Editor's Note: Next month (October) is pastor appreciation month, so Joe's reminder of the congregation's role in a pastor's work is timely.
Fall is in the air, and for many Americans, that means football season. We who are fans only of the game have no idea what it must be like to walk out onto the field for players at the college or professional level.
Growing up, many of us played the game for fun or in school. We're used to the green expanse stretching before us and the guys on the other team facing us. But there's one thing we never saw that is a powerful element in the game played by the big boys-There are a jillion fans surrounding them.
As they exit the locker room, in their field of vision is the sliver of green that is the playing field. But filling 90 percent of their eyeballs is a stadium packed with raving, cheering, expectant fans. When the ball is thrown into the air, the backdrop is the fans. When it's kicked, the player has to pick the ball out of a mural of fans.
That's the part of the game I cannot imagine. I have little trouble imagining the running, throwing, hitting, blocking, and catching parts of the game. But what a difference it must make for a player to be the object of 75,000 fans, all screaming for him to make it or break it, to catch it or miss it. He's cheered; he's booed; he's a goat; he's a hero. I recall the time Rex Ryan, coach of the NFL's New York Jets, gave the game ball (signifying the leading role in a victory) to the fans who helped his team to a rare win over the New England Patriots. The previous week, Ryan had sent a voice mail to every season-ticket holder calling on them to "be there and be loud" at the game.
Just like Ryan knew the importance of his team's fans, pastors know the difference the congregation makes. But I suspect few ministers know better than the visiting preacher-that's what I am these days-the leading and critical role the people in the pews make in determining what happens in a church service.
Did they pray before the service-for themselves, for the minister, for the Lord's presence, for His will to be done? Are they expectant today-toward themselves, the outcome of the service, the Lord Himself? Are they totally involved in the praise, in the prayers, in the sermon, or are they passively sitting back expecting to observe, to be "ministered unto," but not to actively participate? Are they happy or upset? Glad to be here or just enduring the hour so they can get on to more important things?
Church members can make or break a pastor. The members can nitpick him to death. The leadership can ride him and harass him, reward him one moment and attack him another, and turn him into a candidate for the psych ward. Or, they can love him for Christ's sake. They can pray for him and encourage him. They can help him grow to the full extent of the Lord's design for him. So much depends on their involvement.
Here are five suggestions for turning your pastor into a "winner".
1) First and above all, pray for him. And I don't mean just a "bless the pastor" prayer, although we'll take that if that's all you can give. Pray God will protect him from critics, will give him discernment about the use of his time, and strengthen his family relationships. Ask the Father to give him quietness of soul, peace in his heart, and joy in his life. Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to him in the study and to give him solid rest when he lies down at night. Pray for his family, his wife and children. Pray for his recreation time and whatever he does to take care of his body. Pray for his mental health and his positive attitude. Pray for those times he's in his study and someone drops by with a problem, needing his counsel. Pray for his leadership with the staff.
2)Speak well of him to others. In fact, you bring the subject up. "Didn't our pastor bring a wonderful message Sunday?" "I loved his series on the parables of Matthew." "I'm so happy God sent Pastor Mike to our church." Set the standard. And challenge anyone who is determined to tear down the preacher. Even the best of ministers gets subjected to that from time to time. But you do not have to sit back and idly observe it. Speak up.
Do not retreat into a cowardly "Well, who am I to question him? After all, the critic is a church leader and I'm a nobody." Wrong. Bad wrong. If you are a born again believer and a member of that church, you have a right to insist that church leaders be supportive of the pastor unless he is seriously misguided in doctrine, wrong in ethics, or offensive in manner. Speak up.
3)Work your half-acre well. The shepherd has responsibility before God for the entire field, but as a church member, you have certain areas as your assignment. You lead a choir; you teach a class; you serve as a greeter; you work in the nursery. Do it well. Devote yourself to being the best member of the pastor's team. Be fully prepared when you arrive for your job. Pray long and hard, train your team, encourage their faithfulness, follow up on problems and deal with them promptly.
When you do your work well, it strengthens the church and that blesses your pastor. It will actually make him feel better about himself and the job he's doing in your church. Anything that blesses and encourages a pastor is a good thing. Nothing does that more than team members serving well.
4) Do something nice for his family. The tendency here is to suggest you give a little present to the pastor-a gift card to a book store or men's clothing shop. Those are nice things to do, but they are the first thing people think of. Consider the pastor's family.
What if you sent the pastor's wife a gift card to her favorite coffee shop or dress store? Or simply sent her a note of appreciation and included a 20 dollar bill? (Or a hundred!) A gift card to a toy store or a play station for the children would be nice, but send it to the wife, not to the children. For the really ambitious, maybe take it upon yourself to get up the money to send your pastor and wife to the Holy Land, or the entire family to a resort in the Ozarks or a condo on the beach.
5) On Sundays, be one of the faces that inspire the pastor. Teachers learn that just because a pupil looks bored or seems to be daydreaming does not automatically mean they're not listening. However, a person's doodling or slumped posture or the glazed-over look in their eyes can be discouraging to one trying to speak to them about important matters.
My wife will come into my study to hear something I've found on the internet or to be a sounding board for a piece I've written. Sitting at the table, often she will start straightening the pencils or arranging the lamp or tidying my papers. "Honey," I will say, "I need you to listen to this." She was listening, but she also knows I want her undivided attention. She turns toward me and I have it. It's a pastor thing. Most preachers would love to stop at several points in the sermon and say to the congregation, "Honey, stop that. I need you to listen to this." (Well, okay, he wouldn't say "honey": Beloved, maybe.)
Ask any preacher. On Sunday, during the sermon, his eyes roam the congregation in search of other eyes that are fully present and totally involved and "with him." You be one of those.
When Colt McCoy was quarterback for the University of Texas' Longhorns, he gave us a lesson about football and life. One week, he'd been battling the flu bug and was feeling below par. His team was playing Texas Tech, an important rivalry for both schools. When the teams went into the locker rooms at halftime, McCoy wolfed down several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank a can of Pedialyte, a children's hydration drink. A few minutes later, he ran onto the field with new energy. We all need nourishment.
That's what the worship service and the sermon are all about-nourishment for the Lord's team members who have paused in the middle of the game and want to finish strong. Think of the pastor as the chef. He has labored all week over this menu. You come into the locker room, aka the worship center, hungry and weak and tired. He and the worship team have a smorgasbord, a spiritual buffet, laid out before you.
This is no time to be distracted or uninvolved. Dig in. It was prepared with you in mind. Nothing will encourage him more than to see you feasting on what he serves and returning to your assignment with new energy. On Monday morning, he will re-enter his study with a new zest.
One of these days, when your preacher stands before the Lord and hears His "well done," I can tell you what's going to happen. He'll turn to you, his church members, and he'll hand you the "game ball." He could not have done it without you.
Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.
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