Supporting the Pastor: How Churches Can Truly Appreciate Clergy
Ironically, not all pastors are fans of Pastor Appreciation Month, Clergy Appreciation Sunday or whatever title their churches use each October. They’d prefer that the effort to support pastors be ongoing, even automatic.
That’s because clergy appreciation goes beyond the occasional “thank you.” It involves making tangible efforts to meet a range of needs for church leaders. Pastoral care includes spiritual nourishment and soul care, personal and family support, mentoring and friendships, privacy and respect, financial compensation, educational and sabbatical opportunities, and more.
Whether your church has a youth minister, a veteran senior pastor or an entire team of ministry leaders, make support and encouragement priorities.
Read on for insights and tips about how to support pastors in a variety of ways. Then share these ideas with the congregation and church leadership so they can build up the pastoral ministry staff.
Why Support for Pastors Is So Vital
Ministering the gospel and providing spiritual care to church members is both a job and a calling. The busy role offers unique opportunities and challenges. For example, pastors are expected to be available 24/7 and they must deal with crises, conflicts and other weighty issues — often confidentially.
People called to the pastorate are respected and revered members of the church and community. As a result, they might have difficulty forming strong friendships, especially within the church they serve. Plus, people have consistently high expectations of pastors — and of the pastor’s spouse and children too. That leads to lots of pressure.
Recent research from Barna indicates that supporting pastors and other ministry leaders is especially crucial right now. In a recent survey, 65% of pastors reported feeling lonely and isolated. That’s up from 42% in 2015. At the same time, only 49% of pastors said they feel personal support frequently. That’s down from almost 70% in 2015. Plus, pastoral burnout and resignations have been on the rise since the pandemic.
For all these reasons, a church can’t overlook the need to provide pastoral support. Here are four key areas to focus on with a pastor support ministry:
1. Spiritual Growth and Soul Care
As shepherds, pastors nurture people’s faith and equip them for evangelism and outreach. But what about the ministers themselves? Because they’re on the clock every Sunday, pastors must find Sabbath rest and unplug another time. Daily prayer, personal devotions and Bible study can’t take a backseat to sermon preparation and other responsibilities. Make sure the pastor’s daily and weekly schedule allows time for spiritual renewal.
Supporting pastors also involves regular prayer for them, their ministries and their families. Spiritual retreats and occasional sabbaticals also offer opportunities for faith growth, reflection and rest.
And don’t overlook the importance of having a pastor meet with a spiritual director. After all, a pastor can’t inspire others and be an effective missionary if his or her own faith tank is empty.
2. Personal and Family Support
Kind words and notes of encouragement go a long way toward supporting pastors. But so do actions such as respecting pastors, honoring their decisions and safeguarding their privacy. Starting with the pastoral call process, define expectations and set boundaries — and make sure church members are aware of them. For example, pinpoint what counts as an emergency and when a pastor should be contacted at night, during a day off or while on vacation.
Supporting the pastor also means being open to new ideas and approaches, giving them the benefit of the doubt and avoiding gossip. It means providing plenty of volunteers and lay leaders so the pastor doesn’t need to lead every church effort, committee or Bible study.
Encourage pastors to make good use of their vacation time, sick days and insurance benefits. Permit the minister time for self-care and exercise, and promote healthy food options at church potlucks and functions.
Also be aware of any unnecessary demands the congregation places on pastors and, if applicable, on their spouses or children. If pastors are single, honor that decision rather than hinting that they should be married (or setting them up on dates).
3. Mentoring and Education
Provide opportunities for pastors to receive coaching, counseling and career guidance. Mentoring isn’t just for a young pastor; church workers of all ages can benefit from a support team of trusted advisors. Mentors can guide a preacher on everything from biblical principles to interpersonal skills.
Having a support network in place is especially helpful when someone is starting a new role, launching a new ministry program, working on church planting or facing a life challenge. Pastors can pay it forward later by serving as a mentor to church staff elsewhere.
Allow pastors time to visit other congregations, whether to explore different worship styles or to meet fellow church workers. Also allow time (on the clock) for civic meetings, community partnerships, denominational conferences and volunteer work. Encourage the pastor to seek and maintain friendships beyond the church walls and to pursue hobbies or personal interests.
If possible, find an outside-the-church Bible study for the pastor to participate in. Investigate continuing education and growth opportunities so the pastor can be refreshed and stay up-to-date on best practices. Pastoral leadership isn’t static; servants of Jesus Christ must stay current and know what’s happening in the culture and world around them.
4. Financial Compensation
Paying church leaders as well as possible — and promptly — is a key aspect of how to support the pastor. Offer generous benefits, including a retirement plan, that makes the position appealing for people at all stages of life. Be sure to budget for substitute preachers so pastors don’t have to pay for backup out of their own pockets.
Realize that many newer pastors may be dealing with student loans from college or seminary. When congregants seek ideas about how to appreciate a pastor, suggest that a monetary gift toward paying down that debt would be especially appreciated.
Supporting pastors financially sends the message that church workers are valued and esteemed. It also can ensure that a pastor sticks around for the long-term, rather than seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
Practical Ideas for Pastoral Care
Use these suggestions to begin expressing appreciation for pastors in your church:
- Remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries and ministry milestones.
- Provide gift cards or event tickets so a pastor and spouse (or family) can enjoy an outing.
- Offer childcare for a few hours.
- Sing your pastor’s praises to other people, both inside and outside the church.
- Discover your pastor’s personality, spiritual gifts, learning style and love language — and then act accordingly.
- Don’t compare your current pastor to any previous ministry leaders (or to pastors at other churches).
- Update technology regularly so pastors can communicate effectively and efficiently.
- Offer to wash the pastor’s car or mow the pastor’s lawn.
- Provide move-in assistance and meals when a new pastor arrives.
- Pay for a pastor’s gym membership if they express interest in one and it isn’t a covered benefit.
- Get behind a pastor’s new ideas, even if you question whether they can be implemented successfully.
- Form a prayer group dedicated to praying for the pastor and church.
- Invite a pastor to lunch just to catch up, rather than to address a concern.
- Send a thank-you note or card to a pastor … in a non-October month!
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