The Congregation… (and the Pastor)

It is often said proverbially, “Like the preacher, so the church,” and consequently, high expectations are placed on the preacher. But unfortunately it is forgotten that the preacher is also dependent on the church and needs its support, its prayers. Therefore, it is good to think about how, as parishioners, we can be of help and encouragement to the pastor.

The subject concerning the relationship of a congregation with its pastor is very timely. Usually when this topic is mentioned, the focus is on the pastor. The prerequisites, qualifications, character, and duties of a pastor are outlined. This is important and no doubt biblical. Yet if the discussion ends there, it is one-sided. To be a successful congregation upon whom the blessing of God rests, both the pastor and parishioners must work together. Both play a vital role. 

In this edition, you will also find articles concerning the role of the pastor. However, I have been asked to focus on the role of the congregation in supporting its pastor. I have been on both sides of the fence, so to speak. I have spent time both as a pastor and as a member of several congregations. As a child, youth, and young adult, I was part of three different congregations (Herford, Edmonton, and Winnipeg). As a child, it was a passive role. Later on, I was involved in a more active way, and in 1980, the Lord called me and my wife into the ministry. Over the years, I have served in five different congregations. We have learned a lot over time. We, together with the brothers and sisters in our congregations, were able to mature spiritually. 

Perhaps you want to know how you, as a member of a congregation, can support and encourage your pastor. I want to mention a number of points which demonstrate how I, in my role as pastor, have been helped and encouraged. Perhaps that will be helpful to you. 

A pastor is expected to be a man (or woman) of prayer. He prays on his knees, he prays while travelling, he prays while making visits, and also in many other situations. It is appreciated when the pastor calls or comes by before an operation and says: “I am praying for you.” He prays for the families, the marriages, the children, the youth, the seniors, the sick, the jobless, those needing encouragement, and so on. How encouraging and uplifting it is for the pastor to hear the same words from the parishioners: “Pastor, I am praying for you!” How good it is when people pray for him openly as well. Pray for your pastor! 

A pastor is acutely aware of his responsibility before God. I know he serves the congregation and works together with the Trustee board, and his needs are looked after by the congregation – but still he is foremost in the service of the Lord. For his decisions, his duty, and his service, he is responsible to God. He gets his mandate and his assignments from above, some of which may surprise him, but they are always binding. Therefore, he will make some decisions which not everybody will necessarily understand or agree with. And he certainly cannot please everyone. His role as pastor, standing between God and his listeners, is often a lonely role. I was always encouraged by the respect and confirmation given to me by my congregation. Respect your pastor. 

It is love that is supposed to motivate a pastor. It is love that seeks the best for each individual and yet, at the same time, keeps the well-being of the whole congregation in mind. Since people differ greatly, this is no easy task. Love motivates the pastor to point out different areas of concern in his sermons or to carefully mention certain things in private conversation. This may not always be interpreted as love, yet it is the concern for the well-being of the soul that is the reason behind it all. If this love is acknowledged and accepted, both congregation and pastor will benefit. Love your pastor. 

Can a pastor be mistaken? I wish I could say that I always get things right. Unfortunately, I cannot make that claim. I spoke too soon, did not say it in the right tone of voice, judged incorrectly, waited too long to intervene, overlooked somebody, misunderstood the situation, did not visit the person in the hospital soon enough, and the list goes on. We are human, and these things are not done intentionally. What a great thing it is when one realizes that the people in the congregation “think no evil,” but still treat their pastor with respect and love. Holding grudges and being unforgiving is very detrimental to the individual who harbors the bitterness. It may be our right to tell others how we have been wronged, but it only makes people unhappy, and it can end up having a negative effect on the whole congregation. Forgive your pastor. 

Wherever a group of people live in proximity to another, rules and conventions are a matter of fact. When our children were little, we made certain things clear to them so that they knew how to act and knew what was expected of them. Sometimes it may be only about minor things, but not everybody can just do whatever they please. The same is true for a congregation. A certain order must exist. Church starts on time, there are people who sit in certain pews, and we are respectful in the house of the Lord. Because we tend to forget, it may be advantageous to be reminded from time to time. There are usually more people sitting in the back pews than at the front. It is more difficult to preach in a building where there are a lot of empty spaces at the front. During one service, I asked the congregation if each one of them would please move one row further up for the next Sunday. When the next Sunday came, everyone sat accordingly. How encouraging! Submit to your pastor.

Wherever humans live together, communication is vital. Communication is an art that must be learned; it is not something to be taken for granted. Through open and honest interaction, it is possible to assess difficulties correctly and clear them up. It is extremely easy for misunderstandings to appear. Something is misunderstood, one supposes that there is more to it, ulterior motives are imagined, and soon the situation is beyond control. It is easier to share one’s thoughts with others than to go to the source. It may be simple to write an anonymous note or letter, but such actions help no one, and are cowardly. This only raises suspicion, assumptions, and mistrust. If you have something to say, have the courage to stand behind your words. Speak to your pastor.

Most people I have gotten to know over the years like to be encouraged. Some are hungry for encouragement. People love to hear uplifting sermons. Whether you encourage someone verbally through a phone call, by writing an e-mail, or just by shaking their hand in a loving manner, it is appreciated. People expect their pastor to encourage them. Yet in the congregation, there are also others who encourage. And that includes encouraging their pastor. I was often encouraged; sometimes it was through a note in my mailbox, through an invitation, by getting flowers or baked goods, or by someone saying: “We are praying for you!” When somebody says: “Thank you for that sermon; it was a blessing,” such words are encouraging. Don’t think that it will go to your pastor’s head; there are enough things that will ensure that he remains humble. Encourage your pastor.

A pastor’s day is often filled with much to do. There is more to a pastor’s job than just to prepare for sermons. Visitations, funerals, weddings, letters, e-mails, answering questions, comforting, spiritual counseling, and making sure things run smoothly in the congregation and during worship services are all part of the job description. Most pastors also have a family, a spouse, and children who need time. Yes, there should even be time to play with the children. It is also nice to have an uninterrupted meal with the family. Before you pick up the telephone to give your pastor a call, think about what time it is. Can the phone call wait until after supper? Or if you want to speak to him about a church problem that needs to be solved, should you really be calling at a time when the pastor should perhaps be getting some much-needed sleep? Sure, your pastor is there to help. Your pastor loves to help, but let us not burden him or her needlessly. Be considerate of your pastor.

 As congregations, we wish to help our pastors. We wish to encourage them and support them. The advice given above is not exhaustive. Much more could be added to it. Love is creative. Perhaps you can give some more thought to how, as a member of your congregation, you can make you pastor’s job easier and how you can help, encourage, and support him. Let your thoughts be put into action so that in the end, the whole congregation will benefit. 

Harry Semenjuk

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