Joyful Shepherds, Joyful Churches

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Church elders (pastors) have a job to do. Their job, the scripture says, is to oversee the spiritual health of the church’s members (1 Pet 5:2). It is their responsibility to be devoted “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) so that the members are given a steady diet of the Word of God and are led by leaders who are themselves led by the Spirit of grace. This important work of “keeping watch” over the souls of those for whom they will give an account to God is serious business (Heb 13:17). So elders should be held accountable for doing their job, and for doing it well.

But, as with most vocations, pastors who feel well cared for themselves will be most likely to do their jobs well. So who’s going to care for these church leaders? Since the elders of the church ought to be a plurality, every pastor should have a pastor. A church that believes in a plurality of church elders is in a much healthier place than churches who have only one pastor.

At the same time, one verse in Scripture gives a very clear directive for church members to take responsibility for caring for their pastors. Hebrews 13:17 commands church members to let their pastors do their job “with joy and not with groaning.” Now it is the nature of pastoral ministry to be challenging. The work of a pastor is like that of a physician or other first responder. Consequently, the work itself brings with it plenty of occasions for “groaning” as pastors, like all other believers, “wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). But church members are exhorted to do what they can to minimize the hardship and to maximize the joy of ministry for their pastors.

How can they do that? Christopher Ash wrote a book to answer that very question. A former pastor himself, he offers “seven virtues” that church members can learn that will fill the pastoral ministry with more joy and less groaning. They are:

  1. Daily repentance and eager faith, for a pastor finds “no greater joy” than in knowing that those he cares for are “walking in the truth” (3 Jn 4).
  2. Committed belonging, for it brings a pastor great joy when the habit of his members is not neglecting church attendance but rather “turning up” all the more whenever the church gathers (Heb 10:24-25).
  3. Open honesty, for the pastor is expected to be honest with the members, and it will put an end to much malice and deceit and hypocrisy when the members do the same with him and with one another (2 Cor 6:11-13; 1 Pet 2:1).
  4. Thoughtful watchfulness, for the pastor is to be an example of one who is diligently growing as a Christian himself, and church members can provide them with resources to care for their own souls (1 Tim 4:12-16).
  5. Loving kindness, for the pastors’ work requires them to show kindness to others in ways that are not easily measurable, and church members who offers simple acts of kindness express the love of Christ that keeps their ministers (and their families!) encouraged (Acts 28:15).
  6. High expectations, for pastors want to be examples of integrity and godliness, and church members that protect their pastors’ reputations while also helping them guard their life and doctrine will communicate that they see their pastors as fulfilling a noble task (1 Tim 3:1; 5:17-20).
  7. Zealous submission, for the pastors in a church serve by leading, and church members show their submission to God by submitting to their gospel leadership (1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:5).

The church is a family, and just like in any family, there will always be conflicts and disagreements. It is an easy tactic of the enemy of the church to forge division between church members and their leaders, especially their elders. But when both pastors and members understand that they have a job to do, and that that job includes being a blessing to each other, the gospel partnership between them makes the church a joy for all.

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