Five Ways to Encourage Your Pastor (Without Exalting Him)

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Plenty have lamented the problem of “celebrity culture” in the church, and usually that phrase brings into our minds famous pastors and leaders in the church today. But “celebrity culture” can be an equal challenge for non-famous, local ministries — and some of its most insidious effects crop up there.

The dangers of “celebrity culture” lurk anytime pastors become isolated from the normal, mutual processes of accountability and encouragement in the body of Christ — anytime leadership is characterized by Hebrews 13:17 authority without Hebrews 3:13 accountability:

  • Authority: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” (Hebrews 13:17)

  • Accountability: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13)

How do we encourage both Hebrews 3 and Hebrews 13 dynamics in our church cultures? In other words, how do we affirm our pastors in their leadership over us without exalting them into some separate category above the sheep?

As a younger pastor, I’m seeking to grow in my leadership without disengaging from Hebrews 3:13 dynamics like confessing my sin, or getting counsel, or letting some older saints help me when my kids are terrorizing the church potluck. I share these (partial) thoughts in hopes that they might help us honor pastoral authority while remembering that the highest authority is reserved for Christ alone, who said, “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8).

1) Make sermon feedback specific and God-directed.

“Pastor, you’re an amazing preacher!” These words are well-intentioned, but can easily puff up rather than build up.

The next time you give your pastor encouragement, make it specific, not general, and direct the attention to what God did through him: “God taught/blessed me through your sermon by . . .”

You might also consider the following:

  • Give him encouragement after the mediocre sermons, not just the “home runs.” He probably needs it more after those ones, and this reinforces that it is God who is speaking through him and making his work fruitful.

  • Consider writing your encouragements in a note or email. This enables you to unpack your thoughts with more detail, and may be more meaningful and memorable to your pastor.

  • Give encouragement to all of those who preach at your church, including guest preachers and the other staff or elders who preach. This reinforces that it is God’s word that is central, and the human instrument peripheral (something often lost when celebrity culture takes hold).

One way or another, do encourage your pastor in his preaching. Not only will it help him, but you might even find yourself getting more out of the sermons as a result.

2) Encourage him in leading his family.

Pastors are usually husbands and fathers as well, and those roles should be more important in their life than their role as a pastor. I believe “celebrity culture” almost always goes hand in glove with idolizing ministry and neglecting our home life. So encourage him in leading for his family, and care for them as you care him.

One of the best ways you can care for your pastor is caring for his kids. Being a pastor’s kid is hard. Most pastors worry about this for their kids. Here are three ways you might be able to help:

  1. Don’t have different standards for the pastor’s kids. Don’t expect them to be more spiritual or knowledgeable than anyone else. That is more likely to make them rebel against the church.

  2. Respect their privacy. Many pastor’s kids are quite visible within the church, and if they are shy this can be difficult. Show an interest in them, but don’t pry into their life or pressure their involvement throughout the church.

  3. Pray for them. One of the most awesome questions you can ask your pastor is, “How can I pray for you and your family?” He will appreciate the “and your family” part of that sentence.

3) Give him the emotional and financial permission to go to conferences and take regular vacations.

There is something healthy about getting out of town. But many pastors feel landlocked, like they can never miss a Sunday. Once again, I believe “celebrity culture” flourishes when there is a neglect of the Sabbath principle, and a failure to find identity and joy through friendships and hobbies and other things outside of the church walls.

Giving your pastor vacation time will help him stay close to his family, and encouraging him to go to conferences will help him get refreshed, keep learning, and maintain friendships. Beyond that, it’s healthy for both church and pastor to see that the show can go on without him. Only one person is indispensable to the church, and he said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

Encourage your pastor to rest, to get away, to pour himself into things other than ministry from time to time — and then give him the time and money to do so. It will likely help him hold Hebrews 3 and Hebrews 13 together.

4) Don't be passive about wolves or serious sin issues in the church.

One of the most deflating and lonely things for a pastor is when he takes a stand on a difficult issue (say, church discipline against a longstanding member) and all his friends bail on him. When that happens, the pastor usually feels hurt and betrayed, and is much more likely to withdraw from vulnerability and accountability among the sheep.

If your pastor is taking heat for a just cause, don’t make him wonder about where you stand. Support him. Relieve some of the pressure on him. Defend him verbally when you hear gossip, and publicly in church meetings if you need to. Hebrews 13 can be a lonely place, and if he has to stand up there all alone, he may never come back down to the land of Hebrews 3.

5) Affirm his godliness more than his giftedness.

Celebrity culture thrives when we confuse our pastor’s ministry skill with his sanctification, or when we value impressive gifting more than godly character. But even the most gifted among us are included within “exhort one another,” because no one is above being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

The greater a pastor’s gifting or authority, the more tempting it will likely be to place them above accountability or rebuke. At the same time, the greater their gifting, the more important accountability becomes, because the stakes are that much higher. Better to stand up to a strong leader and get fired or maligned than to be complicit in a culture that ultimately divorces Hebrews 13 from Hebrews 3 and thus damages the whole church.

We pastors must strive to see personal godliness as a greater mountain to climb than ministry impressiveness, more worthy of our deepest ambitions. In the church, we can help our pastors with this by affirming their godliness more than their influence. Don’t value your pastor for his social-media profile or ability to hold an audience more than for his prayer life and love for his family.

Celebrity culture will run out of supply when it runs out of demand. Let’s put Christ alone in the place of unimpeachable authority and centrality in our hearts and affections. Our leadership cultures will soon follow.

(@gavinortlund) is a pastor, author, speaker, and apologist for the Christian faith. He is a husband to Esther, and a father to Isaiah, Naomi, Elijah, Miriam, and Abigail. He serves as President of Truth Unites and Theologian-in-Residence at Immanuel Church.