How to Encourage a Young Pastor

I have been blessed, not only as a full-time pastor but for most of life so far, to have had many compliments and encouraging remarks from adults I look up to.  Much of the credit for my self-confidence and my clarity about my calling is owed to all of those who have encouraged me.  Even though full-time ministry has its challenges and is not for the faint of heart, I currently serve a congregation full of awesome people who never hesitate to tell me how much I am appreciated and what I have done well.  Not only does it continually help me clarify where my gifts are and where to focus, but it also just plain feels good!  I don't remember to return the favor often enough.

But every once in a while, mixed in with those compliments and affirmations are comments that may be meant as an encouragement but are a little disconcerting for a young pastor.  Before I name some of the compliments and affirmations that have meant so much to me as a young and inexperienced pastor, let me first mention those few comments that rub the wrong way and that I would suggest avoiding if you have your own young pastor to help and affirm.

How NOT to Encourage a Young Pastor:
  • "You have a lot of great things ahead of you" or "You're going to go places."  We appreciate the sentiment and know that it means you think we're talented, but we want you to know that we are pouring our heart and soul into our current ministry; we're not just career building.  This comment sometimes makes me wonder if you think I value you and this current setting.  You're not a step on my ladder, and I want you to think we're doing "big things" now, together.
  • "You're getting lots of good experience/practice."  This kind of makes us feel like we're in a lab still getting ready for the "real thing."  What is it we're practicing for?  We know that we're still learning and getting better at what we do, but we also want to feel that you accept us as a real pastor with valuable things to offer, inexperience notwithstanding.  We "practiced" in seminary with our peers, professors, and internship supervisors.  How long until we get to do the real thing?
  • "You're going to have your own church someday."  This is said to young associate pastors on multi-staff churches with senior pastors.  Again, I know it's well-meaning, but this one doesn't work well either. To imply that any pastor has any kind of ownership of the church makes us think that you haven't been listening to our practice sermons. But this is also another that can make us feel like we're in a lab and that we don't "count."
Now on to the good stuff.

How TO Encourage a Young Pastor:
  • "You really encouraged/inspired me (and/or) made me think."  We love knowing that we're having some kind of an effect. To put a cherry on top, tell us why. You may actually find that I will follow this compliment up by asking "Why?" or "How so?" The times I've felt like a million bucks is when someone calls, emails, or comes to the office and tells me something specific and concrete that I have taught them or encouraged them to do. It doesn't happen often.  I'm not going to complain about the generic "good job" comment, but I love knowing what lasting effect it will have.  It's why we're in this business.
  • "I really appreciated the way you..."  Again, specific and concrete is very helpful to us. Tell me what I'm doing right so that I can do more of it. Also, your specific feedback gives me insight into how I'm coming across, and can teach me a lot about myself as well as you.
  • "I disagreed with you because..."  You probably weren't expecting that one, and some of my colleagues dread it. But if you come to me after a sermon, Bible study, or meeting and tell me what you disagreed with and why, you show me that you were listening and give me a chance to respond. Often, you simply misunderstood me and I can clarify. Please, do this instead of taking it to the hallway where I can't do anything about it or learn from you. This goes for any kind of constructive criticism. Pastors worth their salt can take it.  Just avoid doing it in front of others or behind our backs. Come and talk to me one on one, face to face.  I will thank you for it.  (On the way out the door on Sunday morning doesn't count. We pastors call that a "jab" and quickly dismiss it).
Of course, too many compliments aren't good either.  Jordan Easley was probably right when he wrote this to young pastors:
"The scariest thing about experiencing success happens when young pastors start believing the compliments they receive and begin thinking they're more impressive than they really are. If God is blessing your ministry, He's blessing it despite you. Stay humble if you want to continue experiencing His favor, because He makes it pretty clear in 1 Peter 5:5 that he opposes the proud. You don't want that."
So, if you're a layperson reading this, what does this look like in reverse? What are the most helpful ways that a pastor can encourage YOU, and what do we say or do that is unhelpful?

1 comment:

  1. So spot on - can I steal your response to "You're pretty young..."? (I actually usually get a shocked face and "BUT YOU'RE SO YOUNG" overdramatic reaction...)