by Matthew Love
I am a preacher, and I care deeply about preaching, preachers, ministers in general, and congregations. Most the lay-folks in the pews I know also do. So, it’s alarming to me and to many to hear about recent trends and data suggesting significant turnover in ministry personnel. (See https://christianchronicle.org/our-ministerial-crisis-has-arrived/ as one example from within my own fellowship, and also see the Barna study Edmerson cites.) I’ve spoken with several ministers in recent months and heard about many more who are contemplating a change. The surveys and articles suggest all sorts of reasons for this turnover and suggest various ways to address these issues.
But I have my own hunches as to why so many ministers feel disheartened. One of these has to do with meaning. It’s the question, “Does what I do matter?” Or “Am I making a difference?” and “Does anyone care?” (Many Christians and Christian leaders might feel this, not just paid ministers.) I think meaning is such a large piece of the problem because if ministers believe that what they are doing matters, we can endure really dry seasons and difficult circumstances. But when I struggle to see how any of it matters or for whom it matters, then I can be tempted to start searching the classifieds.
We who are ministers have a responsibility to nurture our own faith, but I also believe congregations can help a lot. Plenty of folks really do care about their ministers, and most know that church work presents unique challenges. Many are willing to do what they can to help. So, in light of that, here is a short list I’ve compiled as recommendations for supporting your church leaders.
Number one: Pray for your ministers and let them know you do.
I have folks in my church who have told me “Matt, we pray for you every day.” I honestly have a hard time believing this, I am so taken aback. When I hear that people are praying for me, it tells me they care about me and the work I do matters deeply to them. It is humbling and encouraging.
Number two: Listen appreciatively to their preaching and teaching.
Your minister might not be as good a preacher as the one at your old church or the one on your favorite podcast. Your minister might not be someone you connect with personally or are especially close with. (By the way, it’s likely your minister has a sense of this, too.) But, that doesn’t mean that your minister is not also doing real, good work for others and for the whole church, or that truth is not coming through their messages.
Number three: Block and tackle for your minister.
I did not play football, but in ministry this looks like assuming the best about your minister, and trying to make their life and jobs easier rather than more difficult. It looks like someone affirming what I do or something I’ve said. What is more, ministers need a side kick: someone who will stick up for them, encourage them, advocate for them. I am grateful to have a few of these. They have kept me going more than they know.
Number four: Financially compensate your ministers appropriately.
I was speaking with a friend just yesterday about “the vow of poverty” many churches thrust onto their leaders. A loved one of mine who had a preacher as a father told me that sometimes preachers have to do what is best for their family, not just the church. I think we can all agree with that, but ideally it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Ideally, we do not put our leaders in
this predicament to have to decide between family and church.
Number five: Include your minister.
I know that we preacher types can be odd (somebody in my own church reading this just laughed too loud!). Our job is different, our personalities can be different, etc. But one of the most meaningful things to me and my family at our church has been to know that people also see us as friends, and they include us. Ministry can be a lonely spot but being loved as a friend and a person (not just a hired-hand or a, preacher) goes a long way to cheer a sad heart.
I hope that some of these ideas reach out and impact a minister somewhere, and also that this list
encourages you reading it to know that you can make a lasting impact on your ministers, even by
doing very small things. We are all in this together, and every member of the body matters. “No
one ever hated his own flesh,” as Paul says. When we care for our ministers, we care for
ourselves and the churches we love.
(Disclaimer: I feel compelled to clarify that this post is not a personal cry for help or anything
like that—for the sake of not dishonoring my church, which has loved and supported me and my
family better than we deserve.)
Matthew Love is the preacher for the Bebee Church of Christ, Bebee, AR. He is a graduate of
Harding University, Harding School of Theology, M.Div and studied preaching at Baylor University. Contact Matthew directly at email@example.com