By Joe McKeever, Crosswalk.com
First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.
That’s what this is about.
I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.
Eight years later, we did something.
Amazing, isn’t it, that we waited so long. But one must not think we did not try a hundred approaches to bring unity among our church leaders. However, nothing worked.
Finally, in exasperation, I told the deacon officers – all of whom were faithful and supportive – that I had had it “up to here” and was ready to bring these men before the church and ask the congregation to take action.
The officers conferred with each other and came back with a most unusual request.
“Pastor, we want you to make a personal visit in the home of every deacon.” (We had 24 actives.)
“We want you to sit down in the living rooms and share your heart with each deacon and his wife, and then ask if they have something against you, or if you have failed them in any way. Then respond accordingly.”
If a deacon did have something against me, their thinking was that this would be his time to vent and for us to deal with it.
The officers added this. “After you have visited with that deacon, if we ever hear of him bad-mouthing you again, we will deal with it. We will call him before the deacons and hold him accountable.”
“But first,” they said, “We need you to do this.”
I felt it was asking a great deal. If ever a pastor had been faithful in visiting in the homes of members and prospects, I felt that I had. And yet, if this would help the church get past this constant bickering, and if it would finally end the backstabbing of these few people, it would be worth the trouble.
I would do it.
My journal for that year records those visits, usually three appointments per evening, about 45 minutes each.
My journal notes after one night of visiting….
“I have now visited eight deacons and their wives. Have yet to hear one real word of encouragement. I told (deacon’s name) a church can take a mediocre preacher and by encouragement make a great one of him; that a good preacher with great potential can be destroyed by discouragement. And that I have received constant discouragement here.”
That night, according to the journal, I drove home talking to the Lord. “Father, do I have to stay here? Can I go somewhere else?” And He answered: “Keep your eyes on me; not on them.”
My notes record that when I said that to the deacon, “He looked at me as though I had spoken Swahili. He simply did not understand the concept of encouragement.”
The “rest of the story” is that I made the visits and because the naysayers saw that a line in the sand was being drawn, they stopped. Then, gradually they were not re-elected and we ended up with several good years of harmony from these men who theoretically are keepers (and guardians) of church unity.
(You’re wondering if any of them admitted to “having ought against me.” A few had trivial things. One said his wife had been in the hospital and we had done a poor job of visiting her. Another said I failed to attend his daughter’s recital. No one had a substantial complaint.)
Now, let me say a word about encouragement.
We all need it. Adrian Rogers needed encouragement even when his Bellevue Baptist Church was running 8,000 in worship. Rick Warren needs encouragement when his church runs 20,000 (or whatever). Charles Stanley needs it. Chuck Swindoll needs encouragement. Billy Graham did. Fill in the blank with your favorite preacher’s name; he needs encouragement. No matter the size of the congregation, no matter the prominence of the preacher or the acclaim he is given, he deals with discouragement the same way the rest of us do.
A few observations on that….
1) God made us this way.
We are social creatures, engineered to need other people and not to be loners. We were made to belong to a church, a congregation of God’s people to whom we give ourselves and to whom we are accountable.
We need to encourage one another; we need to receive encouragement.
2) We are not all encouraged the same way.
Just as we are all different, certain things will give heart to some of us but entirely different things are needed for others.
A fellowship after church where members filed by to say an obligatory “well done” or “we love you” or “we appreciate you” does absolutely nothing for me. For a family to have us into their home for a meal requires a lot of work for them, but it does not scratch any itch that I have. It still feels like I’m on duty. I would not be surprised if your pastor feels the same.
I suggest you find out what things you (and the church) can do to really encourage your minister and do those, but not the activities that do not work.
3) There is one action that never ceases to thrill a minister’s heart and encourage him.
Someone is unfairly criticizing the preacher or stirring up dissension in the congregation. Rather than letting it continue or sitting back to see if it will die out naturally or if the preacher is going to deal with it, a couple of leaders should visit the troublemaker and handle it promptly and firmly.
The matter gets handled without the pastor ever becoming involved.
When the preacher gets wind of this, as he will, he is elated. It feels to him like he’s just been handed a major gift. His ministry is affirmed, the church is blessed, and he sleeps well that night.
Someone has his back.
That’s hard to do, isn’t it – to visit a trouble-making church member and ask them to stop doing it. Maybe so. It’s much easier to schedule a Sunday evening kool-aid fellowship and ask everyone to file by and shake the preacher’s hand. But don’t do that. It doesn’t work.
4) Be faithful to the Lord in the way you treat your minister.
Stand up for your minister. Speak well of your pastor. Pray for him (or her, as the case may be). And be faithful in your attendance, in carrying out the assignments you are given, and in your tithes and offerings.
I will tell you, friend, that when you encourage the messenger God sends to your church, the Lord in Heaven sees and counts it as something done for Him personally. And how good is that! However, it is equally true that if you set yourself to discouraging and undermining the minister, God will take that personally also, and the news for you is not good.
Jesus said, “The one who listens to you, listens to me; and the one who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects the One who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
And finally, this promise holds true:
“God is not unjust so as to forget your faith and the love that you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering” (Hebrews 6:10).
This article originally appeared on joemckeever.com. Used with permission.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/SvetaZi
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.