If you’re a pastor or church staff member, I know you want to encourage the people God has entrusted you. You want to be a blessing to your people. You want to shepherd them well. You want to lead your people to experience all that God has for them. However, if you’re not careful, it can be very easy to be a discouragement to your people rather than an encouragement. Let me briefly give you six ways to NOT encourage your congregation:
(1) Focus more on preaching creatively rather than preaching biblically.
If you’re like me, you feel a lot of pressure to deliver a solid, engaging message every Sunday. After all, your people can listen to the best preachers in the country via podcasts and the internet. It’s hard to compete with preachers who are so gifted. In an attempt to compete with the best communicators in the country, you turn to what is not essential in preaching. You might spend an inordinate amount of time trying to craft clever sermon series with clever titles and the perfect graphics. Or, you spend hours trying to find just the right illustration that will make your people laugh, cry, or whatever emotion you’re going for. Before you know it, you’ve spent more time trying to be creative rather than actually studying the Bible and preparing a sermon that reflects the biblical text. Your congregation doesn’t need your creative efforts nearly as much as they need a steady diet of you faithfully preaching the Bible in a way that brings the truth of the Scripture into the twenty-first century. You are a discouragement to your people when you spend more time trying to entertain your people through your attempt at creativity rather than feeding them the spiritual food they need.
(2) Ignore the needs of your people.
You’re a shepherd; not a CEO. Your calling is to lead people to maturity in Christ; not build a huge organization. To lead people to maturity in Christ, you must be willing to minister to their needs. Visiting people in the hospital, ministering to those who are in the midst of family crisis, and praying with those who are hurting are part of the pastor’s job description. Simply put, people are not going to follow your leadership unless they know you care. How are you showing care to the people God has entrusted you? Certainly, it’s not possible for a pastor to make every hospital visit or to minister to every family personally, but have you equipped others in your church to minister alongside of you? Have you equipped your church to care for each other? When you ignore the needs of your people, you are a discouragement to them; not an encouragement.
(3) Tell your congregation how hard your job is.
I know ministry is difficult. Ministry is emotionally draining, places significant demands on your time, and puts you right in the middle of spiritual warfare. I can’t think of anything more challenging than being responsible for the spiritual oversight of a congregation. However, your people do not need to constantly hear you talking about the difficulties of ministries. Your people have difficult occupations as well. In your congregation are police officers who daily put their lives on the line for little pay. In your congregation are teachers who are struggling to help thirty fourth graders understand long division. In your congregation are stay-at-home mothers who are trying to keep their children from destroying the house and each other. Every person in your church has challenges in their careers. Instead of talking about the challenges of ministry, talk about the joy of ministry. Talk about the joy of being able to preach the Bible every week. Talk about the joy of helping people grow in Christ. Talk about the joy of baptizing that teenager who gave his life to Christ. The joys of ministry far outweigh the challenges. Don’t discourage your people by always talking about how hard ministry is. Encourage them by letting them know how much you love what you do.
(4) Use social media unwisely.
I love social media. I love how social media instantly connects me with people. I love keeping up with friends from college through their Facebook pages. Social media can be a very helpful tool for ministry. However, I’ve seen far too many pastors use social media unwisely. I’ve seen pastors use social media as an outlet to vent their frustrations about their own congregation. I’ve seen pastors use social media as a place to cause unnecessary controversy by being overly political. I’ve seen pastors use social media as a place to defame the character of people they don’t agree with. Use social media, but be wise in how you use social media. Don’t discourage your people by using social media as a platform for ungodly speech and behavior. We probably all need to be reminded that Ephesians 4:29 applies just as much to what we write as well as it applies to what we say.
(5) Never thank people for their service.
Pastors should be the most grateful people on earth. Each week, people show up to our churches and freely volunteer their time to help make the local church the best place on earth. People freely serve in the nursery, greet guests, serve as ushers, teach Sunday School classes, sing in the praise band, and serve in a variety of other ways. Many people serve not because they are looking for accolades and attention, but instead because they are simply trying to be faithful to the God who saved them. As pastors, we should be extremely grateful for the servants God has blessed us with. Do you regularly thank people for their service? Do you send thank you notes to that lady who faithfully serves in the nursery? Do you send thank you notes to those men who show up every Saturday to care for the church lawn? Don’t discourage your people through an ungrateful heart.
(6) Neglect your own walk with the Lord.
According to Ephesians 4, you are called to equip your people for the work of the ministry. It is very difficult to equip people when you yourself are not allowing the Lord to equip you. As you begin this new year, make a renewed commitment in your own walk with the Lord. Commit to enjoying the presence of God on a daily basis. If you are spiritually empty, you will be a discouragement to those who are looking to you to help them find the joy of walking in an intimate relationship with Jesus.