Encouragement expressed by a sincere believer about one’s preaching, or one’s pastoral care, is not often a seduction from Satan for us to hoard the glory that belongs to God. Instead, it is a fellow Christian telling us that the Word has hit the mark, or pastoral care has reached their heart. We should welcome such encouragement, perhaps expressing joy that someone has found encouragement and help by God’s grace, through our labours.
The swing of a pendulum can be a dangerous thing, correctives can oversteer away from one error and into another, and the way in which we conceive of pastoral work is no exception. A quick sounding of ideas and sentiments about ministry on social media will reveal a trend towards therapeutic models for pastors to understand themselves, their work, and their God. This is, of course, to be welcomed – particularly in the wake of a generation who had an iron clad, stiff lipped, emotionally discharged view of riding the waves of a work which will stretch any man to his limit. The danger, however, can be a tendency towards self-pity or defensiveness for those in ministry, and a disincentivising influence for those considering following where God is calling.
In this post I want to talk about encouragement for pastors, not the fact of it, but how we feel about it and how we respond to it. There is a legion of articles in the online world about handling discouragement, but what do we do when someone positively seeks to say helpful and healthy things about the work which God is doing in them through our ministry? Below are three suggestions about how we handle encouragement as pastors:
1. Don’t solicit encouragement, but do welcome it
One of the most contemptible sights to observe is a man who holds a continual courtship with encouragement, whose whole set and concern as a pastor is to receive the praise of people. This is a trait which is observable not just in those who would seem to be insecure and lacking in confidence, but also in the bully pulpit buccaneers who know exactly what to say in seeming boldness, all the while titillating their hearers and inciting praise of their ‘fearlessness’. Such an approach to ministry is not only repulsive but it is also idolatrous, making a molten image of the fluctuations of one’s heart, making affirmation the final arbiter of one’s worth and one’s work. Such a man should ask God to change his heart, or simply change his job.