Like a viper from the bushes, the Amalek attacked Israel. The shores had not yet washed clean of Pharoah’s army, nor had the people reached Sinai, before new enemies emerged: “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8).
Desperate circumstance made soldiers of slaves. Moses, their commander and chief, instructed Joshua to gather men and march into battle. Moses would take a different route, fight on a different front: “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9).
So it happened. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:10–11). A strange way to win or lose a battle. The lives of men suspended in midair with Moses’s staff. Held high, Israel aggressed. As hands drooped, Amalek played havoc. The prophet learned that gravity is an unrelenting foe: “Moses’ hands grew weary” (Exodus 17:12).
Pastors too know such weariness — this burn of holding their arms up in intercession for God’s people. Almost tireless, see them upon the hill, day in day out, month in month out, year in year out. Seasons change, but there they are upon the peak. Sometimes it all seems useless. Sometimes it is thankless. The sunbeams of complaints beat upon the brow; the sorrows of their people wear on the spirit. Gravity, in ministry, is an unrelenting foe.
Years pass. Arms droop. Just a few years, and some pastors have dropped them altogether. Blessed then, is the pastor who has Aaron and Hur with him:
Moses’s hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:12–13)
The proverb is here embodied: “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Blessed is the man who stands with brother elders at his side, but abundantly blessed is he who has a whole church holding up his arms.
How to Love Your Pastor
Before becoming one, I rarely asked, How do I best care for my pastors? How can I be a blessing to them, refresh them, uphold their arms? My pastors always seemed to have it together. I needed their help, it seemed, on a one-way street. But Scripture does not show it to be so. Drawing from John Owen’s short but excellent little book Duties of Christian Fellowship, consider a few ways a flock cares well for their shepherd.
1. Esteem Them
Some families find it easy to spend the car ride home from church doing little more than criticizing the pastor and his sermon. I stand convicted overhearing Charles Spurgeon,
Filled with the same spirit of contrariety, the men of this world still depreciate the ministers whom God sends them and profess that they would gladly listen if different preachers could be found. Nothing can please them, their cavils are dealt out with heedless universality. Cephas is too blunt, Apollos is too flowery, Paul is too argumentative, Timothy is too young, James is too severe, John is too gentle. (Eccentric Preachers)
How important, then, to have the primary description of a flock’s relationship to its pastors be one of esteem.
Overhear the apostle enjoin what many a humble pastor might blush to mention: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Does this describe you? Or for that to happen, does the pastor need to have generational giftings and fit your preferences?
2. Imitate Them
Consider one way the author of Hebrews calls us to esteem them: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Imitation is the sincerest form of esteem.
Are your pastors especially humble, careful with their words, fearless in adversity, tender to the wayward, deeply knowledgeable of the Scriptures, happy in Christ, constant in prayer, God-fearing fathers, husbands, leaders, evangelists? What in their lives of faith do you imitate in yours? Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate them. And tell them you are doing so.
John Owen calls Christians to cover their pastor’s weaknesses in love, recognizing that their teachers’ lives are “a means of grace from God provided as a relief for them when under temptation, and an encouragement to holiness, zeal, meekness and self-denial” (19). Are you neglecting this example for your faith — the pastors’ lives — whose feet, though made of clay, support a life above reproach? In a hero-less world, are your pastors a model you look to regularly?
3. Pray for Them
How much do you pray for your pastors?
If some spent as much time praying for their pastors as they did spotlighting their weaknesses, they might not have them anymore. The question stands, “Is it realized that any perceived weakness in the pastor’s ministry may be due to the prayerlessness of the church?” (Duties, 22).
Heaven will reveal how much a pastor was upheld by the prayers of his people (or not). You may be down on the field of battle with Joshua, but if you really care to uphold his arms upon the hill — pray for him. May your prayers be stones for him to sit upon.
It has been said of Spurgeon that when asked about his great success in ministry, he remarked simply, “My people pray for me.” And on another occasion, he brought visitors down to the “boiler room” of the church, the place that gave it power and heat. He opened the door, and the visitors beheld hundreds praying before the service started.
“Do you pray for your pastor to be kept by Jesus, to be upheld and satisfied in Jesus?”
Do you pray for your pastors to be kept by Jesus, to be upheld and satisfied in Jesus? And do you pray with your pastors, that souls be saved to Jesus and the church matured for Jesus?
4. Stand by Them
May it never be the anxious thought of your pastors’ minds: Where are they?
Paul was left to ask this question, sending the sad report to Timothy: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16).
Do you leave your pastors to charge in alone? Owen remarks, “When a captain, advancing against danger, looks back expecting to see his soldiers with him but finds that they have run away, he is greatly betrayed and forced into an impossible position by his enemies” (28).
How different is it to have or be a church full of Onesiphoruses? Paul reports,
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me — may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16–18)
We can hear the gratitude spattering from Paul’s pen. Pastors are men who grow weary like the rest of us — even young pastors run and grow tired. They receive more opposition, criticism, and slander than the normal churchman. Beyond this, shepherds accept invitations into all the bitter things of the church — adulteries, betrayals, deaths, and divisions. Pastoring is a good and hard work. They stand and contest with demonic bears and lions for their sheep’s sake — will the church not stand with them?
How might you support your pastors, help them, encourage them, defend them? Resist the world’s consumer mindset and take responsibility to help nurture the flock — disciple, serve, volunteer. Remember, they equip you for the work of ministry and will be mightily encouraged to see you doing it (Ephesians 4:13).
5. Help Them Love You
A final way to care for your pastors is to help them care for your soul.
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)
“Following your shepherd’s lead is to your own advantage. Happy pastors pastor better.”
A wise flock wants its shepherds to lead with joy. As they seek to shepherd you, follow their lead to Jesus, be ready to be persuaded by their teaching, submit to their guidance as far as Scripture allows. Do so readily, eagerly, thankfully that they might cheerfully discharge their eternal duty of caring for your immortal soul (for which they will give an account).
Following your shepherds’ lead is to your own advantage. Happy pastors pastor better. If a plurality of pastors is met with mostly antagonism, indifference, or distrust, the flock does them no favors to pastor as God would have them — “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2–3).
So esteem your pastors highly in the Lord, imitate them, pray for them, stand by them in trials, join them in the work of ministry, and be eager to submit to their direction. In so doing, you will sit them down upon the Rock, hold up their arms, and help them to serve your soul more of Jesus. And by God’s grace, you will defeat the Amaleks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Persist in this, that we may all have a good report to give to the Master on that day — pastors for how they shepherded, and sheep for how they followed.