Among the most sacred of relationships are those the pastor has with his or her elders, deacons and deaconesses, and church members. God is honored when the people are satisfied with the pastor and when the pastor has a positive attitude toward them. God wants the pastor, local church leaders, and church members to love each other, pray for each other, work together, serve together, worship together, and win souls together. Following are some suggestions that might help the pastor develop healthy relationships with his or her people.
1. Love your people
Recently, I interviewed a seasoned pastor with more than 40 years of successful pastoral experience. I asked him to tell me two things he had learned about pastoral work. He said, “I can sum up pastoral work in two phrases. Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love others as you love yourself. It is about having a heart for God and for people.” Paul had this kind of affection toward his people. He remembered them fondly. He prayed for them and built strong partnerships with them to spread the gospel (Phil. 1:3–5). Ask God to give you a heart full of love for the people you serve.
2. Encourage your people
Be expressive in your love for your people. As a pastor, I told my congregations repeatedly, from the pulpit and other venues, that I loved them and continually prayed for them. I spent two to three hours every week writing notes of encouragement to many of the people in my churches. I wrote these notes to people on anniversaries and birthdays and to volunteers who did something to make a difference in the community or church. In one of the churches I pastored, there was a woman married to a seeker who came to church several times. After she led out in Vacation Bible School, the church sent both of them to an all-expense-paid retreat to show our love and appreciation. He was so touched that after they came back from the retreat, he asked to study the Bible with me. Several months later, I had the privilege of baptizing him. Expressing appreciation is a form of blessing that touches both parties.
3. Pray for your people
The pastor should pray individually for his people, especially those who have burdens and heartaches. When a home is having trouble, the pastor should pray for them. When someone is ill, the pastor should call on them and pray for them. Many times a little note of encouragement or a phone call might be a great blessing. As a pastor, I spent Mondays praying for my church and community. I lifted up the names of each member and called to tell them I was praying for them, and I asked whether they had any specific requests. Prayer took care of conflict that plagued the church for many years by bringing love and forgiveness.
4. Care for your people
Remember that people are more important than programs. People like to feel that they are loved and cared for. Some pastors might convey the impression that they are about programming, techniques, and strategies. All of these are important and necessary. But that is not what makes the church. When you have great people who love Jesus and reflect His grace, then you have a great church filled with blessings that is naturally growing. Spend your time with your members, fellowship with them, love them, pray for them, and seek their good. Cut down on your programming and move more into discipleship. Your members will grow, and the church will prosper.
5. Build your people
Do not use your people to build a great ministry, rather, use your ministry to build great people. Some have the idea that their present church is a stepping-stone to a bigger and more prominent ministry. The greatest product of a pastor’s ministry is a steadfast Christian who grows in the grace of the Lord. Individuals are important. They matter infinitely to God. Therefore, they must matter to us. When a preacher loves his or her people and rejoices more over a Christian who grows than over anything else, he has developed a true pastor’s heart.
When I arrived at a new pastoral assignment, the church had about 40 people in attendance, a debt of about US$100,000, and was full of conflict. By God’s grace, I showed love and care for the congregation, fed them spiritually, and gave them opportunities to grow. I focused on people, their needs, and their growth. When I left 12 years later, we had about 500 people in attendance, no debt, about US $60,000 in the bank, and an environment full of harmony and joy. But when they held a farewell party for us, none of those details were mentioned. Instead, one by one they said, “Thank you for loving us, being with us, and for making church a fun place to be.”
I believe pastoral work is about having the heart of God for people. Ask Him for that today.