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Be a Barnabas to Your Pastor
Pastors are the most occupationally frustrated professionals in North America. Yet that needn't be so. Here are some simple ways you can encourage your pastor all year long.

John Maxwell relates the following story.

"The elders who direct the affairs of the Church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching."

Although his schedule was packed during his first few weeks at Skyline Wesleyan Church near San Diego, California, he agreed to meet with Bill Klassen, a layman he did not know.

"John," Bill said, "I believe God has called me—a layman—to disciple, encourage, and pray for pastors. The reason I came here today was so that I could pray for you."

"I wept at the knowledge that God would send someone just to pray for me," Maxwell admitted. Klassen's prayers and encouragement bore much fruit during the next 14 years. The church tripled in size and Maxwell became a national leader in the church growth movement.

A similar scenario took place centuries ago. Around A.D. 47, the apostle Paul embarked on his first missionary journey with Joseph of Cyprus, nicknamed "Barnabas" or "Son of Encouragement," by his side. Why the title? Because Barnabas stood with Paul through shipwrecks, stonings and rejection.

Who encourages your pastor?

Pollster George Barna has discovered that "pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated professionals in (North) America." Yet that needn't be so. Scripture tells us to give special affirmation to our spiritual leaders. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we read, "The elders who direct the affairs of the Church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching."

You needn't risk life and limb to be a modern-day Barnabas to your pastor. Instead, there are simple ways to encourage him all year long.

Attend church. "The empty pew has an eloquent tongue," said one writer in Gospel Banner. "To the preacher, it says, 'Your sermon in not worthwhile.' The empty pew is a weight. The occupied pew is a wing."

Pray. "I am most grateful for each layperson who has ever prayed for me," says long-time pastor Terry Teykl in Your Pastor: Preyed on or Prayed for? (Bristol Books, 1994). "Only through their spiritual support has my ministry been able to endure its darkest days. When a layperson told me that he or she was praying for me, I felt sustained."

Volunteer. Tracey had just begun attending a new church and decided to call on the minister. "Put me to work," she said. "What do you need done around here?" The pastor's jaw dropped.

His reaction was understandable. Only about one-third of all members donate their time and talents to their church home. In a Gallup poll, pastors cite this apparent lack of commitment as one of their biggest frustrations in the ministry.

Share your spiritual growth. Perhaps a particular sermon convicted you. Or your pastor pointed out some Scripture passages during a time of crisis that became a lifeline. Tell your pastor how his ministry has impacted your walk with God. Better yet, write him a letter so he can re-read it.

Invite a friend to church. Most people are intimidated if a clergyman invites them to worship," my pastor says. "They are more likely to come if invited by a friend." A leader is buoyed when he sees his congregation reach out and grow.

Criticize privately. Don't spout your criticisms to others in the church. Take your concerns to your pastor directly. He'll appreciate your honesty and the opportunity to share perspectives.

Befriend his family. According to a Fuller Institute survey, 80 percent of pastors feel their occupation has a negative effect on their families. Pastors' wives and children often feel isolated and pressured by high expectations.

Small gestures can ease this burden. Invite the family for a meal. Offer to baby sit his preschoolers. Pastors and their families need friends too.

Remember him on special days. Pastors celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas and Easter. These are wonderful opportunities to acknowledge your spiritual leader with a card, note or gift.

Mobilize your congregation to express its gratitude during October, Clergy Appreciation Month. Consult a copy of the Clergy Appreciation Month Planning Guide from Focus on the Family for suggestions. After a special celebration, an Illinois pastor said, "I have never heard of a church going to such extremes to show gratitude … I'm ready to go for a long long time."

Be an advocate. "One of the saddest times in my career was when a beloved parishioner turned his back on me," a 30-year ministry veteran said. "Yet I can remember the affirmation I felt from one member who stood by me when others sought my demise." You needn't agree with your pastor on everything. Yet as your spiritual leader, he deserves your steadfast encouragement, especially during difficult times (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Say "thank you." A pastor is not just a preacher. He is an administrator, teacher, fundraiser, janitor, counsellor, arbitrator, leader and visionary. He works in a high-expectation environment where his performance is constantly scrutinized and rarely applauded. It costs nothing to say, "Thank you for everything you are doing for our church. I can see the Lord working through you." But those words are priceless to your pastor.

Kathy Widenhouse is a freelance writer based in South Carolina. She is the author of dozens of articles and three books. Subscribe to her complimentary newsletter, Word Wise:

Originally published in the Evangelical Baptist, January/February 2005.




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