On loving pastors

Guest commentary by Lara Hauser

I was recently invited to give the charge to the congregation at the installation of a dear friend at his new call. I was honored, but a little surprised he asked. You see, I have been to a lot of installations, certainly more than your average church-goer, and in my experience, the person giving this charge is usually a pastor, or an elder, perhaps a PNC (pastor nominating committee) member or part of the presbytery commission. I am none of those things, but perhaps having been to a lot of installations was my qualification.

Briefly, here are my bona fides: I have been a PK (preacher’s kid), PW (pastor’s wife), PS (pastor’s sister), PSIL (pastor’s sister-in-law) … and the list of pastors who I count as friends, both in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in other churches, is quite long. I am in a unique position to talk about loving a pastor. I have both observational and first-hand experience. I know quite a bit about the inner life of pastors and a lot of the behind-the scenes stuff. In my charge, I offered this peak behind the curtain. If you want to know how you can love your pastors, read on.

First, know that they are real people with failings, and significant gifts.

The pastors I have known have been well aware of both. I am reminded of something my late husband said when he was being introduced to a congregation by the PNC on the Sunday when they were voting on his call as their new pastor. After sitting through 20 minutes of the most adoring, glowing, flattering description one could possibly imagine, Scott had to stand up and address the congregation. As far as I know, he had no specifically prepared remarks for that moment — who could have prepared for such a thing? Even I, his absolute biggest fan, was a little stunned by the generosity of the PNC’s introduction. They were effusive.

What he said has stuck with me for its wisdom and good humor. Scott stood in the pulpit, leaned into the microphone as though he was telling a secret, and said,

“Friends… I’m not as good as you think I am. And I suspect you are not as good as I think you are.”

Scott knew, your pastor knows and every pastor knows that they have failings. They, like you, are sinners of God’s own redeeming, wrapped essentially in God’s grace. So if you want to love your pastors, treat them like human beings, flawed and beloved by God anyway. Expect big things of them, but never expect them to be Jesus: perfect in every way. Only expect them to point you to Jesus.

Next, you should know: They suffer with you and for you… and because of you.

As Scott said, your pastor is not the only one with failings, as I am sure you are well aware. My mom had something she liked to say when people would complain, “I don’t want to go to church to hang out with a bunch of perfect people, all those holier-than-thou saints.” My mom would laughingly reply, “I don’t go to church to hang out with saints… I go there to hang out with a bunch of hypocrites like me!”

All sin and fall short of the glory of God – even pastors – and they are not immune to being hurt and disappointed when you fall short. They will let you down, and you will let them down, and you will need bear with one another in love, forgiving and offering grace. Your pastors will suffer — sometimes because of you.

Even as you may hurt each other, as people do, your pastors will hurt when you hurt, and they will grieve when you grieve, and they will rejoice in your triumphs. In that way, your pastors are like God. Your pastors will suffer with you.

I have seen pastors I love tear up as they baptize a tiny, helpless baby, welcoming a child into the family of God. I have seen them weep as they marry grown children whose faith they nurtured. And I have seen them with tears streaming freely as they have to return to God a parishioner they loved who has entered the eternal kingdom.

All good pastors will necessarily suffer with you, and for you, and because of you. If you want to love your pastors, come alongside them and bear that suffering together.

You should also know: They often neglect their own personal and spiritual needs to serve you.

I know this particularly well as a PK and a PW, because the family often sacrifices when the pastor does. While it is ultimately up to your pastors to take responsibility for caring for those needs appropriately, you can support and encourage them in that. Don’t expect them to do the hard work of faith for you, but do expect them to do it with you.

I reminded myself often when I sent my husband off for the somethingeth consecutive evening meeting that he did not go to the church alone at those times. Every meeting he attended was filled with people who were also leaving their families to work for the church. They were doing it on a volunteer basis. Few of them were there as often as he was, but they were answering a call, too. And I was thankful for each one who lived out the reality that the work of the church is for all of us, not just the reverends and pastors and preachers and staff members.

If you want to love your pastors, do the work alongside them.

That said, do remember what they are missing each time they are at the church or elsewhere serving its needs. Encourage them to be thoughtful and wise about time with family and time for themselves to attend to their spiritual health. Their ministry and your congregation will be better for it.

Finally, you should know that your pastors take call seriously. Call is a pretty churchy word, and not very well understood outside of ministry circles. Call is the idea that God has a vocation for each of us, good work to do to further God’s kingdom on earth. The pastors I know take that very seriously. And so should you, because even as your pastors are called to your congregation in order for God to do transforming work through them, God is also ready and abundantly able to do transforming work through you, both for your pastors, and for the church, and beyond the walls of the church, and beyond the hearts of the people in it to reach a hurting world that, often unknowingly, longs for God. So if you want to love your pastors, take that calling seriously as the holy work it is. I promise you that your pastor does.

I have loved a lot of pastors in my life. I still do. It’s a holy calling of its own, loving people who commit so fully to loving others as their full-time job (regardless of what the terms of call have to say about part-time or tentmaking, the loving part is full-time). It’s inspiring and humbling to witness. It can be heartbreaking and frustrating, too. I am grateful for anyone who loves a pastor well, the way Jesus calls us to love: sacrificially, with grace and humility. It’s something for all of us to strive toward, together. Ultimately, the best things you can do for your pastor are:

  • Pray for them: frequently and specifically.
  • Get to know them: build relationships with your pastors that acknowledge that they are people worth knowing.
  • Love them: in action, even and especially when you’re not feeling it. I can guarantee you that your pastors will do the same for you.

LARA HAUSER, a lifelong Presbyterian, lives in Mequon, Wisconsin with her four children and is a member of Crossroads Presbyterian Church. She is the widow of Scott Hauser and considers herself a “pastor’s wife emeritus.”