By Steve Yeaton
Yes, the title of this article is a blatant rip-off of a popular recurring column in Reader’s Digest. For example, in “13+ Things TV Chefs Won’t Tell You,” we’re told that garnish makes anything look better. Really? I think melted cheese does the trick. Anyway, I’m fairly certain Reader’s Digest has no plans to reveal what ministers are secretly thinking, which in general is probably a good thing.
However, knowing what your minister wishes you knew about how to encourage him won’t just bless him, but your church as well. Churches that know these secrets have a knack for being served by gifted preachers. Coincidence? I think not.
Ultimately this is about more than developing effective preachers; it’s about advancing God’s kingdom in a lost world. Encouraged, supported, and inspired preachers help lead that effort a whole lot better than leaders who are discouraged, worn out, and broken. Just ask Paul, whose ministry benefitted from the encouragement provided by the Philippian church: “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me” (Philippians 4:10).
Through a couple of different forums, I solicited input from dozens of preachers asking for one to four ideas on what they wish their churches knew about how to best encourage them. While the study may not meet the standards of a Barna Research project, it can benefit churches seeking to bless their preachers. Here are four of the most common responses I received to the statement, “What I wish my church knew about how to encourage preachers.”
Provide Meaningful Encouragement
Ministers wish churches knew how to meaningfully express encouragement. Any expression of encouragement is appreciated, but some expressions mean more than others. Thoughtful churches understand the difference. For example, while a gift from the local Bible bookstore might be well intended, your minister probably doesn’t need another wall hanging of the “Footprints” poem. Instead, personal notes of encouragement always hit the spot. As one minister said about such notes, “We save them!” Also, while hearing the words, “Good sermon” is nice, telling your preacher specifically how a message touched you will inspire his preaching efforts even more.
If you are able to spend a little bit of money, several ministers said they would enjoy gift certificates to favorite restaurants, tickets to a ball game, or even a gift card to Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Of course, it helps to know what your minister likes. For one minister, a gift card to Starbucks says, “I know you love coffee—and I want you to know how much I appreciate you!” For a minister like me who doesn’t like coffee, a gift card to Starbucks says, “I skimmed an article on how to encourage ministers, but I skipped the part about taking the time to discover what you really like.” Sure, I’ll be touched by the thought, but the gift card will end up as a stocking stuffer for one of my kids.
A Thoughtful Compensation Package
Another way to encourage your minister is through a compensation package that maximizes the church’s potential to provide for and bless him and his family. One significant way provision for a minister can be enhanced is through an understanding of the unique tax laws affecting ministers. I know of a minister who was nearly denied the benefit of a housing allowance simply because the church treasurer had never heard of such a thing. (If your church treasurer doesn’t understand what this sentence is referring to, see the tax guide in the recommended resources column).
Churches that struggle to put together a financially generous compensation package can still get creative. For example, does a family in the church have a beach side condo they can offer for a week’s vacation each year to the minister? If so, include that in that package. Does the church have a mechanic willing to do oil changes on the minister’s car? Include that, too. How about a dentist who can provide cleanings for the family? Include that as well.
With creativity the package for a church with limited financial resources can look more appealing. Just the effort demonstrates to the minster that the church is doing all it can to provide—and that carries a lot of weight in the hearts of most ministers.
A compensation package can also bless a minister by making provision for continuing education. Encouraging your minister to continue his education or to attend an annual conference not only benefits him, it benefits the church through inspiration and the development of his skills. As one preacher simply put it, “Help me learn more.”
Time taken for continuing education, mission trips, or church camp should not be considered as part of the preacher’s vacation package. I know of a church that greeted the return of their minister from a mission trip with the words, “Hope you enjoyed your vacation.” While church members often have to take vacation in order to go on a mission trip, such service is often part of a minister’s job. Typically, he is the one responsible for the planning, the leading, and being the point person for the mission trip or week of camp. Like everybody else, ministers need honest-to-goodness vacations where they can rest their minds, bodies, and spirits with no responsibility for anything except relaxing.
A third thing preachers wish their congregations knew is the value and purpose of paid sabbaticals. The most beneficial sabbaticals are proactive rather than reactive. Reactive sabbaticals are often imposed after a minister reaches the point of burnout or after a moral failure. Proactive sabbaticals keep a minister fresh and spiritually strong by giving him several weeks or even months of paid leave every few years to recharge his batteries. Some churches even provide annual mini-sabbaticals for preachers allowing them to develop next year’s preaching plan. Sabbaticals are not merely time off like a vacation, but a break from the challenges, pressures, and daily grind of ministry in order to do some prolonged study, to visit and learn from other ministries, or to retreat for a season of devotion and prayer. As any successful athlete will tell you, seasons of rest are just as important as seasons of intense training. If you want your preacher to remain effective over the long term, consider a proactive sabbatical plan. It might just prevent the reactive kind.
Encourage His Family
The fourth form of encouragement may be the most important. And this encouragement has nothing to do with the minister himself, but everything to do with his wife and children. As one minister said, “Be good to my wife.”
Let your minister’s family know that you’re praying specifically for them. Don’t expect more from your minister’s family than you expect from other families in the church. Offer genuine friendship. Encourage your minister’s wife to be herself and hold your minister accountable to make time for his family.
The Springhill Church of Christ in Middletown, Ohio has been doing this for years. Seniors minister Bob Stacy writes, “A group of women here go shopping together once a month and always makes sure that my wife goes with them. That encourages me, because I believe she’s the greatest in the world.”
There are more ways to encourage your minister than are mentioned in this article. Doing it well doesn’t depend upon a secret formula but the right attitude. A big reason Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has such an effective ministry is because of the church’s attitude toward the staff. Whereas many churches are waiting for the minister to make the church successful, the leadership of Southeast strives to make her preachers successful. As former Southeast preacher Bob Russell contends in his book, When God Builds a Church ((Howard Books, 2000), wise church leaders look for ways to build up the preacher. If that’s your church’s attitude, your church won’t have any trouble discovering meaningful ways to encourage and inspire your preacher. And that will be a blessing not just to him, but to your church as well.
Steve Yeaton is a minister and freelance writer in Batesville, Indiana.
Shoulder to Shoulder: Strengthening Your Church By Supporting Your Pastor
by Dan Reiland
(Thomas Nelson, 1997)
Support Your Local Pastor: Practical Ways to Encourage Your Minister
by Wes Roberts
When God Builds a Church
by Bob Russell and Rusty Russell
(Howard Books, 2000)
Worth’s Income Tax Guide for Ministers (annual edition)
by B.J. Worth
(Evangel Publishing House, 2011)
Taking a Sabbatical (www.buildingchurchleaders.com)