Paul tells the Thessalonians 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 5:12b-13a ESV).
Showing such honor is easier said than done. Perhaps you’re at a large church, and you’re unsure your pastor knows your name. Perhaps you’re a college student who has one foot in your home church and one foot in another church you attend during the school year. Perhaps you’re a missionary sent out from the church, separated by thousands of miles, feeling entirely disconnected from the life of your sending church.
Consider these three “P’s”—easy ways to honor your shepherds in the Lord year-round.
I know a pastor with very poor eyesight who preaches without glasses or contacts each week. He can see his notes, but the entire congregation is a blur. I joke with him that he’s able to preach a bit more boldly because he isn’t studying the peoples’ reactions in real time.
Most pastors aren’t like him. Pastors do, generally, see their flock. They know you, and they want to see you.
As someone involved in church ministry myself, I can attest: it is a deep joy for a weary pastor to see his fellow saints each Lord’s day. “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).
Do you want to warm your pastor’s heart? Show up. Not once a month, not when it’s convenient. Show up every week. If you’re able, come early or stay late to drink in the fellowship. Whether you interact much with your pastor personally on a Sunday or not, simply seeing you will encourage him.
As a young child, I became known for a certain catchphrase. If my parents wanted me to nap, clean something up, or embark on some other endeavor preschoolers generally find detestable, I’m told I would reply, “That won’t work.” Apparently even from my toddler years, in my flesh, I’ve had a natural tendency to criticize. Maybe you do too.
Sometimes, our critiques are warranted. Church leaders are imperfect and sometimes do things wrongly. We must be discerning, like the Bereans were (Acts 17:11).
But it’s far too easy to adopt a posture that’s critical by default, analyzing rather than participating in worship. We’ve all thought, I wouldn’t have picked that song, or, This sermon is going too long. It’s one thing to think these things—it’s another thing to say them all, much less to say them at inopportune times.
I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this dynamic. I’ve preached a sermon, descended the pulpit, and been greeted with a critique. I’ve opened my inbox first thing Monday morning to ungracious feedback after a hard Sunday of ministry. I’ve also been the person tempted to lodge a criticism on a Monday morning, and have at times forcibly suppressed that feedback out of love. Sometimes, to my shame, I haven’t suppressed it.
Friend: the five-minute window after the sermon isn’t the time to go toe-to-toe with your pastor’s exegesis, assuming he is sincere, committed to God and his Word, and wasn’t preaching sinful error. Monday isn’t a great time either. Exercise prudence. Choose face-to-face conversation over fiery emails. Delay your critique, or consider refraining from critique altogether. Submit to every fellow laborer (1 Corinthians 16:16). Show double honor to those who preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17).
You knew this one was coming. The easiest thing we can do for our pastors and elders is actually the simplest, too. We can bring them, their families, and their ministries before the throne of grace in prayer.
Pastors have a unique spiritual target on their backs. Satan’s strategy is to strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep. That’s partly why Paul warned Timothy to keep an eye not only on his doctrine but also on his character (1 Timothy 4:16).
Not sure what to pray for your pastor? Just start praying anyway. The Lord knows your heart. Pray for his marriage, his wife, his kids, his moral purity, his devotional life, his financial provision, his challenges in ministry. You can also pray a passage like Colossians 1:9-11 over your pastors and elders:
Heavenly Father, I pray that [name] would be filled with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that he may walk in a manner worthy of you, fully pleasing to you, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
A final word: the way we respond to the leadership of Christ’s under-shepherds reflects the way we respond to Christ’s own shepherding leadership. If we cannot lovingly submit to the men whom God has placed over us, how can we lovingly submit to our Lord whom we have not yet seen? May we pass the test.
Your pastor may not be perfect; that’s okay (neither are you). Love him anyway, for the sake of Christ, all year long.