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Disclaimer: Sherman Street, this is not written for you. You’re doing just fine. Thank you for that.
Disclaimer #2: To everyone else, if you find this valuable, share it with other church folks. Your pastor may want their congregation to know, but it would be so awkward for them to pass it along.
I swear I’m not writing this for myself. I’m doing pretty well, thank you, but in general, pastors are hurting.
Being a pastor has always been a high burnout job (it’s worse since covid). The hours are fluid. The boundaries are murky. There is always more good work than you can do and usually someone expects you to be doing it. With extensive training to read and interpret thousands-of-years-old texts, you are also invited to manage the staff, the elders, the worship service, several teams, volunteers, marriages, expectations, grief, conflict, church culture, and a crowd of souls. Most of it can all be enjoyable, but here is the rub: Almost none of it is measurable. Maybe your church will grow or shrink, which seems measurable, but that’s a terrible way to measure the health of a congregation and there are some enormous churches touting some pretty toxic theology.
My husband and co-pastor, Tony, often talks about how satisfying it is to build something or paint a house because you can see immediate results. For my part, I daydream about being a native landscaper. I would know every day I was making a difference for the world and I would get to wipe the dirt off my hands and go home when the day was over. As it is, my day doesn’t really end. Our church is doing well and I still feel that pressure. I can’t imagine how difficult the pastorate is when congregants are warring over covid masks or human sexuality or worship music.
So here is a way to encourage your pastor that will add a little measurability. It turns out the measurable part of their work happens in your life. Tell them about how their work has impacted you. The more specific you can be the better. What changes have you made in your life because of their sermons? In what situations have you been comforted or challenged and what was different for you because of their work? Has the way that you see God changed? Has your prayer life improved? In what ways? What work do you do every day and how has your pastor’s work encouraged you in it? We don’t know whether a visit or a sermon or a Bible study or a council meeting is really making any difference at all, unless you tell us.
It’s good to hear “Great sermon!” but it is infinitely more encouraging to hear, “When you said, ‘xyz,’ it made me think about how I can sometimes be harsh with my kids. I’m going to try speaking more gently and start praying into that.”
It’s good to hear, “That was so nice that you came to visit,” but deeply satisfying to hear, “I felt so comforted by your presence and prayers. It gave me just a little more peace as I walked through the next few days.”
A fabulous (and free!) communications course called Our Community Listens encourages participants to use the formula FBI when offering encouragement to anyone, not just pastors (or confrontation, but that’s another conversation). FBI stands for Feelings, Behavior, and Impact. If you can include each of these elements, your thank-yous will make people cry. Every. Single. Time.
Just kidding. But it will happen from time to time.
The different elements are just how they sound. “Feelings” means how you feel about it. “Behavior” is the specific thing you saw that affected you. And “impact” is the impact that it has had or that you imagine it having.
So instead of saying, “wow! that was awesome!” You could say, “I was so encouraged [feeling] to hear you say that my work as an copy editor matters to God [behavior]. I want to go into work tomorrow knowing that as I am working through comma splices and paragraph breaks I am doing the hard work of loving people too. My work can seem so isolated, but it is the work of the kingdom too [impact]. ” The three elements don’t have to go in any particular order. You can do BFI or IBF if you like.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. And don’t let this keep you from saying, “that was awesome” or “thanks!”
The point is that the impact of our work happens in your lives. We don’t see it day to day and that can sometimes make a hard job even harder. If you want to encourage your pastor in a way that will sink deeply into them and help them to know that what they do is meaningful in the real world, this is one way to go.