How to Treat a Pastor
“How would you like to be called?” a brother asked me recently. I was a little surprised by his question since I had only met him less than a minute before and that was almost the first question he asked me.
At second thought, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. You see, some ministers prefer to be called by their first names, some by their last names preceded by “Pastor”, “Reverend”, or “Doctor”, while others prefer simply “Rev.” or “Reverend” and still others by some other combination. The way they prefer to be called reflects the way they want to be treated: as a friend or as a professional, as an equal or as a superior, as one among others or as one apart from others. By his question, that brother wanted to know how he should relate to me. And that should not be surprising.
Ministers also differ in many other ways. Some put their hands on your shoulders, some don’t even shake your hand after church; some do visitation, some don’t; some sing in the choir, some would not allow the formation of a choir; some marry only Christian couples, some marry mixed couples as well as non-Christian couples; some have eight or more years of theological training, some are self-taught; some write out their prayers, some despise such practice; some preach in their clerical gowns, some would not want to be seen in one.
Is it any wonder, then, why many people don’t know how to relate to ministers? Most feel uneasy. And not a few are downright afraid.
In this article, there are eight things under four headings I would like to share with you which might help you to relate better with ministers in general and your own in particular. These are:
- Two things you should respect: his calling and his family.
- Two things you should appreciate: his personality and his gifts.
- Two things you should understand: his needs and his ministry.
- Two things you should protect: his time and his reputation.
TWO THINGS YOU SHOULD RESPECT: HIS CALLING AND HIS FAMILY
His Calling: It is safe to say that most ministers of the evangelical faith go into the ministry because they feel God has called them. The great majority of these take his calling very seriously.
The calling from God is the single most important factor that sets a minister apart from the rest of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. A minister knows that his unique position to preach and teach does not come because of his theological training and experience but from his calling. He is not more intelligent, able, gifted, faithful, trustworthy… He is set apart simply because of his calling.
His calling is not of his own choosing. He did not call the shots. God initiated the calling. God knocked at his heart and he responded, usually after agonizing struggle.
His response to God’s call changed the course of his life. Who he is and what he does today are direct results of his “yes” to God.
If you doubt his calling, you doubt his being and his doing. The Bible is very clear as to how we should treat our ministers and spiritual elders: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” (I Thes. 5:12-13, NIV)
His Family: Ministers do not pick their mates casually, particularly those who are sure of their callings before their marriages. Quite a few have had to break up with their sweethearts after dedicating their lives for full-time Christian service. Most believe their wives to be God-sent and God-arranged, and probably all believe their children are gifts from God: worthy of their love and full attention.
The physical appearance of a minister’s wife, her educational background, her career, her choice of furniture and dresses and how she disciplines her children should not be anyone’s business but her own and that of her husband. You respect her by not gossiping about any of the above-mentioned items plus a whole host of others which should only be discussed between her and her husband.
In the similar way, the pastor’s kids should be given room and freedom to grow into the persons God wants them to be. They should not be forced into any preconceived or pre-set molds and patterns.
If the children turn out to be like Timothy, who was well grounded in the Word and love the Lord (II Tim. 1:5), let’s praise the Lord for them. But unfortunately, if they should be like the two sons of Eli (I Sam. 2:12-17, 22) or the two sons of Samuel (I Sam. 8:1-3), let us not discredit the ministry of their father. Let us not forget that even David, the man after God’s own heart, had children who were guilty of rape, incest and murder, not to mention quite a few other “lesser” sins.
Let your pastor worry about the spiritual well-being of his wife and children and make sure you focus your attention on your own household. You respect him and his family by leaving his responsibility in his own competent hands.
TWO THINGS YOU SHOULD APPRECIATE: HIS PERSONALITY AND HIS GIFTS.
His Personality: Whether a person’s personality is shaped by his genes, his environment or his reaction to his environment is academic. Whether a person’s personality can be changed and by how much is also academic. What is certain is most ministers fall somewhere between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
If your pastor is aggressive, don’t insist he remember where every single paper clip is; and if he is cautious, don’t expect him to initiate a million-dollar building campaign his second year in the church. Most ministers are optimistic, but there are some whose thinking is colored gray. Most like winners, but there are some who champion for the interests of the “widows” and the “orphans”. Both kinds are necessary. We need ministers who set things on fire, but we also need those who come along with fire extinguishers.
No matter what the size, shape and color of your pastor’s personality, appreciate it because it is the only one he has. Any altering of it should be left in God’s hands.
His Gifts: Like any other Christian, a pastor’s spiritual gifts are given to him by God for the edification of the saints. What he has was given to him. He does not have any more to say about his gifts than he has about his height or the color of his eyebrows.
Appreciate his gifts because they are from God. Don’t worry about the gifts he does not have. He cannot possibly have every gift, and even if he had, he would not have the time to exercise them all. What he lacks, God will supplement with gifts from other Christians (I Cor. 12, Rom. 12 and Eph. 4).
TWO THINGS YOU SHOULD UNDERSTAND: HIS NEEDS AND HIS MINISTRY.
His Needs: The most obvious needs are physical and financial: housing and transportation, food and clothing, and medical and dental care. The psychological, emotional, social and spiritual needs of your pastor and his family may be more subtle.
Are his children having quality education? Is he fulfilled in his role, and his wife in hers? Are they socially comfortable? Emotionally sound and stable? Do they have any special needs? An invalid parents? A mentally-retarded child? A handicap of some kind?
Even if the church is not able to provide for all his needs, an understanding attitude and a listening ear would go a long way toward meeting those needs.
His Ministry: Both the pastor and the congregation should have a clear understanding as to what the role of the pastor is and what his specific duties are. This is the ABC toward an AOK ministry.
Does your pastor desire some form of continual education? Would he prefer to work at home? At the church office? At a particular library? Does he prefer people calling him anytime of the day or only during a designated time period? Is he an early bird or a night owl? Does he tend to become a bottle neck or does he delegate more than he should? Does he prefer to be casual with his brothers and sisters or to be formal with his parishioners?
How does he view the local church: As a hospital for spiritual patients? As a showplace for spiritual saints? As a military academy for training missionaries? As a Bible school for believers? As a nursery for spiritual babies? As a halfway house for entry into heaven? or As a retreat center for those who want to withdraw from the world?
How does he view himself: A prophet? A preacher? A teacher? A trainer? An executive? A servant? A master? A king? A man-pleaser? A God-fearer? An employee? An employer? A man of God? A man of men? A promoter? A fund-raiser? A doer? A talker? A planner? A seeker? A scholar? A professor? A believer? A thinker? A starter? or A finisher?
How does he view his congregation? As his students? His peers? His friends? His brothers and sisters? His supporters? His clients? His customers? His competitors? His enemies? His fellow believers? or His sheep?
How your pastor views the church, himself and his congregation will affect what he wants to do in his ministry and how he would go about doing it. An understanding of his ministry will make both his life and your life easier.
Before we leave this section of understanding your pastor’s needs and ministry, I would like to suggest that the best way to go about doing this is through a small committee of mature Christians.* The sole purpose of this committee is to assist the pastor through sharing, interacting and praying. In this exclusive group the pastor’s needs, problems, hurts, burdens, sorrows as well as successes and excitement can be shared freely.
TWO THINGS YOU SHOULD PROTECT: HIS TIME AND HIS REPUTATION.
His Time: Sermon preparation takes time. The more formal education a pastor has, the more time he would need to prepare his sermon; and the more Godly a pastor is, the more time he would need to wait before the Lord. Most lay Christians do not understand how a pastor can spend 20 hours in studying less than 10 verses he is going to use on a given Sunday morning.
Where is a pastor going to find that 20 hours? That is a big chunk of time, possibly from eight to noon, Monday through Friday. That time is just for the Sunday message alone. Most likely, he has a Bible study group to lead and maybe a second service to preach.
Depending on the size of his congregation, there are meetings a pastor has to attend (missions, Sunday School, building, board, etc.), counseling (marital, pre-marital, personal, vocational) and visitation (evangelistic, home, hospital). Also, there are things he needs to coordinate and supervise. Then, there are the telephone calls he has to make and letters he has to write. Added to all these, let’s not forget he also needs time to practice what he preaches.
You can protect your pastor’s time by:
- Walking closely with the Lord.
- Not calling him for information and services you can obtain elsewhere at a later time or at a cost, unless it is an emergency or unless he is the only one who can help.
- Shouldering as much of the church ministry as you can.
- Asking him, “How can I save you some time?”
Any church which can afford a full-time minister should have a part-time secretary to help him. To an effective and busy minister, a good secretary is very important in his life.
His Reputation: Rumor, gossip, criticism and attacks aimed at spiritual leaders are nothing new. The rejection of spiritual leadership happened to the best of leaders, Moss and Paul included, not to mention the rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Do not be surprised when you hear your pastor being dissected and rejected, analyzed and crucified. Be sure to separate the facts from the “I think” and “I am sure” you hear thrown around. Do not join in for the kill. Practice the Biblical injunction of “do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses” (I Tim. 5:19, NIV). If you have serious doubts about him or his ministry, you may confront him in private. Don’t let your doubt get between you and him.
Speak appreciatively of your pastor in front of him and behind his back, in public and at home. Thank God for him in your prayer.
Even if a minister is worthy of criticism and damnation, let the details of his wrong doings be known to only those who need to know because of their positions and let God take care of him in His own way. The sadness of seeing a man of God fall should be sufficient to weaken your hand before you throw the stone of judgment.
Remember that your pastor is basically a human being and as such is subjected to what a normal human being experiences. If you expect perfection from him, you will be disappointed most of the time. But if you were to see him as one who tries to carry out God’s commission in his life the very best he can, you would find it easy to love and respect him.
Get close to him, you might even like him.
*I am indebted to Mr. Peter Yuen, one-time missionary to Hong Kong, for suggesting this idea.