Before my husband Ben took this new role as president of LifeWay, we served in pastoral ministry for seventeen years, in two very different contexts, and so we know firsthand the challenges of keeping the batteries charged. According to LifeWay Research, ninety-eight percent of pastors consider it a privilege to hold the position, and yet fifty-five percent confess they often feel overwhelmed by assignment. 1 Since the local church is always running, and Sunday is always coming, it’s hard for the leader and his family to catch their breath. A positive word or unexpected act of kindness goes a long way.
I jotted down a list of meaningful ways to provide a boost. Perhaps this will spark a fresh idea for you as you strive to encourage your pastor and his family.
On the Practical Level:
Send a card in the mail with a very specific way you’re praying for them.
In the sermon last week, your pastor may have opened up about his personal life, or he was vulnerable about a challenge on the home front. Let him know you appreciate his authenticity and are committed to carrying this burden in prayer.
Take note of their favorite things.
In our first pastorate, a church member discovered my passion for cherry Dr. Pepper®. She heard my lament that local stores were not carrying the beverage, and so she drove to the nearest city and bought all the twelve-packs they had in stock, arranging them on my front porch carefully. I came home one day from running errands and saw the pyramid of cans near the front door! It made me feel like I was known and loved.
On the Family Level:
Be sensitive to the season of family life.
Our first church could not have been better in this category. As a young mom and rookie in ministry, they rallied around our family to help me succeed. The church put very little pressure on me to attend all the events and to keep up with the pace of the programming. I was encouraged to participate as I was able, and I felt like I could truly be myself.
Here are two examples:
First, there were several men on the parking lot team that would allow me to drive to the front doors of the church. With smiles on their faces, they would help unload the kids, their carriers, and all the required equipment. They would park my car for me while I got everyone checked in. This simple routine meant so much to me.
Second, there was a recently widowed woman who took notice of our busy family life. In her grief, she decided to be a light to our family. She came to our house two to three mornings a week while it was still dark, to allow Ben to leave for work early so that he could come home at a decent hour. She would help me get the kids dressed, fed, and ready for the day, and would even stick around to allow me the opportunity to run errands. To this day, my kids consider “Granny A” a part of the family and want to see her any time we are near that part of the state.
Give them some space on Sundays.
While most people consider Sunday their day of rest, this is by far the most exhausting day of the week for the pastor and his family. Receiving suggestions for improvement are part of the job, but look for a better time to share than before or after the service. As Solomon said, “A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings” (Prov. 25:11, CSB).
On the Emotional Level:
We have heard the joke for years, that “Pastors only work on Wednesdays and Sundays.” While the public portion of the job is most visible those days, the emotional weight of the job is felt all week. Eight-four percent of pastors say they’re on call twenty-four hours a day.2 Remaining emotionally healthy is the hardest part, and as I close, I offer a few tips on this all-important area:
Check your assumptions before you check out.
Over the years, we have grieved as we watched members of the flock walk out the door with faulty information. One time in a sermon, Ben told a story about a man who was neglecting his family and worshipping his work. The illustration was about a person he knew years before, but one man in the congregation assumed it was about him. He silently dropped out of the church and when Ben called him to check in, he was shocked that this man and his family had decided to leave before having healthy dialogue. As we have talked to pastors over the years, this kind of thing happens more often than you think.
Assume there’s more to the story than can be shared.
Pastoring requires regular courage and a willingness to make bold decisions that are best for the greater church. I can assure you that those tough calls cause a leader and his wife to lose sleep. When forks in the road come, the disappointed group sometimes shares a side of the story that paints the pastor in a negative light. Over the years, these moments have put the most wrinkles on my skin because we cannot share the critical information. It’s lonely at the top, they say, but never more lonely than in these moments. Every chance you can, give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and pray that the church would stay together in seasons of change.
And one more thing …
I couldn’t end without this one, because it is so simple and refreshing. Keep introducing yourself to your pastor and his wife. Please. You’d be surprised how often a person walks up and says, “Do you remember me” or “I bet you don’t remember me.” Learning and storing hundreds of names is a tall order. When you see your pastor out around town, simply say something like “Hey, Pastor Ben … Fred Smith here. We go to your church and I just wanted to say … ” It’s such a relief when someone will just kindly reintroduce themselves.
As Paul said to Timothy, “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work,” (1 Tim. 3:1, CSB). Keeping your pastor’s family encouraged in their calling is one of the keys to growing the body. I hope these thoughts spur you on to both love and good deeds.
Lynley Mandrell is the wife of Ben Mandrell, the new president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, CO, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dr. Pepper®, and silence.
- “Pastors Feel Privileged and Positive, Though Discouragement Can Come,” LifeWay Research, Nashville, TN, October 5, 2011, accessed March 9, 2020, https://lifewayresearch.com/2011/10/05/pastors-feel-privileged-and-positive-though-discouragement-can-come/.
- Lisa Cannon Green, “Despite Stresses, Few Pastors Give Up on Ministry,” LifeWay Research, September 1, 2015, accessed March 9, 2020, https://lifewayresearch.com/2015/09/01/despite-stresses-few-pastors-give-up-on-ministry/.