Most jobs don’t require you to show up happy. What matters is that you get the job done.
When I was in high school, I used to package medication at a pharmacy. The pills would come out of a large, fridge-shaped machine in long strips of plastic squares, and it was my job to make sure that the right pills would come out in the right amounts. I had to be fast. I had to be accurate. But I didn’t have to be happy.
Pastoring is different. It’s one of those rare vocations where how you work is just as important as what you do. For example, the Apostle Peter tells pastors to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…” (1 Peter 5:2a). Pastors can’t just show up because they have to. They’re meant to show up because they want to.
In my family of churches, we like to say that pastors are to serve as “glad volunteers”. It doesn’t matter if they’re on staff and receiving a salary. Pastors are to approach their work with a joyful, voluntary disposition. That’s what God wants from them, because that reflects God’s heart. God promised that “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15a), shepherds that will lead His people wisely, and shepherds that will lead His people willingly.
Now, if you’re not in pastoral ministry, you may be wondering, “what does this have to do with me? Isn’t this my pastor’s problem?” To some extent, yes. Pastors are responsible for guarding their hearts and fighting for joy. But it’s not that simple, because how you treat your pastors contributes to how they serve.
Take a look at Hebrews 13:17, which says:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” – Hebrews 13:17
Christian, this verse makes your responsibility crystal clear: you are to follow, respect, and honour your pastors in such a way that they attend to their work with joy. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when that won’t be possible. Sometimes you can do everything right and see no change at all. But the fact remains that Christians are to do whatever they can to make ministry a joy for their pastors and not a burden, “for that would be of no advantage to you.”
No one wants grouchy men behind their pulpits. It would be of no advantage to you for your pastors to drag their heels to every counselling meeting. We want men who do the hard work of ministry with joy in their hearts as they thank God for the privilege of pastoring His people.
How can you do that? Let me suggest three ways that you can help your pastors serve with joy.
1. Encourage Your Pastors
I once heard a retired, veteran pastor say that he could count on his two hands the number of times that someone in his church encouraged him in a meaningful way. Brothers, that ought never to be so! What farmer keeps sowing when he sees no fruit? What soldier keeps fighting when he gains no ground? What pastor keeps serving with joy when his people never encourage him?
Encouragement is one of the ways that you can throw fresh logs onto the fires of your pastors’ joy. It reminds him that his labours aren’t in vain, and that the Spirit is at work even through a weak vessel like him.
Encouragement is one of the ways that you can throw fresh logs onto the fires of your pastors’ joy.
I always find it helpful when people encourage me specifically and consistently. “Thank you for the sermon” is not quite the same as, “Pastor, what you just said really spoke to what I’m going through” or “I never understood that until you explained it that way” or “Thank you for showing me just how precious the gospel is in that sermon.” It takes effort and intentionality to encourage like this, but it is so worth it.
2. Serve Your Pastors
Our family just welcomed our sixth child last year. Yes, six. One girl, five boys. People ask us all the time how we do it. Do we have help? Have we hired a nanny? Have we found a way to outsource our parenting?
My answer always involves deep gratitude for what our church has done for us. For months, we were receiving 2-3 meals per week. Young people from the church came over and babysat our kids so that my wife and I could go out for dinner. They even came with us to Wonderland this summer so that our kids could go on more rides.
Who does that? A church that serves and cares for its pastors well. Find practical ways to serve not only your pastors, but their families, and they will wake up each morning with fresh gratitude and joy at the privilege of pastoring you.
3. Pray for Your Pastors
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your pastors serve with joy. Pray for them. There are people in my church who pray for me every day. No exaggeration. They take my pastoral calling so seriously that they carry me before the Lord in prayer every single day. And you know what? God answers their prayers! Burdens are lifted, wisdom is given, and joy is imparted when people pray for their pastors.
Pray for your pastors, and as you do, tell them that you’re praying for them. Don’t wait for them to share requests or for a crisis to hit. Just pray for them and tell them, because it will remind them that they are not alone. Their people are behind them in prayer, and that is a joyful thought.