Few people have a clue about the burdens pastors carry. That’s due both to the men and to the job: The men generally are humble, not self-promoting, and the job entails a lot of personal ministry and confidentiality. Those who do see the pastor’s work only see fragments of it: his sermons, his Bible studies, maybe an individual or family visit. They don’t know how much more work there is than they see in those two or three hours a week, how much time he puts into study and preparation, how many meetings he must attend (some of them — like budget meetings — not directly related to the pastoral ministry), how many long hours he puts in. They don’t know the emotional investment he has in all the people he counsels — their health crises, their spiritual crises — or the family time he must sacrifice.
Above all, perhaps, they don’t know the spiritual warfare he encounters. To become a pastor is to step right into the devil’s cross hairs. Any weapon Satan can use, he will use to tear down both the man and his mission. If he can tempt and corrupt the pastor, he’ll do it. If he can’t, he’ll try to sap the pastor’s energies with misunderstandings, backbiting and undermining, rumor-mongering or various other afflictions, including spiritual assaults on the pastor’s family. The spouses and children have their own burdens to carry as it is, and the devil is always eager to increase the load.
Having been an elder at two churches, I have a better idea than most members of what pastors must deal with. Elders share responsibility with pastors for the congregation’s spiritual well-being: We also have a responsibility for the pastors’ well-being. We have more knowledge than most about what the pastors are doing and feeling, and we help them carry their burdens in our limited way.
So take my word for it when I say: Even a little encouragement means a lot to a pastor. When you take just a minute to let him know you appreciate and support what he’s doing, you remind him that the ministry God has given him is making an impact on people’s lives. When you write him a note, you give him something he can look at more than once, something he can re-read at hard moments when he needs it. When you smile sincerely and give him a genuine handshake or hug, you show him that he’s among friends. You break through the negativity others may be hurling his way; you provide rays of sunshine poking through on a cloudy day.
This isn’t meant to imply that you should stop at providing just a little encouragement. It’s only meant to say that there’s always something you can do that will mean something to your pastor. You don’t have to clear time on your schedule in advance; you can do it on the spur of the moment. But putting more time into it certainly has value, too.
If you want to do something especially uplifting for your pastor, tell him how something he said made a spiritual impact on you. He’s there to speak the Word of the Lord. He wants to know that you’re listening and that it sunk in with you.
That’s his reward in this life. That’s what gives him joy in his work. And that’s what makes all his trials worthwhile.