Top Ten Ways To Support Your Pastor and Their Family
Even though we have an amazing church family now, there have been many experiences that have not been as positive over our 20 years in ministry together. Because of the incredible stress on pastors and their families, more and more ministers are leaving the ministry. There are a number of reasons that ministry is so stressful. Below I've listed some of the stressors and how you can help support your pastor and their family.
1. Pastor's have strengths and weaknesses just like every other human on the planet. Churches often expect their pastors to be gifted speakers, counselors, grief experts, spiritual leaders, administrative managers, finance experts, intellectual Bible scholars, and great with people. As long as churches expect the pastor to be "everything", they will be disappointed, and the pastor will burn out. Some pastors are great at casting a vision and motivating, but they may be terrible at hospital visitation. Some pastors are fabulous counselors, but they are not good speakers. Some pastors are Biblical scholars, others are less intellectual. Churches need to work beside their pastor to learn his/her strengths and weaknesses so that other members of the church staff or the church body can assist in areas that are not the pastor's strengths.
2. Hiring a pastor is not a two for one special. Because my husband is a full-time minister, some churches have treated me like I am also a full-time staff member (unpaid, of course). Expecting the pastor's spouse to attend every event, every church service, and to be actively involved in every activity is unfair and unhealthy. I have a full-time career outside of the church, so there is no way that I can be involved in every activity that my husband participates in. I know of no other profession that has this expectation of a spouse. I am a lawyer, and no one expects my husband to give legal advice. So why do we have these expectations of a pastor's spouse?
3. The pastor's kids are just kids. Kids are kids. Kids are going to make wise choices, and they are going to make poor choices. When one of my kids was in kindergarten, the Sunday School teacher met me in the hall to let me know that my child had walked into Sunday School and mooned the class. To this day, I have no idea why my child did this Luckily, this teacher realized that my kid is just a kid. My children did not emerge from the womb as perfect saints. The church can help their pastor's kids by remembering this. Discipline the pastor's kids and hold them accountable, but please, do not hold them to a higher standard because their parent is the pastor.
4. The burden of leadership is heavy and lonely. My husband and I would love to pour our hearts out to you, but we often can't. My husband keeps many matters confidential, so he carries the weight of people's pain and heartache alone. Pastors also have to make incredibly difficult decisions that impact the spiritual health of the congregation. Sometimes these decisions are not popular, and that means the pastor may be criticized and alone.
5. If you find another church, our friendship doesn't have to end. We know that our church is not for everyone. That is why there are about 100 types of ice cream. People are different and have different tastes. One of the most heartbreaking things for me, my husband and my kids is to invest in a deep friendship, only to have the friendship end when the friends stop attending church. We would rather have your friendship and see you happy and thriving at a church you love than lose your friendship simply because you decided that our church was not the church for you.
6. The pastor and his spouse are human too. I get tired. I get grumpy. I sometimes say things I should not. My husband also gets tired, lonely, angry, and sad. We are not perfect people, yet we are often held to a standard of perfection that no person can ever achieve. We do our best to be good examples, and we realize that as leaders we are held to a higher standard. However, please remember that we are still human. We may be short with you if we are rushed and stressed. We may not always visit you in the hospital the same day that you are sick. We may forget to do something that you thought we should do. We need grace too.
7. Separate church "business" from personal relationships. If you are upset with a decision that the pastor makes, please don't treat me or my kids differently. We did not make the decision. We may not even know about the decision. On the flip side, if you are upset with me or one of the kids, please don't hold my actions against the pastor. We are individual people that make mistakes. This is so important because I constantly worry about how my actions or opinion may impact my husband's ministry. That is a heavy burden to bear.
8. If you are upset, please talk to us. I cannot tell you how many times someone has gotten angrier and angrier about a situation because they didn't talk to us. If we have hurt you or made you angry, give us the opportunity to either explain what happened (it may be a misunderstanding) or to apologize. Don't sit and agonize over something that can be resolved by a simple conversation.
9. We have doubts too. We went through a trauma that turned our world upside down. I would be a liar if I said that I didn't have moments when I yelled at God, doubted God, and even thought about leaving the Church completely. I needed time to get over the shock and trauma to find my way back to God. The greatest gift you can give your pastor and his family is a listening ear, grace, love, and patience. As we recovered, our church allowed us to cry, rage, and heal. They gave us time. They gave us space. But they did not leave us alone. They met us where we were. They were Jesus to us - they loved us when we were completely broken.
10. Pray! This is the most important thing you can do for your pastor and his family. The burdens are many, but if we are covered with prayer, the burdens do not feel so heavy. If you are praying for your pastor, their spouse, and the kids, let them know. I can't tell you how much I have treasured a text or a note from a church member just telling me that they are praying. This reminds me that I am loved. This reminds me that I am not alone.