastor; this friend needs to be ready to invest in the pastor. But let’s come back to the ideal – to the pastor being pastored by his own congregation.

How can we pastor our pastor?

Do you want your pastor to be fresh and full of spiritual vitality? There are many things that I could mention – and very important and worthy they would be – like praying for him regularly and caring for his practical needs. But let me suggest one step you might wish to consider; I’ve hinted at it already – honouring him.

Can you remember what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:17? ‘The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.’ Paul says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, ‘Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.’

In a related passage – Hebrews 13 – the leaders (it’s the same word Paul used in 1 Timothy and 1 Thessalonians) are those who spoke the word of God to us and who keep watch over our souls. The author says, ‘Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith’ (v.7). The reason he exhorts us to obey our leaders is because they keep watch over our souls by speaking the word of God to us (v.17). The authority with which they speak is the word of God. That’s why Paul says that the elders worthy of double honour are those who preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17); they have an awesome, terrible, glorious responsibility in the church for which they must give account on Judgement Day.

So, do you want a pastor who is fresh and who keeps pressing on – loving the Lord Jesus, loving the gospel, loving you and loving leading the church? Then take the author of Hebrews’ words to heart – ‘make [his] work a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you’ (Heb. 13:17).

If you never ask the question ‘how are we honouring our pastor?’ it’s likely that you’re not. There will be consequences. Maybe he’ll heading for leadership burn-out and joining the long list of casualties. Perhaps not this year or next. But the longer he ‘runs on red’, the greater the likelihood that it will happen. That’s why pastoring our pastors is a gospel issue.

Richard Underwood is the Pastoral Director for the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches).

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