This post preempts one I had been composing for today. It comes because of timeliness, a response to a question a church member posed on Facebook: “How can I better show my support?” It is a worthy, touching, and humbling question. When a church member stops to consider their pastor(s) and take the time to be intentional about seeking how to better support us, it can be a moment of affirmation. It can also be an opportunity for possibilities to be explored and mutual growth to emerge. The Church exists when two parties, both professing faith in Jesus Christ and called to specific roles, come together to work through service for the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. These two parties are clergy and laity. We are called to our roles by God, and called to be together in community. We complement one another, and allow for a fuller vision of ministry. How we interact makes all the difference in the world as to our success at our mission.
Clergy are far out numbered by laity, and that is all right. We do not need a one to one ratio, and the ratio of clergy to laity should be carefully considered and prayerfully discerned by a local church in consultation with the episcopal hierarchy. In my denomination’s case, that would mean being in dialogue with the District Superintendent and even the Bishop presiding over the geographical Conference. That being said, no matter what, clergy should support the laity, and laity should support the clergy appointed to provide a very specific kind of leadership to which clergy are called and ordained. That support may look very different from local church to local church, but it should have some very specific characteristics.
First, clergy support should always include prayer. Clergy pray, and while sometimes it feels very much like a “Hail Mary” football pass kind of prayer, we do pray. We pray for guidance, assurance, the people we serve, the church entrusted into our care, and for a whole multitude of other things. Do you pray for us? I hope so. We need your prayer. Not only does it connect us through our mutual love of and relationship with our Lord, but it helps to keep us focused and centered on Christ and our discipleship. Prayer helps to move our natural inclination to be self-centered to one of being Christ-centered, which will always include looking after others, including clergy. It serves to refocus us off of ourselves, and encompass those we are called to serve, love, and walk beside on the path of discipleship. Prayer is the beginning.
Second, we need your presence. There is nothing so disheartening for clergy than to put in all this prayer, study, work, effort, and hope and then have no one show up. Without being mellow dramatic, I can honestly compare it to Jesus being abandoned in his hour of need. Our hour of need as clergy is definitely Sunday morning. We spend all week working towards that crucial hour of worship. We plan and prepare, pouring ourselves into pastoral prayers, sermons, and liturgy, but if the laity do not show, then to what end? We need you there, and we want you there. It is not just about listening to us, but allowing us to fulfill our call to be conduits of God’s Word for that day. To craft a sermon takes a minimum of fifteen to twenty hours. Many of us go far over that simply because we want to get it just right. We are honoring God in our preaching, but we are also fulfilling that prophetic role to speak God’s truth and love to God’s people. It is a sacred duty, and our life’s work. Yet it only comes to life and fruition when it is received by God’s people. Otherwise it is stillborn, and we mourn the loss of what the Holy Spirit might have done with our verbal offering. When I stand in the pulpit and look out into a sea of faces to whom I have pastored, and with whom I have laughed, loved, and struggled, I grow in confidence and my passion for my role swells. I become more effective, and I feel our connection growing, making us more capable of accomplishing our mighty, mutual task. This goes for everything from committee meetings to special worship services to Bible Studies and even fellowship events. The clergy have to be present, but your presence testifies to value and commitment, and that is priceless to us. We are in this together, but only when we draw together.
Lastly, make this relationship more than one of church business. Clergy must maintain a professionalism, making sure that certain boundaries are not crossed and ethics never compromised, but we do like to have fun. We love to laugh, share a meal, and be normal people, too. We enjoy being part of more than just births, baptisms, and deaths. I love it when people swing by my office to check in and see how I’m doing! I enjoy seeing people around town, and having them introduce me to their family and friends. There is nothing like hearing the claiming when being introduced by someone as “my pastor.” We want to be your pastor. We want to be part of your lives for the ups and the downs. It helps us to know you better, and serve you when you are most in need. We are in this together, and sharing more than an hour on Sunday morning makes it real, makes it manifest. We claim you, and to be claimed in return is powerful and profound. It gives us courage and edification. It makes us feel loved, a gift when things get dark and difficult as they always will in ministry. It sustains and brings hope to those who often feel so drained, despite our love for what we do and for whom we do it.
How can you better show your support? Pray for us. Show up, and show some of that agape love we are always talking about in the Church. It’s more than monetary gifts and food offerings. It’s about being in relationship such that you look back on our time together and see a bond worth lifting up in gratitude. Some people do this with seeming effortlessness, and others have to strive for it. No matter where you find yourself in that dichotomy, I hope you will strive to embody Jesus for your pastor, so that they can feel enriched and enlivened to do the same back for you.