Premarital counseling can be an entertaining exercise for an older couple offering guidance to a younger couple. Across from them sit two individuals eager to be wed. Apart from occasional disagreements about planning the ceremony, the soon-to-be-newlyweds are prone to think all is well and their excitement is reflected on their faces. While the mentors don’t mean to discourage the couple, they do mean to equip the couple with counsel that will carry them beyond the honeymoon to the anniversaries to come.
Churches receiving a new pastor can be like that young couple sitting on the couch – eager to get started in the ministry they have waited for. The candidating process tempts them to believe all will be well. While their enthusiasm is encouraging, they also need some “premarital counseling.”
Hebrews 13:17 provides a helpful template for understanding the roles and responsibilities of a local congregation and its leaders. The author writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Using Hebrews 13:17 as a backdrop, here are four ideas on how a congregation can honor the Lord and be a joy to a new pastor as they welcome him:
Prayer: Pray for your new pastor and his family as they transition to a new ministry. These transitions, while initially exciting, can also be exhausting. During the early days of his new ministry, the pastor will juggle open houses, committee meetings, sermon preparation and countless personal meetings. People will interview him informally to see if he meets their expectations. At the same time, if he is married and has children, he is responsible for establishing “normal” on the home front, while introducing his family to everything from a new grocery store to a new school.
Pray for your congregation’s maturity. While surveys have difficulty capturing statistics on depth of relationships, love for Christ, fervor for witnessing, or commitment to unity, these are the marks of a congregation’s faithfulness to Christ. It is to this end that your pastor will be laboring (Col. 1:28-29) and it should be to this end that you are praying.
Patience: Does the new pastor acquire a clean slate or a template to follow? The congregation inevitably has expectations for their new pastor. While expectations are unavoidable, be patient. You can rightly expect him to preach the Word of God, possess a commitment to personal and corporate holiness and demonstrate passion for others to know the kindness of God in the gospel. However, hold loosely any additional expectations and preferences for where his time and focus should be spent. There is often much unseen soul-care taking place, beyond the view of most.
Teachability: While good sermons are appreciated, lives impacted by truth are far greater. A pastor’s prayer for his congregation will not differ from Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, “That you may be filled with the knowledge of [the Lord’s] will…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:9-10).
When interacting with your pastor about his preaching, talk about how the passage gave you new insight. Share how old truths have become new joys through the teaching of God's Word. Confess former areas of ignorance that have now been purged with the life-giving Word. Specific and intentional acknowledgements like these encourage a pastor to stay faithful to the Word and its proclamation.
God clearly identifies the one who catches His eye: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2) Like a child who complains about the meal before he even sits down, so is the congregant who enters corporate worship with an unteachable spirit even before the service has begun.
Encouragement: One whose heart is satisfied in Christ is glad to express that to anyone, including the pastor.
I recently participated in a monthly tour of my city with elected politicians and community leaders. I was saddened to see how quickly the community leaders complained about all of the action items they believed their elected politicians had not resolved. During an hour and a half of dialogue, only once was a word of encouragement offered. When I asked one of the politicians if it is always like this, he replied, “Every month.”
Unfortunately, this same tendency can be seen in local churches. Complaining comes naturally while encouragement requires intentionality. Too often people are quick to express disappointment and slow to communicate encouragement. Find yourself contributing to a culture where church members are regularly expressing how the joy of the Lord is found in their life. Pastors flourish in churches where members are vocal with their thankfulness for the work God is doing.
Honeymoons are fun but anniversaries are better. While there might be more pictures taken on the honeymoon, there are more memories to talk about on the anniversaries. Applying these four practices will contribute to the exciting reception of a new pastor and the long-lasting health of your church. May the marriage of faithful pastors to obedient churches bring much glory to God.
Eric Bancroft is the pastor of Castleview Church and a board member for ITS.