Without fail, every Sunday morning of the year (or Saturday…or whatever day of the week you attend a church service) and in some cases multiple times in a day, thousands of pastors and Bible communicators deliver messages that they have spent time and effort preparing. If you are not the one delivering the message, have you ever stopped to think about what really goes into preparing a sermon? In the minds of most congregants, the pastor probably just picks out a part of the Bible to study throughout the week that they plan to speak on, along with some outside reading of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, a Greek lexicon, and a story from the news to help add some relevance to their thoughts. They write down their notes and put them into a trusty outline, and we trust that they have spent some time praying over the message and asking God to bless it. So far, so good. But oh, if it were this easy!
What most congregants are blind to week after week of attending church is the reality of life that a pastor experiences that is no different than everyone else’s in the congregation. There is no invisible shield of protection over the pastor and their family, no matter the church size, how great the pastor’s vision is, and no matter how godly their family members are. They live life on the same planet we do. Here are a few things you need to know about those communicating God’s word from the stage or platform, and it is my hope and prayer that you will remember these the next time they stand before you:
1. They have walked through many of the same things that you have walked through in the previous week: extreme difficulties, overwhelming pressures, temptations, unanswered questions about life, and recurring personal failures. In fact, because of the nature of their position of biblical leadership, these things can often be multiplied many times over. The enemy loves nothing more than to beat up on one of God’s messengers really good with reminders of an argument they had with their spouse just before they attempt to get up and preach God’s word on the weekend. And in many cases, he succeeds! Remember that often times, they have walked in your shoes the previous week.
2. If the messenger has truly heard from God on the message God wants them to share, chances are that the messenger paid a very high price for it. The most challenging of all endeavors for a person communicating God’s word is being able to actually hear from God for themselves in the day-to-day before they attempt to hear from God for you by the time the weekend comes. Then they have to make sure that what God is communicating to them personally, they are implementing in their own life first (that is, if they have any integrity).
Here is why hearing from God on a regular basis can be so difficult at times for your pastor…
Let’s look at it with the tables turned. How tough is it for you on any given day to have your heart in a posture where you can truly listen for and hear from God during your daily devotional when you are trying to prepare for another day of work, you ran out of milk for breakfast, and the kids are searching for their school shoes? Being able to listen and hear from God regularly may seem like an easy thing to do, especially for a pastor. After all, isn’t this what we pay them for? Isn’t this their job? Didn’t they go to school for this? But if you are really honest, your own prayer time is often when your mind gets flooded with all of the day’s list of things that need to be done…the laundry, bills to pay, the Facebook post you never replied to. You get the idea.
Guess what? Things are no different for your pastor when they sit down to focus on God in prayer and the study of his word. But not only are their minds filled with the day to day struggles and challenges of how their own marriage is doing and if their own children are flourishing and if the electric bill got paid, their minds (and text messages and email inboxes) are filled with the concerns of what is going on in their church family: your rebellious teen that has turned against you and doesn’t like the student pastor; the need for a bigger nursery or for more volunteers to help in the parking lot; the family who just lost a loved one; the counseling session coming up with the young couple that nobody ever thought would be considering a divorce. All of this and quite possibly much more even before your pastor has had their first cup of morning coffee! And to have the ability and tenacity to clear their mind and be able to hear from God for their own personal walk with God first, and secondly for a message to preach this coming weekend?
I hope I am painting a more realistic picture for you that goes beyond studying a Bible verse to speak on for Sunday. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that many pastors spend up to 35 or 40 hours preparing one message or sermon series. While it is definitely true that a pastor’s life is not all negative and burdensome (and they did sign up for this!), it is true that they are not immune to the exact same things that plague you as a congregant that affect your ability to hear from God. Chances are, if your pastor is hearing from God, they are paying a high price for it, but they will never complain because of their love for Jesus and their love for you.
3. As if I haven’t spoken of this enough, God’s messengers are human. They are made of flesh and blood just like everyone else. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to give you many opportunities to forgive them, even when they don’t realize it. They need words of encouragement. They need you to love and build up their spouse and their children, the same way you need to be encouraged and you desire for your kids and spouse to have a place of belonging and feeling loved.
They also need you to hold them accountable in a very compassionate way. They need you to ask them the tough questions and to let them know when they have wounded you or your family. But to do this in a way that honors God will require a lot of prayer and direction. Speaking the truth in love is very absent in most Christian’s conversations with people they disagree with, including some pastors. Demonstrate it for them anyway. Just like you have growth areas and blind spots, so also your pastor has them. The idea is to treat theirs like you would want them to treat yours – honestly and in a spirit of love and gentleness. This allows them to grow as a leader.
The God-called pastors who stand before you have an enormous responsibility of handling God’s word properly and handling your heart accordingly. It is my prayer that the next time they take the stage, you will remember these three important truths and allow these to guide you as you relate to your pastor.
Did you find these three things to be helpful? If so, leave a comment and let me know how.