by Marilyn J. Carlaw
I would love to see one person in every church building read this book. No, I’m not looking for huge royalties, but the knowledge that other pastors and their wives could be treated the way we are, by our little congregation, is a grand hope.
You see, a number of years ago this little part of Christ’s Body was between pastors. They wanted to keep in touch with what was going on in the larger Church picture, so they sent two delegate couples to a pastor’s retreat. These were your everyday, regular, blue-collar lay people. What they saw at that retreat changed the way this congregation treats their leaders. They witnessed pastors’ wives sobbing at the ill-treatment they received from other believers. They heard pastors speak of giving up, of leaving the ministry. They couldn’t believe the depression and loneliness these clergy and their wives felt. And so, as they relayed this to the folks at home, they declared their intent to treat future pastors and wives with honor, so that when it was their pastor’s turn to share at a retreat, theirs would be tears of thankfulness and joy for a loving congregation.
And we are on the receiving end of that blessing. As I leave you with a list of things you can do (and not do) for your pastor and his wife, I do so in tribute to this little congregation, tucked in the resplendent Robson Valley, and diligently working to fulfill God’s great command to love Him and love others.
Wanna change your pastor and his wife? Start by praying for yourself! What you perceive about the Church and how you fit in colours the way you function and what you demand from your pastor’s family. Reflect on whether your attitudes towards leadership and authority are biblical or cultural. Are you treating them with the honor God speaks of in His Word, or do you expect them to “do it all” simply because that’s how you’ve seen it done in the past? Are you guilty of consciously (or subconsciously) believing the two-for-one myth – that your pastor’s wife should be working as hard in the church as her husband, or do you accurately understand that she should use her gifts just like everyone else should? Are your expectations of her unrealistic? Where do you need to be involved? What ministry does He have for you to participate in? Pray that the Holy Spirit works in your own heart first, and He will be faithful to reveal what He wants you to learn.
Secondly, pray for the congregation you are part of. It isn’t the pastor’s responsibility to change peoples’ hearts and lives – it’s the Holy Spirit’s. And you have as much responsibility to pray for those you worship with as your pastor does. Pray that God’s purposes will be understood and followed in your local Church. We are here because people in this Church prayed for God’s will in hiring a pastor. Part of that meant praying for wisdom, and we recognized their desire for wisdom during the candidating process. As mentioned in my story about coming to McBride, the search committee specifically inquired about my philosophy of ministry as a pastor’s wife. I was thrilled to be asked. And when Dan asked them what they expected of me, they answered that I was just like any other woman in the congregation. Sure I may have a few more things on my plate, and they couldn’t necessarily speak for individuals, but the committee itself recognized my individualism. They were wise in their questions, and that spoke volumes about their desire to know God’s will.
Thirdly, pray for them as a pastoral family. We know that people pray very specifically for us as a family. Many homes we’ve visited have a “Have you prayed for your Pastor today?” card on their fridge. Some folks ask us during the week what they can pray for. We feel relatively free to share our personal concerns and struggles because we know most people are serious about intercession, not gossip. It’s important that you remember the children too. It’s sometimes hard living in the “fish-bowl”, but when people remember that pastors’ kids are just plain old kids, expectations seem to fall by the wayside. Don’t expect anything from your pastor’s kids that you wouldn’t expect from your own. We are continually blessed to know our congregation cares about our family. The friends and family that surround us prayed our little boy into existence, and because they spent time interceding on our behalf – that the Lord would bless us with a baby – they have a sense of ownership in our family. When things are tough, knowing people are praying for us – not against us – keeps us pluggin’ along. And when things are good, we remember to be thankful for faithful, supportive, praying friends.
Pastors and their wives need down time too. It’s surprising how often we hear people say, “Well, we thought about calling you, but we didn’t ’cuz we thought you’d be sick of people.” Sure, we may get weary of meetings and listening to the tough stuff, but that’s all the more reason we need to relax! We need to do “brainless” stuff. Recently we’ve enjoyed getting some friends hooked on the game Settlers of Catan™. It’s fun to be phoned at 5:00 on Friday night and asked “hey, mac ‘n cheese ‘n Settlers?” We wanna do stuff that’s not just “church-centered”. While God is intrinsically melded into everything we do, we can still have fun. Even Jesus got to go for boat rides.
Ooooo, money. It’s a taboo subject for some and a topic to beat around the bush with for others. But let me give it to you straight. A lot of pastors are hurting. Some get only a percentage of the offering so they are never quite sure if their bills are gonna get paid. Others are given the use of a manse so the congregation figures since their housing is paid for they can be paid less. Some are penalized for having stocks and bonds or a pension coming in.
So what does the Bible say about paying the pastor? I Timothy 5:17 says “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’”. Is he in this job for the money? Not likely. But deficient finances can impede ministry opportunities. Maybe a group of guys wants to go out for lunch, but a constricted budget forces the pastor to “take a raincheck”. Lost opportunities? Probably. And it needn’t be so. Sit down with him and discuss it openly. This is his calling, but it’s also a job. Making a decent salary is not ungodly. Some general ideas might be taking an average of the wages of the men in the local church. Consider a book/study allowance at a percentage of his gross income. Look at petty cash, mileage, coffee money, etc. And consider the taxes. Sometimes a raise isn’t the prudent move. Consider some of the tremendously thoughtful ideas people have blessed us with: A freezer full of buffalo meat, a huge reduction on our car loan, the pantry stocked, free babysitting and a gift certificate for a meal. We’ve also been given extra time off for family crises, funerals, celebrations or a special course. Still others have helped when our water pipes froze or furniture needed hauling. We have been loved so well and it’s a testimony to the Church’s obedience to God and love for us. Our friends and extended family are amazed at the bounty bestowed on us at various times. It’s rare, we know.
Is it rare for your pastor’s family? Do you muzzle him? Are your pastor and his wife struggling because they can’t afford to help their kids with college or haven’t got enough at the end of the month for savings? Do they take some vacation time at home because they can’t afford to go anywhere? Do you even know how they’re doing financially?
I know it may be difficult to read this kind of thing – particularly if your own family is struggling to make ends meet. The key, I believe, is being open about it. Money issues can be tough to talk about, but if church-folk are open about their own struggles, and pastors feel free to be open themselves, it’s a benefit to the whole body. Consider monetary issues this way: it all belongs to God. What does He want done with it?
It’s been said that it takes a hundred positive comments to counteract one negative one. In ministry, I believe it. Studies have shown that the best years of ministry often begin in year 6 or 7 of a pastor’s tenure. Tragically, a majority of clergy move on after just 4 or 5 years. I am convinced that a major contributor to the lack of staying-power is a lack of verbal and physical affirmation. A pastor and his wife can be the brunt of brutal criticisms of their character or motives. May God forgive us that this is so.
But despite the tough times, clerical families can thrive when God’s people build them up with affirmative comments. By no means am I saying worship them or speak empty, heady praises, but encourage them. Lift them up. Come beside them. Don’t be afraid to tell your pastor what you learned from the sermon. Hearten his wife by commenting on her obvious care for her children and support of her husband. Words can either make or break the hearts of those serving the Lord in leadership.
Simply put, be a friend.
Focus on the Family has deemed the month of October Pastor Appreciation Month. Hold a potluck and say “thank you” with an all-expense paid train ride to a seaside town. Have a different person every day that month send an encouragement note to the family. But it doesn’t have to be just in October. As I say to my hubby: I would much rather have little bits of love all year, than the expected flowers on Valentine’s Day or breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Don’t be predictable. Be loving and thoughtful and resourceful.
Love your pastor and his family well and the Lord will bless His Kingdom through your arm of the Body.
As part of the universal Church we need to lift up one another in prayer and love. God’s command to love Him and love others can be seen tangibly by how we treat those He has called to serve His Kingdom in leadership. Thank you to all of you who treat your pastoral families with honor and respect and offer your hand and hearts in friendship. May God rain His blessings on you for it!