Brian Thorstad: How to Keep a Good Pastor, Pt 1

Last week I wrote about seven reasons why pastors are leaving their ministries:

  1. The pastoral “call” isn’t what it used to be.
  2. The home church isn’t what it used to be.
  3. Pastors are rethinking the pastor paradigm [the full-time superhero trying to excel at every task that God assigned to elders].
  4. A hard-to-live-with performance value has replaced the old loyalty ethic.
  5. Pastor’s wives have changed.
  6. Respect for pastors isn’t what it used to be.
  7. Ministry is increasingly difficult in a sin-dominated society.

I promised that I would return this week with good news: how churches can hang onto the pastors whose ministries they are being blessed by. Without addressing each factor mentioned above – some of which are cultural factors beyond our control – here are some things you can do as a church member to keep a good pastor:

(1) Pray for him, seriously and often. Look at the Apostle Paul’s prayer requests in Ephesians 6:19,20 and Colossians 4:2-4. He asks for: “words” from God, courage, opportunities to proclaim the gospel and the ability to communicate clearly. I still love the old terms “utterance” (God making our words flow smoothly and clearly) and “unction” (the power of the Holy Spirit upon the preacher’s words).  Tell your pastor exactly what you’re asking for him.

(2) Pay him a salary which is commensurate with his gifts, training, experience, wisdom, responsibilities and work ethic. Please read that sentence again. In my Parable of the Headhunter, I playfully envisioned a pastoral search committee calling a corporate headhunter and describing to him the qualities and skills they were looking for in their new leader – without revealing that it was a pastor they were searching for.  After hearing a long list of virtues and gifts, the headhunter laughs scornfully at the committee, eventually explaining that if they ever were to find all the talents and competencies they were looking for in one “package,” they would have to pay him a fortune.

I’m not suggesting that you pay your pastor a fortune, but I am saying that you should dig down deep into what the Apostle said in I Timothy 5:17,18 about compensating the vocational elder who works hard at preaching and teaching. Of course pastors should be otherworldly (as should non-vocational church leaders), but we help them feel valued and wanted, we assist them in taking the vacations that they need, and we help protect them from resentment, by paying them reasonably well. Many a pastor parks his rusty minivan in the church parking lot for the Tuesday night board meeting, next to a whole row of shiny, new cars.  Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

(3) Encourage him to be courageous as he faces his daily, spiritual battle. Every Christian is in a spiritual war every day (Ephesians 6:10ff). But church leaders, by whatever title, draw the special attention of the Devil and his minions. And why wouldn’t they?  The church is God’s frontline weapon in His war of the worlds with the Evil One (Matthew 16:18).  Local churches are the platoons that get the job done – or not – in the nitty gritty daily grind of this conflict.

If your church has one identified leader (the pastor), it stands to reason that the Devil will want to “pick him off,” like the naval snipers who sat high up in the rigging of their vessels so they could eliminate the officers from the decks of enemy ships. It’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul’s letters to younger church leaders (I and II Timothy and Titus) sound like pep talks given to first lieutenants on the front lines.

Your pastor needs courage and you can encourage (put courage into) him.  What you don’t want to say is, “Pastor Jones, you need to be courageous in your daily spiritual battle.”  That would not bless his blesser.  What you can say, however, are statements such as:

  • “Pastor Bill, I’m so proud of you for standing up to the church bully!  Good for you.”
  • “Pastor Bob, I think you handled that difficult topic Sunday with courage and grace and truth.”
  • “Pastor Dave, I want you to know that I’ll always talk to you directly about anything I’m concerned about and I’ll never, ever, gossip about you.”
  • “Pastor Steve, I’m sure it was hard for you to lead the elders through that church discipline situation, but I’m so glad you did.”
  • “Pastor Jed, I am so inspired by the passion with which you proclaim the grace of God!”
  • “Pastor Sid, I’m so encouraged by the way God is using you to share the gospel with your Rotary Club friends that I’ve decided to join the Lions Club.”
  • “Pastor Tony, after taking a good look at your minivan, I encouraged the board to increase your salary.”

Do you have a pastor who loves God, the gospel and the people in his flock?  If so:

 Are you praying for him regularly?
 Is your church paying him a reasonable – or better yet, an encouraging – salary?
Are you encouraging him in his daily, spiritual battle?
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