Word Magazine, June, 1982, Page 9-10

Have You Hugged Your Pastor Lately?

by Ken Parlin

Pastors and church leaders often give beyond the call of duty. Here’s how you can encourage them in their work.

The following article, “How to Get Rid of a Pastor,” appeared in a church bulletin:

Not long ago a well-meaning group of laymen came from a neighboring church to see me. They wanted me to advise them on some convenient and painless method of getting rid of their pastor. I’m afraid, however, that I wasn’t much help to them. At the time I had not had the occasion to give the matter serious thought. But since then I have pondered the matter a great deal, and the next time anyone comes for advice on how to get rid of a pastor, here’s what I’ll tell them: 1. Look the pastor straight in the eye while he’s preaching and say “Amen” once in a while and he’ll preach himself to death. 2. Pat him on the back and brag on his good points and he’ll probably work himself to death. 3. Rededicate your life to Christ and ask the pastor for some job to do, preferably some lost person you could win to Christ, and he’ll die of heart failure. 4. Get the church to unite in prayer for the pastor and he’ll soon become so effective that some larger church will take him off your hands. 1

The pastor’s advice obviously was given tongue in cheek, but it raises vital questions. How should a congregation treat its pastor? What does God expect of a church member’s relationship with church leaders?

There are several biblical responsibilities, but Paul’s instructions in I Thessalonians 5:12, 13 are especially timely for today. He writes, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate (literally “know”) those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Believers are admonished in verse 12 to “know” those who labor in the ministry. Some may respond to such a charge by saying, “That’s easy, Paul. I know the names of all of our board members. I know what they do, where they live and how many children they have.”

Such a superficial application, however, misses the thrust of Paul’s teaching. Your skill in reciting the pastor’s zip code and telephone number falls considerably short of biblical knowledge. The Greek word “know” involves much more than casual acquaintance and a rote familiarity of facts. It is knowledge based on experience. Remember that a man was described as knowing his wife when he sexually united with her.2 Intimacy and commitment are implied. Thus, knowing your church leaders in a biblical manner will require genuine respect and appreciation for them and their work.

The historical situation behind I Thessalonians sheds further light on the need for Paul’s instructions. According to Acts 17:1-3, Paul preached Christ to a number of Jews and God-fearing Greeks in Thessalonica. Some responded to the gospel and embraced Christianity. Apparently many of the converts in the city came to know Christ at about the same time.

Prior to their conversion some of them may have been good friends. Acquaintances and friendships may have been established for years. Eventually a few of these new believers became leaders in the church. In view of Paul’s admonitions in I Thessalonians 5:12, 13, some of the church members probably said to themselves, “You expect me to respect and submit to old Demetrius? Why, he’s just one of the gang. Why should I show any preference to him?”

Paul’s words, however, are crystal clear. Leaders in the church are to be the objects of deep respect and sincere admiration. Do your church officers have that support and appreciation from you? Are they serving the Lord with joy in the knowledge that you value them? Or are they laboring under the load of grief because their leadership is being resisted? 3

Continuing his appeal in verse 13, Paul commands believers to “esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” The word “esteem” means “to hold in regard” and to do so with mental consideration. The depth of that esteem is indicated by the word “highly.” This long word in the Greek (huperekperrison) means “superabundantly” or “exceedingly.” Using the identical word in Ephesians 3:20, Paul prays to the one “who is able to exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

Your esteem for your pastor, deacons, and church leaders therefore, should have no limits. If you presently appreciate your leaders, then stretch that appreciation. Ask God to expand your sensitivity to them and pray for deeper expressions of gratitude for their ministries.

To be realistic, there are times when esteem for others becomes cold and passive. Lip service often replaces genuine respect and honor. That is why Paul adds the two words “in love.” Respect is to be demonstrated out of a spirit of love. Sacrificial love prevents us from hypocritically “tipping our hats” to those who minister over us in the church.

Then Paul states the reason why church officers are to be esteemed in love — “because of their work.” At first, this brief phrase could be passed off as trivial and insignificant. But a crucial principle surfaces in these words. Pastors, deacons and church leaders are to be loved primarily for their work. In verse 12, the emphasis is placed on those who “labor among you.” This term implies continual, exhausting labor. The writer of Hebrews demands submission to those who “watch over your souls. ‘‘4

So often Christians focus on nonessentials in their evaluation of the pastor. As a result, a razor-sharp spirit of criticism often develops. Our obsession with his personality prevents us from honestly appraising his performance. We begin to nitpick and find fault with ridiculously minor issues. Just because your pastor overlooked saying “hello” to you last Sunday is no reason to run him down. His unshined shoes does not merit a spirit of disrespect. The fact that he tells jokes poorly is no reason to leave church.

The key questions to ask are: Is he faithfully committed to the Word of God? Is he leading church members into deeper spiritual growth in Christ? Your spiritual shepherd realizes his shortcomings and imperfections. But don’t allow them to blind you to his strengths and special abilities.

A recent survey of 3,000 pastors and laymen asked the question, “What are the main reasons why people drop out of church?” One of the most frequent answers was, “I don’t like the pastor.” Commenting on this, David Hubbard, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, said, “I suppose that people mean by this that they don’t think their pastor has an attractive personality. But Paul puts emphasis on his work, not his personality. The duty of Christian worship, the joy of Christian fellowship, the urgency of Christian missions are too important to be left at the mercy of our likes and dislikes. Not liking your pastor is too trivial an excuse to give for your nonparticipation in the church.”

In balancing these concepts it is important to remember that God is not asking that we completely agree with our church rulers. Decisions may be made in the church that you do not fully support. Your views on certain issues may clash with those of the pastor. But you can still love and respect him for his total commitment to the work.

One way to prove your love and respect for your pastor is by a timely word of encouragement. Many clergy are crushed by the weight of church responsibilities and pressures. Hounded by feelings of inferiority, they begin to question their effectiveness as God’s servants. In such cases Proverbs 12:25 can be excellent medicine: “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”

What would your pastor do if you telephoned him next Monday and said, “I just want you to know that I love you?” What impact would your words “I love you and am thankful for your leadership” have on that discouraged person?

Recently, a lady in our congregation greeted me after an evening message and said, “I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but I love you.” I assure you that I did not mind! Her remark made my day because I could sense the genuineness of her words.

Drop a card of encouragement in the mail. Secretly place a note on the pulpit. Find creative ways to show your gratitude for the men God has placed over you. As one who is in a key area of leadership in the church, I assure you that these words can bring healing to a battered soul. They can motivate and spur a leader on to greater service for the Lord. Don’t assume that your pastor and board members are bulging with self-confidence and spiritual strength. They need the soothing words of encouragement as much as you do.

On another occasion one of my elders came through the greeting line after a morning service and placed his Bible on a nearby table. Without saying a word, he hugged me warmly. I was deeply touched by his expression of love and encouragement.

Your prayers also demonstrate appreciation. It’s not by accident that the command to “pray without ceasing”5 follows soon after Paul’s request to esteem church leaders. Your pastor covets your regular prayers. Furthermore, it’s much more difficult to be critical when you are faithfully remembering him in prayer.

Perhaps we have become hesitant of showing affection and appreciation to those in the church who genuinely deserve it because we want to avoid any appearance of worshiping or idolizing men. But this right desire should not restrict us from appreciating those who are “holding fast the faithful word.”6

I. Richard DeHann, Your Pastor and You, Radio Bible Class; 2. Genesis 4:1; 3. Hebrews 13:17; 4. Hebrews 13:17; 5. I Thessalonians 5:17; 6. Titus 1:9.

Ken Parlin is pastor of Irving Bible Church, Irving, Tex., and a graduate of John Brown University and Dallas Theological Seminary.