By Lindsey Bell
Many church members want to encourage their church staff but aren’t sure how. To prepare for this article, I talked with a variety of ministers and support staff: creative arts, preaching, technical, children’s, family, associate, youth, and worship. The list included Johnny Templeton, Robin Sigars, Keith Bell, Tim Lear, Miranda Browning, Jon-Michael Bontrager, Tori Knight, Sarah Jordan, Jordan Woodring, Austin Weece, Andy Turner, and Kim Goldin.
I asked them, “When do you feel encouraged by your church members?” Here are their responses.
Be Their Friend
By far, this was the answer I heard most often. Church leaders need friends just like anyone else. They need people they can trust to talk with about their struggles and fears. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard for ministers to develop authentic friendships. One minister told me he thinks most people assume he has lots of friends because of his outgoing personality. “People don’t realize,” he said, “that my wife and I don’t have a lot of friends.”
Sometimes, people are intimidated by ministers. They don’t feel good enough to be friends with them or are afraid they will be judged if their life isn’t “together.” Ministers are normal people. They sin and struggle just like you and me. You don’t have to be perfect to be their friend. One minister said he would love to have someone say, “I know a lot of people come to you with their problems. Whom do you talk to about yours?”
If you want to encourage your church staff, start by being their friend. Talk to them. Get to know them as people—not just as ministers. Invest in them and in their family. Invite them over for dinner or to play games.
Respect Their Family Time
A second way you can encourage your church staff is by respecting their family time. Sometimes people treat ministers as if they should always be “on call.” Ministers have families and lives outside of their ministry too. One minister told me that his family is his first ministry priority. If you call or text your minister and he doesn’t respond immediately, give him time.
If our ministers’ tanks are empty, they aren’t able to pour into others. One way we can help fill their tanks is by giving them permission to take time off and be with their family whenever they need it. If you are in leadership at your church and are able to do so, give the staff plenty of paid time off, and refrain from making comments that cause them to feel guilty for using it.
Allow Them to Be Human
Six years ago, the leadership at the church where my husband is on staff gave me a gift I will never forget. They reassured me it was okay to not be okay. Three months earlier, I had experienced a tough loss, followed shortly thereafter by a second significant loss. I was struggling and needed help but wasn’t sure I could ask for it. I feared if I went to see a counselor, someone might make incorrect assumptions about my life. I mistakenly assumed people in ministry shouldn’t need help.
One Sunday morning, the leadership encouraged me to get the help I needed. Since then, I’ve talked with or read about many ministers who feel similar fears. They worry that if they don’t have everything together in their life, they could lose their ministries.
One way you can encourage your church staff is by allowing them to be human and to not have everything in their life together. (Of course, if there is blatant sin that is not being dealt with, that’s a different story; but like the rest of us, ministers shouldn’t have to be perfect to serve.)
More Practical Suggestions
Here are a few more ways to show your church staff you appreciate them.
Give a gift. Gifts aren’t necessary, but they’re a great way to show your appreciation. Gift cards are great, especially considering many ministers don’t have large salaries. Even something as simple as a Sonic drink, a thoughtful card, or a bag of their favorite candy would be an encouragement.
Take them to lunch. One minister said, “I wish someone would ask me to lunch without an agenda.” When people ask their ministers to lunch, it’s often because they need help or want to talk about an issue with the church. Take them to lunch for no other reason than to spend time with them.
Use your words to lift them up. Tell your preaching minister, “Your sermon really spoke to me today.” Tell your worship minister, “The song ministered to me.” Tell your technical minister, “This stage design looks great!” Tell your children or youth minister something specific your child said about their programming. Tell your custodian you appreciate how clean your church is. Tell your administrative assistant you appreciate his or her attention to detail.
Many ministers don’t hear about the good things they do, only the negative things. Be a voice of encouragement. Stand up for them if you hear someone complain. One minister said, “Sometimes I do things and don’t think it really makes a difference.” Another shared, “Sometimes I wonder if I am good enough for this role.” A simple “thank you” or kind note might be just what they need to reassure them they are right where God wants them to be.
This is especially true for leadership. Leaders, let your staff know when they are meeting goals and doing a good job. Your encouragement is a huge blessing to them. You also bless them when you work to make sure their needs are met for their ministries and when you hire additional staff if they need help.
Show your appreciation to their spouses. Ministry spouses often make sacrifices and are not always thanked for what they do. One way you can encourage your minister is by loving his or her spouse and kids.
Give them the benefit of the doubt. You might not always like everything they do, but recognize their motives before complaining. If your church is anything like mine, then everything the staff does is to help you draw near to Jesus. The staff knows not everyone prefers the type of music they play or the volume level or all the programs. “It means a lot,” one worship minister said, “when I get encouragement from people whom I know would prefer a different style of music.”
Realize how crazy their schedules can be. Sometimes when people ask ministers to do things, they expect them to drop everything and help at once. One way you can encourage your staff is by giving them grace and being flexible when you need them.
Don’t minimize any role. Many of the jobs that make a church function are behind the scenes. Encourage those on stage, as well as your “hidden” church staff like receptionists, custodians, graphic designers, and others.
Pray for them.
Be a superstar volunteer.
If you volunteer on a ministry team, do your job well. When you show up on time and fulfill your role, you remind your ministers that what they are doing is worth every hour and dime spent.
Lindsey Bell is the author of Unbeaten and Searching for Sanity. She is a columnist for The Lookout and writes regularly at www.lindseymbell.com.