Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Building a Relationship with Your Pastor

The relationship between a pastor and a church is a very special relationship. It is usually a relationship which is forged through years of ministry. Pastors have the opportunity to minister to their church members in times of joy and in times of grief. Through the years of my ministry I have come to understand that these moments of highs and lows for church members form the foundation for deep relationships. Most of the church members I have served would not be able to recall the details of my sermons (even those I felt were my best), but they often remember times when I was with them during an illness or the death of a family member. They remember the celebrating the birth of their children and the times when they dedicated their children to God and pledged to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They remember the times of joy at family weddings or when they received good news from the doctors regarding an illness.

When I was a very young pastor, I was concerned that I was not prepared to minister effectively to families at the time of death. Because I had not experienced the death of a close loved one, I felt I did not know what to say to those who were grieving. My father suggested that I should not be so concerned about what I would say. He said that I should just go and be with the family. He suggested that I should spend more time listening and sharing their grief. Through the years I have found his counsel to be very wise. A significant part of a pastor’s role is to “with” his church family. The most meaningful ministry relationships I have developed through the course of my ministry have been with individuals and families where I shared their grief, trials, joys and celebrations.

Obviously, a pastor does not walk on to a new church field with these relationships. Because the relationship is new there has not been the time for it to grow. The pastor still has a relationship by virtue of the role of the pastor; but it takes time for the relationship to grow. We sometimes refer to the first few months or the first year of a pastor’s tenure with a church as the “honeymoon” stage. The church family is excited to have a new pastor, and the church family and pastor are in the process of getting to know each other and building a new relationship. The investment the pastor makes in building relationships with the congregation during the early months and years of the ministry may have a significant impact on the tenure and success of the pastorate.

Through the years the relationship between a pastor and congregation grows and changes. As the members of the church family get to know and trust their pastor they often have a growing confidence in the pastor’s leadership. In a real sense pastors earn the right to lead their congregations. In one of my earlier pastorates, I was serving a church which needed to have a building program. The church leaders knew they needed to do some work on the building, but they were concerned about starting a building program and then losing their pastor. They had had a history of very short tenure for their pastors. I had to serve the congregation for several years before they were confident that I would stay and see them through the building program. Once they came to trust me they moved forward to address the building expansion.

Relationships between pastor and churches are very special. I hope you will take time to pray for your pastor. I hope you tell your pastor and church staff how grateful you are for their ministry. I hope you will take time to invest in a relationship that can make a difference in your life and in the ministry of your church.