From time to time, you may hear of clergy behaving badly. There’s a reason for this: clergy are as human as anyone else. It’s easy to see someone standing at the front of the church and think this person somehow has superhuman ability to resist temptation, but it isn’t so.
And while I won’t blame lay people for the choices clergy make, there are some things lay people can do to help support clergy. With this in mind, here are ten commandments ways to help lay people support their pastors.
1. You shall have no other pastors before your pastor.
No, I’m not putting pastors in the place of God.
But in order to be the pastor of the church, the pastor needs to connect with the members of the church, and that’s more than preaching on Sunday morning. Clergy are cautioned to not baptize, counsel, marry, or do funeral services for people who are members of a church where they are not pastor – and that includes churches where they were once pastor.
Likewise, members of the church should reach out first to their current pastors. To reach out to clergy outside the church is to tempt clergy into violating boundaries that have been created for the health of the church. Your former pastor may be an important part of your life, but this person is no longer your pastor.
2. Don’t worship idols.
There are a lot of things that seem important:
- We always celebrate Christmas this way.
- The piano has always been over there.
- I have been the chair of this committee for 20 years.
- We have used the same order of worship since I was confirmed.
Sometimes things will change. It may be because of a new pastor, or changes in the membership, or just trying to look at things a new way.
Be open to change. These things are not the church. The building is not the church. The church is a living, breathing, changing entity made up of human beings.
And besides, we don’t worship the church; we worship God.
3. Do not take the name of your pastor in vain.
If you have a problem with your pastor, talk to your pastor. Or talk to someone on the Pastoral Relations Committee. (Don’t have a Pastoral Relations Committee? Start one!) If instead you talk to other members about your problem with the pastor, you sow disrespect for the pastor, dissatisfaction with the church, and the pastor never hears about the problem—and therefore cannot do anything about it.
4. Remember Sunday morning.
We all have busy lives. And I know that, increasingly, youth sports are being scheduled for Sunday mornings. So I do understand that not everyone is in church every Sunday.
But Sunday morning is the time when the pastor has the greatest opportunity to connect with the congregation: through prayers and preaching. Your pastor probably spends a fair amount of their available time putting together the Sunday worship service, and it takes a lot of energy to lead worship.
Please try to be there Sunday morning – not just your body, but your mind, heart, and soul. Doing so keeps you in contact with your pastor, the rest of the congregation, and with God.
5. Honor your elders.
There are probably people in your church who are older than you.
Amazingly, they’ve been around; they know things. You could probably learn something from them. Let them share their acquired wisdom with you. Some of what you learn may not be helpful, but you’ll probably be surprised how much is.
And when you do this, you help your pastor, because you pastor can only visit with so many people.
6. Don’t kill your pastor.
Recognize your pastor is human, too. That joke about only working one hour a week on Sunday morning? Give it a rest. (If you really believe it, take one of your vacation weeks and – with permission of your pastor – shadow him or her and see what hours your pastor really works.) Stop referring to continuing education as “vacation” –when your company sends you off for training, do you use your vacation time to do it? Respect your pastor’s day(s) off each week: Before calling the emergency number, ask yourself whether this can wait or whether someone else can handle it.
7. Don’t Commit Adultery
…or even hint at it. Flirting with the pastor may seem fun, but remember that your pastor is human and struggles with temptation. It’s not a game to see whether you can break down your pastor’s willpower. This also goes for single pastors – boundary training teaches to not become sexually involved with parishioners, but clergy aren’t perfect. While you’re at it, don’t fix your pastor up with people you know, or sign your pastor up on a dating site. It’s not necessary, helpful, or – from your pastor’s perspective – funny.
8. Don’t steal
The most common way people steal from pastors is to expect them to give up their time off or compensation. Remember that your full-time pastor probably works more than 40 hours, and your part-time pastor also works more hours than you might think. Remember that, like you, your pastor has to pay the costs of living. If you don’t offer a parsonage, your pastor has to pay for a place to live. If you don’t offer health insurance, your pastor pays that out-of-pocket. And your pastor, like many of you, probably has student loans to pay off: the denomination likely did not pay for the undergraduate degree and seminary.
Your denomination likely has guidelines on pastoral compensation. If you can’t afford to compensate your pastor accordingly, you may need to increase your giving or decrease the demands on your pastor.
9. Don’t bear false witness
Seriously, do not lie about your pastor or about others in the church. This is one of the most destructive things you can do. If you want your church to die, spreading false rumors about people is the fastest way to cause division and bitterness. False rumors create a huge burden for pastors.
10. Don’t covet
See that megachurch over there with the highly polished worship team? They have that because they’re big: your small church can’t support those salaries. See that small church with the pastor who knows every member? Your megachurch’s senior pastor can’t do that because there are too many people.
If your church doesn’t meet your needs, there are two things you can do: help create the ministry that meets those needs, or move to the church that will meet them. But if you’re jealous of this church’s Christmas Pageant, or you think that church’s pastor’s fame is attractive, or the other church’s building is beautiful, remember saying #2: Don’t worship idols. The church is its people, not its building, pastor, or programs. And we worship God, not the church.
If you’ve read all the way to the end, you have a feel for what you can do to help support your pastor. Remember that, by your baptism, you are also called to be a minister in the church. Church is not theater: it’s a group effort.
Cindi Knox is a licensed minister with the Fox Valley Association of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ, and is in search of her first call as pastor and teacher in the United Church of Christ. In addition to writing for New Sacred, she also writes for RevGalBlogPals, does pulpit supply, and volunteers with a queer youth drop-in. She lives in Joliet with her spouse of over 25 years, Mary. Find her at http://facebook.com/cindik.online