As a pastor, you not only look after the needs of your family and your flock, but you also need to care for your staff.
- Do you pray for them?
- Do you treat them fairly?
- Do you play favorites?
Only you can answer these questions. When you do annual reviews for your staff, do you take your time with them, look them in the eye, and tell them what they need to hear?
Make a Sandwich
When I do a review, I apply what I call the “sandwich approach.”
- I start by genuinely telling them what they’re doing well.
- Then I let them know areas where they could improve.
- Finally, I conclude by reminding them of their value—both to the ministry and to me personally.
By “sandwiching” the review, they can hear anything in the middle. But they must know that your affirmations up front are authentic and not just a primer for the bad news—or for their getting fired! They must know they are important to you. I’ve communicated some of my strongest words to staff people—some very firm words—maybe even stronger than I’ve said to my kids. But not one of them thought I didn’t love them.
Keep the Pool Clean
Your staff needs your loyalty. Church members will come to you to talk about the staff. Watch it.
- Be confident and be careful . . . just as you would want your staff to be careful when church members come to talk about you! Never undercut a staff member because a church member is influential or gives a lot of money. That’s dirty pool.
- If you have a problem with your staff member, you have a mouth and they have ears. Make the time, and get alone with them. Be willing to listen to their problems with you without being defensive. Again, just like you would want them to respond to you.
- Do you pay them a fair salary? Do you compensate them the going rate they could make if they worked in the industry in your city? Take a look at that and do what’s fair.
Stay in the Right Corner
Let me mention one more item in relation to staff. Do you check up and make sure they’re taking their day off? I had a staff member one time in a former church who rarely took his day off. I remember driving by the church on a Monday evening and I saw his light on. When I got there Tuesday morning the light was still on! I marched into his office and asked, “When’s the last time you took a day off?”
He seemed proud of his answer, “It’s been about three weeks.”
So I said, “That’s unacceptable. You keep that up, and I’ll let you go.”
You know what? Amazingly, he started taking his day off! There is no value in not taking a day off.
- My mentor, Howard Hendricks, had one wag tell him, “The devil never takes a holiday, so why should I?” Hendricks didn’t miss a beat and replied: “Oh really, I didn’t know he was your model.” I love it!
- There’s an old line that goes, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” What kind of choice is that? Either way you’re out!
As a pastor you know more than most how important it is to have an advocate in your corner. Most likely, you are that sole advocate for those who labor alongside you.
Please, take good care of your staff.
My older son has taught me a lesson from his experience as a businessman: Our most important customers are our own team members. I have discovered that is also true in ministry.
Many of you serve in churches where at least one other staff member works alongside you. Listen to me: Some of the people easiest to overlook are fellow staff members. I work hard not to do that.
Let me urge you to do the same. Here’s how.
Tell Them Publicly
Some of the most resourceful and insightful people I have known have been my staff people. One year we did a series of concerts at our church in California. Our music minister, Howie Stevenson, his wife, Marilyn, and their team of music makers put it together. People from around the community came to hear folk songs, pop songs, and fun songs. It was a smashing success! Every time we did it I had Howie stand up the following Sunday, and I told the congregation, “That’s the man who came up with this idea. That’s the man who gets the credit.” The place exploded with applause! Why did I do that? Because it was true.
We pastors often get the credit when we need to be passing it on to the one deserving it. We give enormous encouragement to our gifted staff when we publicly acknowledge them—and that affirmation motivates them to use their gifts in even greater ways.
Tell Them Privately
Sometimes we’ll recognize or reward a church member more frequently or lavishly than we do a fellow staff member. A paycheck is not acknowledgment. It takes words of appreciation. Trust me, they mean most when they come from you, the pastor.
In addition to recognizing them in public, do it also in private. Write them notes of encouragement. I mean handwritten notes. E-mail is quick and cheap; there’s little personalized in email . . . not even a signature! Write personal notes. Even if it’s as simple as saying,
This morning I felt that your presentation was spot on. Remarkable job!
Tell Them Often
I’m telling you, they’ll never forget it. They may even frame it! Once I was in the home of one of our church members. While walking up the stairs, I saw a simple note of thanks I had written framed on their wall. Framed! My first thought was to check, Did I spell everything right?
Do you appreciate your staff? Tell them publicly. Tell them privately. Tell them often. Our most important customers are our own team members.
Let’s let them know that.
At a recent pastors conference hosted by Insight for Living, one pastor’s wife asked me an insightful question. I’ll share her question with you, as well as my thoughts on it, so that you might pass it along to your wife, if appropriate. This woman asked, “What is the greatest contribution a wife can make to a man in ministry?”
Wonderful question. Let me respond directly . . . to your wife.
Be Secure in Who You Are
One of the greatest contributions you can make to your husband is that you be very secure in who you are. Pastors’ wives often feel they need to be something everyone else wants them to be. Some of that responsibility falls on us, as pastors, and I understand that. But it’s so important that you know who you are . . . and then be who you are.
Be a Person of Objective Support
From that place of security, it’s important that you be for your husband a person of objective support.
Notice how I said that. Objective support. You’re neither a shadow nor a doormat. Furthermore, you’re not there to agree with everything. Some of the things you don’t agree with will be very helpful to him. But how you go about expressing your disagreement is very important.
Remember, the goal is objective support. Both terms are essential.
Cynthia has learned how and when to question something I said in a sermon. But she has cultivated the ability to do it in a way that I feel supported by her. Younger wives tend to talk about it on the way home from church . . . not a good time! We pastors feel pretty fragile, even defensive, on Sunday afternoons. So it’s important that you learn how to say what you have to say.
Remember the wives of leaders in the Bible? They had great influence . . . for good or evil. If you can remind your husband that you support him (even when you may disagree with him), he can face any challenge the ministry hurls his way. But if he doesn’t have your support—if he doubts that you believe in him—he may eventually quit the ministry in a pit of depression.
I’ve seen it happen.
Be a Trusted Confidant
Finally, it’s important to keep his confidences. There are some issues I deal with that Cynthia does not know about—but they are very few. If I say to an individual, “No one will ever know this,” then I really mean no one will ever know it. But I’m careful when I say that. I usually add the caveat: “I may tell my wife about this, but she’ll make a burial of the information in her mind.”
It is helpful for me to confide in my wife. Your husband needs that too. Assure him of your confidentiality.
Be very secure in who you are. Be a person of objective support. And be a trusted confidant.
He has so very few.
I don’t want to intensify your guilt—not at all. But let me go ahead and say that it’s probably true that some of you are neglecting the home, and the ministry has become your mistress. Believe me; I understand how that can happen. I confess that there were periods in my own life when that occurred, which I have shared with you before.
Having been there, I’m telling you: it isn’t worth it.
My word to you is to learn the difference between being engaged in ministry and being controlled by it.
May I Say the Obvious?
You still have a family!
- They still long to have lunch with you.
- They still love to get a phone call.
- They want to know wisdom from you outside the pulpit.
- They still yearn to have an arm around their shoulders.
- They still want you to make time to sit on the back porch and kick back and listen.
- They want you to attend their ball games and go to their performance and see you relax . . . really relax!
- They still want to know that you can do more in your spare time than study.
- And they really want to hear you laugh!
They are the ones you will leave in your legacy—the only ones who have your blood and your name. They need you. They want you.
After all, they’re the ones who could write the unauthorized biography. Oh, what a thought! I won’t go there.
Words Worth Pondering
Let me end this entry by quoting from a book you should get if you don’t have it. Ken Gire, in his little volume A Father’s Gift: The Legacy of Memories, closes with these reflective words.
What pictures will my son remember
when he comes to the plain granite marker
over his father’s grave?
What will my daughters remember?
Or my wife? . . .
. . . I’ve resolved to give fewer lectures,
to send fewer platitudes rolling their way,
to give less criticism,
to offer fewer opinions. . . .
. . . From now on, I will give them pictures they can live by,
pictures that can comfort them,
and keep them warm
in my absence.
Because when I’m gone, there will only be silence.
And memories. . . .
. . . Of all
I could give
to make their lives a little fuller,
a little richer,
a little more prepared
for the journey ahead of them,
nothing compares to the gift of remembrance—
pictures that show they are special
and that they are loved.
Pictures that will be there
when I am not.
Pictures that have within them
a redemption all their own.
As committed as you are to your church, there are others. You are not indispensable there. God can lead you to another church . . . and some day He will. But you cannot get another family . . . and they cannot get another you.
Your family members are the people who love you and need you the most—I mean that in a healthy way. Your wife and children want to be with you. They want as much time as possible to enjoy you. If you’re an empty nester, even your grown children still need you. So do those grandkids. Mine do too. They don’t want to lose us just because we are engaged in ministry.
If your ministry enlarges and begins to include other orbits (as mine has)—perhaps a radio ministry, a broader speaking ministry, a music ministry, or a publishing ministry—keep in mind that all of those things have voracious appetites. Just as Sunday comes every week (even during holidays) and you have to stand and deliver whether you’re ready or not, so your other commitments can suck the life out of you. Every publisher wants the next book, every blog or podcast audience wants the next post. My wife, Cynthia, reminds me often, “Radio never takes a holiday.” Those trains keep on moving, and they are hard to stop.
Now, I’m not saying don’t ever write, or speak elsewhere, or expand your ministry. I’m saying to think first and evaluate if it’s really God who is leading you. Needs will always outrun your energy. Even Jesus didn’t heal everybody. He purposely limited His ministry (Mark 1:35–38). The Judgment Seat of Christ will be about quality not quantity (1 Corinthians 3:13). Think before you add to your plate.
Practice saying, “No.”
I’ve been in ministry more than five decades. During that time I have discovered what might sound basic and obvious—but believe me, it took years to learn. In fact, I’m still growing into the reality of what it means. I have learned that relationships come just below one’s walk with God.
Even Jesus illustrated this principle by the relationships in His life, didn’t He?
- The Lord ministered to the multitudes.
- Within that crowd He had His followers.
- That group narrowed further to the Twelve, then to the three (Peter, James, and John).
- Finally, Jesus had John, the beloved disciple.
I have found that a minister of the gospel has at least four key areas of relationships.
4 Key Relationships for the Pastor
Picture these people as concentric circles around you—somewhat like those whom Jesus had around Him. Let’s start with those closest to you and work our way out.
- Your immediate circle is your family. Obviously, if you are married, I’m referring to your relationship with your wife. But prior to marriage, and now in tandem with it, you may have a continuing relationship with your parents. And then you and your wife have a relationship with your children, your grandchildren, your in-laws, and even further relationships within the family.
- The next circle out would be those who serve with you on a pastoral staff. You may serve in a church with a multiple-staff, or perhaps you are the only staff person. Maybe you employ someone on a part-time basis, or you may have volunteers. All of us have those like these who serve faithfully and consistently. Those relationships are unique.
- The third circle would be fellow leaders in the church. Perhaps they are elders and deacons, or you may have other titles in your denomination. These would be those leaders who serve alongside us.
- Finally, the fourth and largest circle represents those in our local congregation. And I’ve divided those into five categories: the attendees, the friends, the attractive, the troubled, and finally—the most difficult of all—the troublemakers.
A pastor’s relationships are essential.
I want to take my time in addressing these with you over the weeks ahead. We’re in no hurry. Relationships take time to develop . . . and talking about them does as well. These are the lives that touch us, shape us, minister to us, mean the world to us, or drive us nuts if they could.
Relationships come just below one’s walk with God. So easy to say . . . but so challenging to live.
As one responsible for communicating biblical truth, I want to share four principles especially for you. Pay close attention; read slowly, thoughtfully and carefully as I apply this to your ministry of proclaiming God’s Word.
First, always stay on the subject—Christ. For Paul it was always about Christ. Paul spoke of the “God who made the world and all things in it” to the followers of the “unknown god” of Athens, and everything for Paul pointed to Christ (Acts 17:10–34).
Preaching that which doesn’t exalt Christ is empty preaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers,
What will it take to convince us that the last will be first and the first will be last? For some it will take a lifetime. For others only a few semesters in seminary.
Each May, at the end of the spring term at Dallas Theological Seminary, we have the joy of listening to the school’s top preachers. They’re nominated and selected by pastoral-ministry professors. One year a talented young man preached on that pivotal passage in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. After a compelling exposition of that simple text, the young senior class preacher leaned low into the microphone, looked across the faces in Chafer Chapel, and asked his fellow students, “Do you want to have a great ministry . . . or do you just want to be great?”
The packed chapel went silent. Nobody blinked. I’ll never forget his question. None of us will. I hope he never does either.
Our calling as pastors includes fighting. I don’t mean we strap on the gloves and go toe-to-toe with our elders and congregational members. I mean, as pastors, we’re called to defend the faith.
As time passes, we will see our orthodox faith in Jesus Christ attacked more and more. We will find that the things of God are increasingly viewed with suspicion . . . addressed with cynicism . . . and, eventually, banned completely.
When we entered ministry, whether we knew it or not at the time, we entered a war zone. The pastorate is a battleground, not a playground.
This is why Paul included in his first letter to Timothy these sober commands:
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12–13)
I wrote you the last two weeks that the ministry is not our job. It’s our calling. That calling requires that we flee from certain things. However, along with fleeing from those things, we need to follow after other things.
I love the double action stated here. While we are fleeing from certain things, we are at the same time following after other things. The word that appears in my Bible is pursue (1 Timothy 6:11). The tense of the original term indicates that we should keep on pursuing these things.
Paul lists five pursuits for Timothy—and for us.