photo: Jason Rutel, Creative Commons

photo: Jason Rutel, Creative Commons

With Easter Sunday quickly approaching, pastors everywhere are in overdrive, making sure everything is ready and praying furiously for the first time visitors who will inevitably walk in their doors on Sunday morning.

This is such an exciting time of year.

Jesus is risen! We are so excited to celebrate one of the most exciting traditions of our faith and even more excited to invite others to discover the truth and life we’ve found. It is truly an amazing time to be a pastor.

At the same time, Easter is also a stressful time to be a pastor—can you agree? Other than maybe Christmas, there isn’t another time of year where there is more pressure to have a perfect Sunday service, to break attendance records, and to think of new and creative ways to get people in the doors.

To avoid unnecessary pressure this Easter, and just to make it through the holiday with your sanity in tact—here are five things every pastor should keep in mind.

1. It’s not your responsibility to save anyone.

I know we all know this, but it can be easy to forget, especially around special services. Jesus is in charge of souls, and you’re in charge of only what Jesus has entrusted you with. This will look different for each pastor, but in prayer and reflection, ask God to make it clear to you what is your responsibility this Easter and what isn’t.

Who should you talk to? Who do you need to pray with? How should you prepare for your message? Do you need more study or more quiet? Do you need to work more hours or fewer?

If you’re feeling pressure to make sure everyone understands the message or that every first time visitor comes back—take a deep breath.

Take to God what is God’s. Own only the task he has entrusted you with.

2. Put your best foot forward—but be yourself.

Some churches make elaborate changes to their services for Easter morning in order to impress visitors. I’ve heard of churches serving food or coffee for the first time, giving away gift cards, or hiring a performance-style band. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these things, but just remember to “be yourself” as a church.

Think of it like a first date. Of course, you want to put your best foot forward. You want to dress to impress.

But there’s no need to have plastic surgery before you go on a first date. If your date isn’t going to like you as you are, you probably don’t want to keep dating them anyway. As you prepare, keep this in mind: put your best foot forward, but be yourself.

3. The Gospel will be caught as much as taught.

Most churches focus a great deal on the presentation of the Gospel message from stage, and of course that is important. But equally as important is the way the Gospel message is lived out, from the minute guests walk in the door to the minute they walk out.

Are they greeted warmly? Is the atmosphere open and accepting? Are their kids cared for gently and kindly? Talk to your leaders and volunteers about their responsibility in preaching the Gospel message, even if they never set foot on a stage.

4. This is not their “only opportunity” to meet Jesus.

It can be easy to feel like this is the only opportunity first-time visitors have to meet Jesus, but thinking like this will distract you from your responsibility. It might be true that first-time visitors only step foot in a church once each year, but Scripture also says that all of creation speaks of its creator.

God loves your first-time visitors even more than you do.

Play your role. Let Him do the rest.

5. The rest of your church is here, too.

Don’t forget about the rest of your church body on Easter Sunday. You are still shepherding them, guiding them, discipling them. They are still entrusted to your care. Don’t allow the “hype” of Easter Sunday to derail you from the work God has called you to do with them—the long, faithful work that leads to lasting change.

Some visitors from Easter will come back, and when they do, they’ll be glad you care about them beyond just getting them in the building.

You care about who they are becoming as well.

photo: Igor Grushevskiy, Creative Commons

photo: Igor Grushevskiy, Creative Commons

It seems to me, the response to pastors is often one of two extremes. It is either:

1) hyper-critical and condemning
OR
2) full of undying praise and admiration.

I’ve thought most often about how damaging the first can be, but it occurred to me recently that praising your pastor can actually be kind of dangerous as well. An attitude of unquestioning praise for the human strength of your pastor actually sets him or her up for failure.

So how can you respond instead? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I think the key word is this: support

Instead of praising your pastor for every little thing he or she does (pastors make many mistakes) try adopting a stance of support behind the overall mission and vision of your pastor—behind the effort he or she puts forth to bring about the mission and vision of your church.

I think “supporting” your pastor, rather than “praising” him or her, will actually create a healthier leader, a healthier community, and healthier results.

Here’s what I think it looks like to give support.

1. Give them permission to make mistakes.

It is impossible to build something meaningful without making mistakes. You can’t grow a marriage that way, can’t grow a business, can’t raise children, can’t have a successful career, can’t write a book or build a house or create a life. It’s no different when it comes to leading a church. Your pastor will make mistakes.

The sooner you can know that, and choose to support them through the mistakes, the better.

When you give your pastor permission to make mistakes, you empower him or her to live out the call that’s been placed on them by God himself. And contrary to popular belief, permission to fail doesn’t minimize the sense of responsibility held by those in charge—it amplifies it.

Your pastor understands what’s at stake. He or she understands the risks, but has been called to lead fearlessly. Your support can help with that.

2. Assume positive intent.

When something happens in the community that you don’t like—assume positive intent. This is Apple’s motto. It’s how they approach all of their customers, never assuming someone is trying to cheat the system or get something they didn’t pay for, and I can’t help but think it has contributed to the company’s success.

It makes me wonder: could this approach help our churches?

When we assume positive intent from everyone on the leadership team, we prevent bitterness from building up, avoid gossip, and encourage positive feelings about those who are leading us.

This doesn’t mean you can never have a concern. It simply means assuming decisions are made from a place of care for your well-being and the well-being of the church.

3. Express opinions or concerns as that—opinions or concerns.

Don’t hesitate to express opinions or concerns, but express them as just that: opinions or concerns. If you’re going to send an e-mail, or ask for a meeting, ask yourself first if you’re going to present an opinion or a concern. The language you use will be really important.

If it’s a concern, you might say, “I saw such-and-such happen on Sunday, and it really concerned me because…”

If it’s an opinion, you might say, “I have an opinion about how such-and-such should be done. Here’s why it matters to me…”

By avoiding expressing your opinions and concerns as facts (“So-and-so needs to do this on Sunday mornings,” or “If you would only do it my way, it would work so much better”) you’ll keep your pastor’s attention open to your point of view, which actually might influence their decisions in the future.

 

Pastors, can you think of other ways people can support you?

photo: Matt Gruber, Creative Commons

photo: Matt Gruber, Creative Commons

It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another church leader admitting moral failure. On the one hand, this shouldn’t surprise us. We’re each fallen human beings, one rebellious step away from making a decision like the Prodigal Son—to do it our way instead of God’s.

At the same time, it can feel disappointing when we’ve admired someone, looked up to them, or put our trust in them and they choose to break that trust.

If you’ve never had this experience, count yourself blessed, but also know this: someone you trust will, at some point, sin in a way that hurts their witness, breaks their trust with you, and makes you question their leadership.

So how should we respond when this happens?

First, I have to say there are a few ways we should absolutely not respond. I won’t cover those here, but Rob Hoskins wrote a great post about it that I recommend you read. In this post I want to focus on positive ways to respond.

1. Faith in human leaders is misplaced faith.

We often place our trust in strong leaders, and in many ways, there’s nothing wrong with this. They’re out in front of us, leading the way, and we pay attention to what they say, as well as what they do, to help us understand how we should live.

Let me reiterate: there’s nothing wrong with this. But ultimately, our faith should be in Jesus. When we find ourselves feeling angry with a leader who falls, or bitter, or losing our faith in God altogether, we have to ask ourselves, “Was I really trusting Jesus to lead me and guide me, or was I trusting this leader?”

Earthly leaders will fail without fail. Some will fail in bigger or more public ways than others, but they will each fail. When they do, it’s a good time for us to reevaluate where we’ve truly put our faith.

Jesus will never fail, never change, never give up, and never disappoint.

2. Jesus is restorative, redemptive, and reparative.

Sometimes circumstances are so bad it feels like all is lost. In other words, it seems like this leader’s mistake has destroyed all the good, all the community, all the witness, and all the benefit his or her leadership built up. But remind yourself that God is in the business of using even our worst mistakes to his advantage.

Ask yourself how you can participate with God in bringing restoration, redemption, and reparations to this circumstance. What can you do? Where can you serve? What can you say that will bring grace and peace and truth?

How can you join God in taking what the enemy meant for evil and using it for good?

3. There’s a difference between honesty and gossip.

Of course, there will be feelings of anger, frustration, bitterness, betrayal, and disappointment. Don’t ignore these feelings or push them aside, but use discernment about where and how to process them. Finding a safe, neutral place to process these feelings will help you avoid gossip.

While you process these feelings in private, in public, focus on the positive. This doesn’t mean ignoring sin, or lying about feelings. It simply means speaking to the positive. Or, if you have nothing positive to say, choosing to say nothing at all.

This takes strong discernment to decipher the difference between “public” and “private,” to know where and what it is appropriate to share. Be in constant prayer, and community, asking God and others to demonstrate what words to use.

When in doubt, focus on what it says in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

photo: Morgan, Creative Commons

photo: Morgan, Creative Commons

I’ve worked very closely with pastors for a long time (and I’ve been one myself) so I can tell you with confidence: pastors are some of the most serving, giving, selfless and caring people I know. I know pastors can get a bad rap. They tend to get the brunt of the complaining when things don’t go the way we like at church.

But most pastors I know have committed their whole lives to helping you lead and love and grow in the areas you want to grow.

My pastor, Scott Wilson, is one of the people in this world I admire most.

And chances are, when you think about it, you are thankful for your pastor too. You might not know how to show it, though, which is why I figured I’d share a few ideas with you. You don’t have use them, but if your pastor has impacted your life as much as my pastor has mine, I think you’ll want to.

1. Be kind to his or her family.

A pastor’s family is not only the most important thing in the world to him—his greatest support system, his biggest cheerleaders—but they also tend to get the brunt of anger, judgement, criticism, and frustration they don’t deserve.

A pastor’s kids are often picked on. His spouse is often snubbed.

So if you want to make your pastor’s day, be kind to his family. Support or encourage his kids in something they are doing. Treat his wife like the friend she is. Even offer to babysit so he can take his wife on a date. When you show love and support for your pastor’s family, you are showing love to him.

2. Focus on the positive.

There will always be things in a church environment that we don’t like. The music could be better. The sermon could be better. There aren’t certain classes or programs you would like. The coffee is bad. The pews are too hard. Whatever. I’m not suggesting we ignore the negative, or pretend like it isn’t there.

What I’m suggesting is this: If you really want to make your pastor’s day, focus on the positive. 

Rather than sending an e-mail about the one thing he said in a sermon that hurt your feelings, or that threatened your perspective, send him an e-mail about the ten things he said that helped you this week. Remind yourself that the work God is doing in him isn’t finished, and that he’s on the right track (and so are you).

3. Don’t let small things go unnoticed.

Pastors do a ton of little things throughout the week that you don’t notice. The sermon you hear on Sunday mornings is the result of months of faithful prayer and Bible reading. There are meetings, phone calls, coordination, hiring, firing, difficult decisions, visits to the hospital, and a whole host of other things he won’t ever tell you about. He doesn’t need to.

But it would mean a lot if you noticed.

4. Thank him publicly.

There’s something so special about being recognized publicly, don’t you think? This is why we host award banquets and birthday parties, even for little kids. We do it for 5-year olds and 30-year olds, for the Grammys and the end of a T-ball season. There is nothing like being acknowledged in the midst of people we love.

If you feel thankful for your pastor, thank him publicly for all he does. He won’t ever ask for it, but this is one way you can make your pastor feel incredibly honored.

5. Serve him.

Pastors spend so much of their life serving that many of them forget how to be served themselves. In fact, if you asked your pastor how you could serve him, I doubt he or she would know. What if you paid close attention to your pastor—to his needs and wants—and tried to determine a way to serve him and his family?

He’s been serving you and your community for years and years. What would it look like for you to serve him?

 

photo: Tara Severns, Creative Commons

photo: Tara Severns, Creative Commons

Here’s the really dangerous thing about pastoral ministry—you’re always walking this fine line between 1) giving sacrificially of your time, talents and energy; and 2) pushing past your human limits and burning out on ministry for good. More pastors need to know what a serious reality this is.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t last in a ministry position.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

I’ve been thinking lately about the warning signs—how to know the difference between pushing yourself and pushing too hard. As I’ve reflected on my own experiences in ministry, and watched those around me, here are 6 red flags that have come to mind that might mean you should think about slowing down.

1. You’re more angry than kind or compassionate.

Anger is not a fruit of the spirit. It’s a fruit of the flesh. So if you’re finding yourself more angry at sin than you are compassionate, I would ask yourself if something is off. Are you trying too hard, in your own strength, to help people change? Remind yourself you can’t change anyone. That’s God’s job.

Don’t try to make it your own.

2. You aren’t being honest with yourself.

The more exhausted we get, the easier it is to slip into self-deception. We tell ourselves everything is okay, even when it isn’t. We try to pretend like we aren’t that tired, even though we are. We act like we still love what we’re doing, even though we don’t. We say we don’t think the world revolves around us, but we act like it does.

When was the last time you got really real with yourself?

3. Your family is suffering.

Your first ministry is to your family. So, if your family is suffering because of your second ministry, you have a problem. If your family is suffering, but you’re having a hard time admitting your family is suffering, see #2.

4. Ministry feels like a burden.

Ministry is hard. There’s rarely a time when it doesn’t feel difficult. But I’ve noticed that the times in my life when I am the healthiest, when I’m moving at a healthy pace, ministry doesn’t feel too hard. It feels like a good healthy workout. It feels like a difficult task where God often shows up.

If ministry feels like a burden to you, maybe you’re just trying to do too much.

5. You are questioning your calling.

If you are questioning your calling to ministry, it’s time to take a break. I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you are called to ministry or not, but I do know two things: First, I know the only way to follow through on your calling is to spend time in reflection and prayer and ask God for guidance.

Second, I know that without an assurance you’re called to ministry for that particular time, in that particular way, you won’t make it.

6. You don’t have time for prayer and reading.

The life of a pastor is busy, but how are you supposed to lead people if you aren’t submitting to leadership yourself? How are you supposed to offer wisdom without a source of wisdom? If you don’t have time for prayer, study, and reflection to hear from the Lord, you won’t be equipped to do ministry.

Let prayer and reading be your lifeline. Let them be what leads you into ministry, not the other way around.