St. Paul’s topic today is a very important one in the life of the church: the treatment of pastors or elders (presbyters or priests.) Throughout 1 Timothy, Paul has dealt extensively with the office of elder because he is writing to Timothy on how to govern a church.
I wish there were some way I could speak of how Christians ought to treat their pastors without including myself (as a pastor) in this discussion. But I’m going to drop the false humility and tell you exactly what I would have told you before I was a priest, only with a lot more inside information now.
I find two important principles we should all carefully consider. The first is that your pastor is a human being and has all of the normal human needs, weaknesses, and issues. The second is that your pastor is worthy of a double honor.
First, Paul’s wisdom to Timothy about elders is amazingly commonsensical – so much so that it’s a wonder that we often don’t treat our pastors the way we treat other people. First, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (verse 18.) This is not only St. Paul speaking: it is Jesus. How much is a good pastor worth? How much is your soul worth? Or the soul of your child? How much is it worth to have someone feed you the Word of God week by week and take the time to show you how to be a disciple, and how much is it worth to be led in the worship of God? Make sure you’re not muzzling your pastor by not paying him enough.
Being like other people, elders are human and sinful. But do not falsely accuse them, do not gossip about them, and don’t presume to accuse them of wrong without 2 or 3 witnesses. But if your priest is obviously sinning, you’d better confront him with witnesses, so that the rest may fear (verse 20), and so that souls aren’t harmed. No one is above discipline, and that is why a church better have a bishop or some means of judging in cases of pastoral sin. There are pastors who are not doing their job, and that, too, is a matter for your consideration.
Don’t be in a hurry to ordain your presbyters (verse 22), but spend a lot of time making sure they are qualified (see 1 Timothy 3) and have proven faithful with small things first. Don’t ordain those who are new in the faith (1Timothy 3): if God has called them, then they will be prepared in God’s way and through the means He has ordained. Remember the high standards God has for elders, and hold your elders to that standard. We know in the business world that you don’t make someone fresh from college a CEO. Why would we be in such a hurry to ordain church leaders?
All of this is what we would expect of any earthly leader, isn’t it?
Your pastor is human. Do you make allowance for this? Sometimes, it seems as if churches expect their pastors to be excellent in every possible way. The range of competencies and virtues a pastor is expected to have – especially in a small church (70% of Protestant churches have under 125 attendees per week) is extraordinary – and completely unrealistic. When you make a suggestion or demand of your pastor, and wonder why it hasn’t been acted upon, remember that you may be just one of dozens he has heard that week and which must be added to the dozens he heard last week and didn’t get around to.
If you have a strong stomach, ask your pastor to write down all of the things he does in a given week or for a job composite job description of what the church collectively expects him to do.
Consider carefully how much you expect of the pastor God has given you, and then consider even more carefully how much you have done to support your pastor and enable him to do what you expect.
Here are a few statistics I have compiled about the state of pastors these days: they’re not for the faint of heart.
90% work more than 46 hours a week
80% believe pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
33% believe ministry is a hazard to their family
50% feel themselves unable to meet the needs of the job
90% feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
70% say they have a lower self esteem now than when they started in ministry
40% reported serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
37% confessed to having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend
20% have long-term stress or burnout
80% of the wives of pastors feel unappreciated in the church
70% of pastors constantly fight depression
1500 pastors a month leave the ministry
The second principle you should consider is that an elder who rules and teaches well should be considered worthy of a double honor. Think of the honor you would give a noble human leader in any other field – and double it. Think of the honor given to a saintly person in your church – and double it. The faithful pastor is worthy of a double honor in that he deserves both your respect and your remuneration.
And now it’s time for a clean, little pastoral secret. I can’t speak for all priests, but I hope most share my secret. What we want more than anything else, even more than your praise or encouragement, even more than a worthy wage or understanding – is that you take seriously the Word of God we have taught you week by week. What we want above all things is to see your lives so utterly devoted to the Lord that your gifts and talents brought to the church cause it to overflow and we have to tell you to stop bringing them. What we want is that you are so filled with the Holy Spirit that you won’t shut up about Jesus Christ but will instead turn the world upside down. What we want is that you have such a zeal for God’s house that we can’t keep you away whenever there is a worship service to be celebrated, a forum for studying the Bible or meditating on it, an opportunity to get together to pray, a teaching ministry equipping you for discipleship and the work of ministry (which we have solemnly vowed to do), or an occasion for holy fellowship.
Show me churches filled with Christians who honor God in this way, and those of us who are elders won’t have to worry ever again about being honored ourselves, about being paid adequately, or about wondering if we still belong in the ordained ministry.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, by whose holy hands the apostles were ordained and who taught us that the laborer is worthy of his wages, help me to more properly honor the pastor into whose pastoral care and ministry You have entrusted me.
Point for Meditation:
Come up with 3 practical ways you can more adequately support your pastor. Share your ideas with others from your church.
Resolution: I resolve to reflect on the way I have thought about, prayed for, supported, and honored my elder or pastor.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day