Years ago, Michael and I became good friends with a young pastor and his wife at our church. We talked, shared meals and movies, laughed and became very close. So much so, that we were crushed when we learned they were moving on to another church. Before they left, this young pastor’s wife told me one day that she believed Michael and I had a ministry to ministers. At the time I brushed her off. But as the years have passed I do believe God revealed this to her.
Over the years Michael and I have had the privilege to know so many folks whom God has called into full or part-time ministry. Some were senior pastors, some music ministers, some youth or education, and some missionaries. Some we knew for a short season, while others we have known and kept in touch with for decades. October is generally designated Pastor or Clergy Appreciation month. Well, I missed October, but I thought I might offer what I’ve learned and observed regarding how to have a relationship with ministers.
First, contrary to what many may think, ministers are people just like you and me. They need friends. They need down-time and they need an ear to listen (not just during the Sunday morning sermon). Make friends with the ministers in your church. Though they know a lot of people, most would tell you that they have few close friends. Perhaps it’s because of their position, but most people in the congregation never take the time or put in the effort to reach out and build a close friendship with them. You’re missing out! Or perhaps you don’t really want to get to know them? Perhaps you don’t really want them to get to know you?
Second, they need a social life. And I don’t just mean what happens in fellowship hall. Call them. Invite them over. Most of us assume that pastors and their families have invitations for every night of the week –WRONG! Many times they are sitting home alone wondering why they didn’t get invited to the same parties everyone else got invited to. Relax around them and treat them the same as your other friends. Most pastors will tell you that the room suddenly grows cold and silent when people learn of their vocation.
Third, they need to not be judged. I’m not talking about serious sin issues here. I’m talking about the trivial stuff we deal with everyday — how are their kids dressed, what is her hair like, what school do the kids attend, what kind of car do they drive. Are these really important matters? Be yourself and let them be themselves too. My mom told me years ago about a pastor’s wife who was short, overweight, her house was messy and her kids were too. My mom always said that was her favorite pastor’s wife of all that she had known because she was just like my mom. Forget the little stuff and accept them for who they are and appreciate that they will do the same for you.
Fourth, they need forgiveness. They’re not perfect. In fact, some of them have made some really dumb mistakes. Unfortunately, when they make these bad decisions they are under the scrutiny of every body in the congregation. We need to forgive them. Forgive them of the little things and of the big things. Forgive them when they misspeak, when they judge, when they overeat/drink/talk. Forgive them like you expect them to forgive you. I know we tend to hold ministers to a higher standard – I get that. But they have feet of clay just like everyone else.
Finally, support them. Of course, yes, financially, with your tithes and offerings. But also with your encouragement. Rally behind them any chance you get. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say. Question and discuss the things you don’t agree on; but do it respectfully, not antagonizing and bickering in public. (I wish this was one I could say I’ve always obeyed myself.) Encourage others to speak individually and respectfully as well. We should be able to talk about anything to one another as Christians, if we say it respectfully.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Romans 12:10-11