Six Ways to Encourage your Pastor

Being a pastor is a high calling, yet pastors often face loneliness and discouragement. Surprisingly, some surveys reveal that up to 80% of pastors face regular discouragement in ministry. If that statistic even remotely reflects reality, then your pastor probably needs your encouragement. Yet, it seems so rare. The influential writer Henry Nouwen even wrote these insightful words. … there is little praise and much criticism in the church today, and who can live for long in such a climate without slipping into some type of depression?[1] If your pastors need encouragement, should you offer it to him or her or should they just suck it up? If you do want to encourage them, what’s the best way to do it? I suggest some practical ways here.

I’m convinced that we all need encouragement, even the strongest believer and most mature pastor. In fact, the Apostle Paul admitted he needed it and often referred to those who refreshed his and other people’s spirits, Philemon, Onesiphorus, and the Corinthian church. At times he even asked for it. A key character in the bible, Barnabas, was known as the son of encouragement.

Hebrews 13.17 speaks to this need and admonishes followers of Jesus to respond to their leaders in such a way as to make their work a joy. These translations bring out the meaning.

  • So don’t make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. (CEV)
  • Let them do this with joy and not with grief … . (NASB)
  • Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. (NLT)
  • Let them do all this with joy and not with groaning. (ESV)

In the research I did for my book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, I surveyed hundreds of pastors and asked them how people in their church encouraged them. These were the top six responses.

  1. You showed me tangible appreciation (such as small gifts like a gift card to a coffee shop).
  2. You let me know that I spiritually impacted your life (such as sending an email to him or her about a recent message that helped you grow).
  3. You prayed for me (such as sending a note telling your pastor that you prayed for him).
  4. You accepted and understood me, cared for me, and were there when I needed you (such as communicating in a genuine way that you know how difficult it is being a pastor and that you truly care).
  5. You supported my leadership, defended me, and trusted me (such as going out of your way to tell your pastor that you truly believe in him and trust him).
  6. You ministered to my spouse and/or my family (such as remembering his or her kids’ birthdays).

The pastors who responded to this survey shared many touching stories and sad ones as well. One pastor even wrote that he wasn’t sure anybody in his church really cared about him. I hope your pastor doesn’t feel that way.

If you’re a pastor, would sharing this statistic with your church in an appropriate way open the door for the encouragement you desperately need in your life right now?

If you aren’t a pastor, what is God prompting you to do this week to encourage your pastor?


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[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989), 32.

3 Ways Stress is Actually Good for You

I’ve often written about stress, here, here, and here. Most of my writing about it has focused on the detrimental effects upon our body, leadership, and brain. However, I’m now reading an eye opening book by health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonical, The Upside of Stress, Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It. I highly recommend it. She also presented a TED talk on the subject that millions have watched. You can watch it here. In this post I summarize three ways stress is actually good for you.

pastors under stress

First, a caveat. Prolonged stress is NOT good for us. When our body remains on high alert for long periods of time research has discovered many bad effects result including dampened immunity, digestive problems, heart disease, anxiety, weight gain, impaired brain functioning (especially memory), and sleep impairment.

On the other hand, God wired our bodies to produce a stress response to keep us from being eaten by wild tigers in the Serengeti. Fortunately, he also gave us brains so that we could grow and make our lives safer and more comfortable. So, such a response that He created in us to keep us safe isn’t needed in that same way today, at least for most of us in the west.

At the core of rethinking stress lies a concept McGonical calls mindsets. The term is self explanatory. It simply means the beliefs that shape how we view things. The key to making stress work on our behalf lies in changing our mindsets. If we view periodic stress as beneficial, it actually transforms how the body responds to it. She gives several interesting studies that show how changing our mindsets toward it benefits us. Changing this mindset increases the production of a neurotransmitter called DHEA which helps mitigate the negative effects of the stress hormone, cortisol (among other positive benefits). In fact, studies show that having a positive mindset on aging can add an average of nearly eight years to your life.

Here are the three benefits.

  1. It gives us more energy to rise to the challenges we face in life. As a pastor I speak every Sunday when I give a 30-40  minute sermon. My stress response system revs up right before I speak. This process actually dumps fat and sugar in to my bloodstream that gives me fuel. The processes in my brain speed up resulting in better focus and concentration. My motivation increases as chemicals get released in my brain and bloodstream. My body uses energy more efficiently. I’m more prepared for the challenge at hand, to bring what I hope is a God inspired talk to encourage others in their relationship with Christ. McGonical calls this the ‘excite and delight’ side of stress.
  2. It motivates us toward greater social connection. When I read about this benefit, my first thought was, “When we get stressed we tend to pull back to protect ourselves.” That is the case for some. But again, changing our mindset is key. When the stress response activates, it actually releases oxytocin, also called the trust hormone. Oxytocin helps us build bonds with others. A hug can release it. A mom breastfeeding her baby causes the baby’s brain to release it. Oxytocin gives us a greater sense of empathy toward others. This part of the stress response is called the ‘tend and befriend’ response. We might even call this what Scripture describes as community. We need each other, especially in times of difficulty.
  3. It can actually help us grow and learn. McGonical writes that this benefit occurs when we are in the recovery phase, when we return to a non-stress baseline. The various stress hormones and neurotransmitters actually help us recover from it as much as they help us rise to challenges. For several hours after a stress induced experience our body slowly returns to what is called homeostasis, when our body’s chemicals come back into normal balance. In doing do, the brain learns from the experience. After such an experience we often replay it in our minds or even talk to a friend about it. That process helps cement learnings in our minds so that we know how to better handle similar stressful experiences in the future.

So, stress definitely carries an upside, but the key is mindset. I believe Paul had mindset in mind when he wrote these words.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Phil 4.8)

What are your initial thoughts about the benefits of stress?

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Should Pastors Abstain from Drinking Alcohol?

I grew up in the south and in a denomination where drinking alcohol was frowned upon for the average church attender and definitely considered taboo for pastors. I served in the central valley of California where I could drive to several wineries within five minutes and where the church didn’t frown upon social drinking. I served in another part of the country when at my first board meeting the elder host literally provided an open bar. I was offered a choice of about a half dozen alcoholic beverages that night. So, who’s right? Should pastors abstain from drinking alcohol or should pastors not even think about it?

I’ve noticed that in the past few years several leaders in the emerging church movement seem to portray through their teaching, blogs, and twitter profiles an, “I drink and that makes me really cool,” attitude. I heard one well-known teacher play off the popularity of the WWJD craze by changing ‘What Would Jesus Do’ to ‘What Would Jesus Drink.’ He then spent several minutes talking about how much he enjoyed alcohol.

On the other hand, I know a guy who won’t even go into a restaurant if it serves alcohol.

I’ve never preached a message against alcohol and I don’t believe the bible prohibits drinking in moderation. After all, Jesus turned water into wine and Paul encouraged Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach.

I even occasionally went to a bar with my improv class friends to hang out after class. I ordered a beer of the non-alcoholic root variety.

However, I’ve chosen to refrain from even social drinking for these reasons.

  1. I want to maximize my health and keep my brain humming at maximum efficiency. A recent meta-study has shown a linkage of even moderate alcohol drinking to a heightened risk of some cancers. And, I hope to keep my ‘senior moments’ down to a minimum as I get older. Alcohol has shown to have negative effects on the brain.
  2. I don’t want to play Russian roulette. A quarter of people who drink are considered problem drinkers and almost 10% are considered alcoholics. I don’t want to risk becoming one of those statistics.
  3. I want to practice the principle of deference as best I can. Based on Paul’s admonition in Romans 14.21, I would not want a behavior such as drinking to potentially cause a weaker brother to stumble.
    • It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. (NLT)
  4. As a leader, I’ve chosen a higher standard for my leadership life. Proverbs 31.4 has influenced my thinking.
    • Kings and leaders should not get drunk or even want to drink. (CEV)

I recognize that pastors and church people hold multiple views on this subject.

  •  If you are a pastor, do you think a pastor should refrain or not?
  •  If you are not a pastor, what do you think about pastors who do drink socially?

Here’s another thoughtful post on this subject.

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Introverts Don’t Make Good Pastors

Or, maybe they do.

  • I’m a pastor and an introvert.
  • I get energy from being alone.
  • Being with people for long periods of time drains me, although I  have strong people skills.
  • I love to read.
  • I go on silent retreats.
  • After church every Sunday I need to spend time without high people interaction.
  • Did I say I am an introvert?

Am I automatically disadvantaged as a pastor?

Do only the gregarious, back slapping pastors lead big churches?

Some  years ago I learned that my introversion offended a church leader where I once served. We held an overnight leadership retreat at a local retreat center. After the last session ended around nine, we provided snacks and games. At about ten, I went to bed as was my habit. Most of the other leaders stayed up past midnight. Had I stayed up with them, I would have been toast for the sessions to follow the next morning.

I learned months later that my leaving the group to go to bed offended him. He brought it up more than once. He was an extrovert and did not like me yielding to my introversion.

Should I have stayed up to “work the crowd?” Perhaps. But that incident illustrates the challenges introverts often face when they serve in ministry.

As I’ve pondered this issue more deeply, I read the book Quiet, the Power of Introverts that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, a great read. As an introvert, Susan presents a compelling case for the the power of introverts. If you are an introvert, you will feel affirmed if you read it.

Here’s a good article on introverts here.

If you are an introvert, what challenges have you experienced in ministry?

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What do Toilet Repairs and Leadership Composure have in Common?

Some time back I had scheduled a plumber to fix minor leaks in some toilets in our home as we prepared to sell our house. My wife was to meet the plumber in my absence and give him the instructions I had given her. At about ten minutes after the appointment time she called and told me that he had come and said the fixes were so simple I could do them. I asked her what he charged us to give us that sage advice. Her response? “$125.” I was not a happy camper. Here’s what happened next and what I learned about leadership composure.

When she told me that he had left without fixing the toilets and then charged us, my emotions took over. I was ticked off. Livid better describes how I felt. I couldn’t even think straight. My wife immediately sensed the anger in my voice and assured me that she’d call him back and have him return to complete the repairs.

After we hung up, I felt bad that I had gotten so angry. I tried to regain my composure because I had scheduled a full day to complete a chapter for my next book. We pastors often want to figure out why bad things happen, so I began to ruminate over the situation, thinking that if I figured it out, I could calm my emotions.

Well, I am anything but a handyman. I can’t drive a nail straight much less fix something as convoluted as a toilet. I imagined myself spending an entire day trying to fix the leaks. I could see myself breaking something worse that would force sewage to back up into the house. And with all the sewage, we’d never sell the house. And because we couldn’t sell the house, we go into foreclosure and lose the house. And when we lost the house we’d have to live in a van down by the river . . . . Well, maybe I didn’t imagine it that bad. But I did imagine me getting hyper-stressed trying to fix the toilet.

Then I recalled some neuroscience research from Ethan Kross’ on distancing and emotional control. He has discovered a simple technique that helps moderate our anger: take the perspective of a third party observing yourself in situations that prompt anger.

When I recalled that research, I now imagined myself physically stepping away from the car, where I got my wife’s call, and watching myself talking to her and getting angry. When I did that, immediately I thought, “How silly to get upset over a leaky toilet.” It was amazing what happened next.

That simple mental exercise helped quickly lessen my anger. As a result, I was able to think clearly the rest of the day without any emotional “leaky toilet” intrusions. Kross likens that phenomenon to how a friend can help us calm down by giving us an objective perspective of an emotion causing event.

We pastors often face issues that can make us mad.The next time that happens to you, step back and observe yourself becoming angry. See if the Holy Spirit will give you a fresh perspective and clearer insight to moderate your anger and be a more composed leader.

What has helped you moderate your anger brought about by ministry demands or family stress?

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