An isolated individual can finish well in ministry. Countless Old Testament prophets and New Testament missionaries served the Lord faithfully in spite of difficulties, divisions, and disappointments. And many pastors and ministers across our world are serving faithfully and will finish well in spite of a lack of resources, retirement accounts, denominational structures, or community support. But generally, leaders who finish well have help.
Ultimately, as I wrote two weeks ago about finishing well, pastors and ministers are responsible for following Jesus and leading themselves in a way that will help their ministries to last. If I finish well, it will be because Jesus is holding on to me and to my ministry, and because I follow him faithfully. In this regard, finishing well is the responsibility of those who are called to ministry. But this reality does not let churches and church leaders off the hook.
Too often, division in churches and ministries drives pastors away. Too often, churches and pastors have different visions which causes pastors to leave the church and maybe even ministry. But when pastors finish well, it is often because a church, ministry team, or accountability group served as a much-needed support system for the minister. If you are a pastor reading this, go back and read part one. If you are a church member or leader in your church reading this, then I would ask you to commit to the following practices that will encourage your pastor and ministers to finish well.
Pray for your leaders consistently. The most important thing a church member can do is to pray for his/her pastor and ministerial staff. Paul asked for prayer from the Ephesian church in 6:19. Paul’s request was not isolated. If a pastor or ministry is fulfilling God’s calling, it will be because God is blessing. If God is blessing, someone or many someones are praying. A few years back, I developed a prayer team for my sermon writing and preparation. I send a weekly email update with things for this team to pray about. And recently we added back a time of gathered prayer. I cannot tell you the encouragement and spiritual support I sense regularly from the prayers of those in our church. If you don’t know what to pray for your pastor or ministerial staff, ask them specifically. But above all, pray for them.
Follow your leaders willingly. There is an expectation that elders, pastors, and ministers should lead their congregations to fulfill the disciple-making mission of God in the world. At Wilkesboro Baptist, we’ve defined our mission this way: leading our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. We do so by worshiping, learning, serving, and replicating. When we are pursuing our mission, the church should be following pastoral leadership. It warms my heart and motivates my ministry when church members embrace our mission and lead others to follow Jesus. It strengthens pastors when church members follow their leadership. Paul commends just such a strategy for churches in his letter to the Thessalonians.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Question your leaders humbly. Pastors and ministers are not perfect. We are flawed and sinful. We are not always right. And while the church should follow pastoral leadership generally and especially with regard to our biblical mission and mandates, there are times when pastors should be questioned and/or challenged. Humility as Peter commended for the church in 1 Peter 5 demands that pastors and church members listen humbly to one another. Humble pastors should be able to handle and receive questions and even constructive criticism. Pastors and ministers also need accountability. Our pastoral staff provides a measure of accountability to one another as does my discipleship group and accountability partner. In churches with a plurality of elders, the elder body serves to keep one another accountable. In many baptist churches, deacons serve in a similar function. When this is a healthy dynamic, deacons support, encourage, and provide accountability pastors. Unfortunately in some cases, deacon boards operate outside their Biblical job descriptions and have run pastors off from their churches out of a sense of control. Whatever church governance structure is in place, humility and love should guide the interactions. Humble leaders can receive humble questions and critiques. But what if you’ve questioned humbly and your minister/pastor does not receive it well? Maybe, I’ll write on that in another post, but I would definitely advise going back to practice #1. Pray for your leaders. If it is a severe disagreement, then consider seeking counsel about what your next step should be.
Refuse to tolerate division in your church intentionally. In our next steps class at Wilkesboro Baptist, we discuss healthy habits of church members. One of those habits that we encourage is to protect the unity of the church consistently. Division in churches is much too common. Financial decisions, theological disagreements, resetting ministry programming, thoughtless comments, immoral or unethical behavior, and staff conflicts (among many other items) can create division in churches. Sometimes these divisions serve as necessary correctives for disciplinary purposes (see 1 Corinthians). But many times, divisions occur for minor or tertiary issues. In most cases, you can support your church and pastor by refusing to tolerate division. Don’t give your ear to gossips. Forgive minor offenses. Love others. If the division is because of an important issue (theology or morality) or is not going away, then seek out your church leaders to pursue reconciliation, unity, and love. Paul commended church unity throughout Ephesians 4, but especially in verses 31-32.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:31-32
Encourage your leaders regularly. I have a large file of thank you notes and cards sent to me over the years. There are some special folks in my church who regularly send me a thank you note or stop by to commend something going on in the church. They’ll likely never know how much those comments and compliments have meant to me. Believe me, if you have a pastor that cares about you and the mission of God, then the past 18 months have been trying and difficult. Look for ways to encourage your church leaders. Our church recently went above and beyond to encourage our ministry staff. It has meant a great deal. Leaders that regularly feel encouraged by their churches are less prone to discouragement and walking away from the ministry.
Provide for your leaders faithfully. I hesitated to add this, but believe it is important. Godly church leaders (pastors and ministers) don’t serve for the money (see 1 Peter 5:2). Pastors aren’t paid to minister, they are paid so they can minister. While it seems like most ministers serve only a couple of days a week, ministers do much more than what is visible on the weekends. Our ministerial staff regularly contact the leaders and participants in their ministries, check on and pray with church members, recruit and train leaders, prepare lessons, sermons, and church communications, work extra hours, address technological issues outside of office time, actively pursue the mission of leading others to follow Jesus (and I could keep going). My point is that for ministers and pastors to be able to serve the church and the community and the world with the gospel, providing income is appropriate (see Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18). We are blessed at Wilkesboro Baptist to have a church who does this. But I’ve been around some churches where this was not the case, and it is discouraging when a church fails to provide for their pastor. Just a couple of years ago, a friend of mine left a church he had battled with and battled for because they couldn’t/wouldn’t pay him sufficiently to support his family. Sure, we could argue that God will take care of him. And God has. But the mindset of a church should not be “Let God take care of him, we’re not going to.” That mindset is what drives pastors out of ministry, what keeps them in ministry.
These aren’t foolproof practices. For leaders to finish well, they must be seek God and walk with integrity. But leaders who finish well also have help. If you are a church member at Wilkesboro Baptist, I want to thank you for practicing these things. You are a tremendous encouragement to me! If you are a church member somewhere else, I hope this post motivates you to encourage your pastors and church leaders.