Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In the previous article we discussed who and what the congregation is. The congregation is the blood-bought, precious gathering of believers and their children. In this connection we presented some of the implications of this truth as regards the elders’ care of the congregation. Before moving to a discussion of more specific aspects of the elders’ calling, we digress to a consideration of the subject of this article, “Ministering to Our Ministers.”
There are many passages of Scripture which speak to this subject. The apostle Paul praises the brethren, “That ye remember me in all things” (I Cor. 11:2). The word “remember” in this text means “care for.” The apostle is grateful to the saints for their caring for him both in his physical and in his spiritual needs. The same apostle was deeply conscious of his need for the prayers of the believers, especially that he might have boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel (cf. Eph. 6:18). In I Corinthians 9:3-13 Paul affirms the truth that the church is duty bound to support its ministers, but he is careful not to be burdensome to the churches. The call-letter used by our churches reflects this. The congregation promises to pay a salary to the minister which is adequate to “free him from all worldly cares and avocations.” Scripture says in Galatians 6:6, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The word “communicate” in this verse means “to enter into fellowship with, to join as an associate, to make another’s needs his own so as to relieve them.”
These passages and more indicate that the apostles were deeply conscious of their own needs. They needed the prayers, the concern, the care of the church. As the apostles ministered to the needs of the people of God, they themselves needed to be ministered unto by the people of God.
The same is true of ministers today.
That this is true is easily demonstrated. Consider the minister’s work. His chief task is preaching. Preaching involves much prayer and preparation. Young preachers will find themselves spending fifteen to twenty hours per week in preparing one sermon. This means the preacher will spend thirty to forty hours per week just preparing his sermons. This is no exaggeration! He must work from the original Hebrew or Greek, he must carefully determine the meaning of the text, he must construct a good outline so as to present the sermon to the congregation clearly and logically. Even the older, more experienced pastor will spend twenty to thirty hours per week preparing his sermons.
In addition there is his other work. The minister in our churches typically teaches five to seven catechism classes each week for thirty weeks of the year. There is a great deal of preparation that goes into teaching these classes. Besides, the minister must visit the sick and shut-ins, comfort the sorrowing, conduct funerals, and officiate at weddings. He must do his share of the annual family visiting, lead Bible Study Societies, and chair the consistory/council meetings. And an increasingly time-consuming aspect of the minister’s work is counseling from the Word of God those members who have problems and trials of one sort or another.
The already busy minister is called upon to perform certain tasks for the denomination. He is a delegate to the meetings of classis and may be delegated to synod as well. He must contribute to the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights and other publications. He must also give speeches and lectures from time to time for various public meetings.
All this can make for a great deal of stress! But there are other stress factors peculiar to the life of the minister. Ministers move more frequently than most people. In not a few instances ministers find themselves serving congregations far from their families and friends. There are people who are ill at ease in the minister’s presence. A minister is on call twenty-four hours a day. And, he lives in a “glass house.” Still more, the minister is always “spending himself and being spent;” as Scripture puts it, for others (II Cor. 12:15).
But far more than all of these factors, and far more than merely the work load, it is the minister’s keen awareness of his holy calling and awesome responsibility before God and His Christ to care for the flock of God that causes the stress. The Lord is pleased by the foolishness of the minister’s preaching to save them that believe. The minister must represent Christ andbring His Word to meet every need of those entrusted to his care. He must weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. He must admonish the wayward, encourage the faint of heart, and strengthen the weak.
Do not forget either that the minister is a man of like passions with any other member of the church. He has the same cares and concerns as any other Christian. He is a husband who must love, nourish, and cherish his wife as Christ loves the church. As a father, and with his wife’s help, the minister must rear his children in the fear of God. This involves discipline, education, and not a little time. And the minister’s wife and children have the same needs as their peers in the church – but with this significant difference: their pastor happens to be their husband and father. Just as any other Christian, the minister is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ. He has the same sinful nature with all of its weaknesses. He makes his pilgrimage through the same sinful world. He fights the same devil and must withstand the same temptations.
Finally, in all of his work and life as a minister of the gospel the pastor must be an example to the believers (I Tim. 4:12-16).
How then do we minister to our ministers? First, pray for them daily. This, according to Scripture, is our calling. God’s people must remember their ministers in their private and family devotions. The children hearing those prayers will develop a proper attitude toward the minister and his work. The people of God must assure their ministers of their prayers on their behalf. This is a source of great encouragement to the ministers.
The congregations must also pay their ministers an adequate salary. According to Scripture he has a right to live of the gospel (I Cor. 9). He must be free from worldly cares and avocations. Ministers must be free from anxiety concerning how they can meet their legitimate expenses. If they are not free from this, their work will be adversely affected! The elders must make certain that the ministers have adequate income to cover their needs. Ministers must not be made to worry about these matters.
The people of God must learn to criticize their ministers constructively. The believer as prophet, priest, and king in Christ must admonish the preacher if he preaches heresy or if he is remiss in his walk of life. But there is .a wrong and a right way to do this. The admonishing must not be done in anger. Constructive criticism of the minister will not be done behind his back. The critic must not talk to others, he must go to the minister! Constructive criticism is given out of the love of God with a view to seeking the welfare of both the minister and the church.
Believers are called to “bear one another’s burdens.” The ministers need this care of God’s love too! Believers must not forget the ministers when they have special needs. When the minister or ones dear to him are sick or in sorrow, he must be visited by his parishioners. Believers must bring the Word of God to their ministers and pray for and with them in their times of trial.
Ministers need encouragement as well. When a believer is struck by a sermon he ought to tell the minister and tell him why the sermon meant so much to him. The members of the congregation ought to befriend the minister. He needs wise, caring friends in whom he can safely confide.
God’s people must understand too that the minister cannot do it all in the larger congregations. He cannot lead all the societies, do all of the counseling, visit all the families on the annual family visitation. The elders must assist in this work.
In this connection, there is a very practical matter that needs mentioning. God’s people must give their ministers time to study and prepare for preaching and teaching. They ought not disturb him during study hours except for emergencies. Phone calls must be limited to ones that are really necessary.
These are just some of the ways the people of God can minister to their ministers. Perhaps the reader can think of more!
In sum, let it be emphasized that God’s people must minister to those whom Christ calls to minister to them.
Pray for them. Love them in the Lord. Be thankful for the faithful ministers Christ sends to care for His church. Support them also financially. Encourage the ministers and their wives and families.
In those congregations where God’s servants minister faithfully and where God’s people faithfully minister to those faithful servants, God’s blessings abound to the advancing of His church. To the glory of His name.