Suggested Scripture(s): Philippians 1:3-5; Exodus 17:8-13
In the fall of 1995, there was an article in Sports Illustrated that took an in-depth look at a typical week of game preparation for an NFL quarterback. The writers followed Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers around for a week. In addition to the healing from hurts resulting from the previous week’s game and injuries from past seasons, a quarterback has to learn as many as 117 different plays that coaches might choose for a team’s offensive game plan the following Sunday.
The writer of the article admonished football fans to refrain from being so critical of your favorite team’s quarterback unless you have a full and personal understanding of what it actually takes to do the job. This can also be the case for politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and many other professionals. It is also the case for ministers.
Now most ministers I know do not or have not played football. But from numerous conversations and stories I’ve had with ministers of many different faiths, having to remember the details of 117 different things in the course of a typical week is frequently not an exaggeration. In spite of the documented reality that a pastor can only give pastoral attention and care to 50 people at any given time, ministers are expected to know every detail about every pastoral need whether or not they’ve been told.
Ministers are expected to be at least three places at once – the office, out making calls, and handling emergencies — do the job of three persons but for the pay of one, and then find a way on Sunday to preach at least one, and for many pastors two or three, inspiring sermons.
Yet, as a former fulltime pastor myself, I agree with many of my colleagues that much of what I’ve described is just part of the territory, and most ministers I know cannot see themselves doing anything else. But it is also frustrating to counsel and listen to many friends in the ministry who feel they are the ones expected to live holy lives on behalf of their congregations and still be experts on family life even when they are still expected to put their families last for numerous congregational needs.
This week included another Valentine’s Day. I have some suggestions how church members can give their ministers some on-going valentines throughout the year:
- An understanding that your ministers are not perfect and never will be; they will never be able to remember everything or accomplish everything according to church members’ schedules, personal needs or expectations.
- Offer to give assistance with the pastoral care of your congregation, regardless of size or staff. Never assume that someone else has told your minister about a pressing need; and don’t assume that the pastor or “someone else” will be able to assist right away. There might be a funeral or other emergency awaiting that is just as imperative.
- Be tactful about teasing ministers about their work schedules – “only one day a week” – or about office hours that are rarely the same. Many pastors I know laugh about this out loud, but privately, do not think this is funny every time.
- Each pastor’s gifts and abilities are different. God calls pastors with particular gifts to churches for a reason, so be flexible and offer help when there are needs in your church from administration to pastoral care that he or she sometimes cannot fill alone.
- Volunteer to help out and be willing to be used in Christ’s service. A Christian’s calling to ministry and service occurs when baptized or confirmed and a public profession of faith is made. Judging pastors while saying, “I’ve already done my time,” is unfair.
- Remember that your minister’s calling is still from God and that is who he or she finally has to give an account. Some expectations churches have for their ministers may not have anything to do with Kingdom-building, proclaiming the Gospel, or living out what God has called them to do.
- Remember also that ministers cry too; and more often than we might think. And frequently there is no one that pastors, their spouses or children have who will listen and be loving and supportive and keep confidentiality. The book, “They Cry, Too,” written by Lucille Lavender, and endorsed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and the late Norman Vincent Peale, is probably out of print, but if copies can be located, it is excellent reading for anyone desiring to help their pastor with doing ministry as well as attending to his or her particular needs.
- Pray daily for your minister and all pastors and let your minister know that you are doing so.
- Ministers cannot do ministry alone. Like Moses, there are times when he or she needs to have his or her arms and soul held up in times of stress or lots of activity or pastoral needs within a congregation – see Exodus 17:8-13.
- Give thanks frequently in prayer for your minister(s) and other church staff.
There are many other year-round valentines to give your pastor, but these listed above are always a great start!