We know the command. Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). But how consistently do we apply it to our pastors?
If we’re honest, we can often demand grace from them but extend little to them. With regular access to podcasts and social media, it’s tempting to compare our pastors unfavorably with those we admire from afar. We can subconsciously expect them to supersede the qualifications defined in Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9)—and judge them when they don’t.
Assuming our pastors are biblically qualified for their role, it’s likely most of us could grow in loving them. Here are four suggestions from Scripture for how we might do so.
1. Esteem and encourage your pastor’s labor (1 Thess. 5:12–13).
The preaching of sound doctrine should never, ever be taken for granted. Only through careful study and Spirit-filled diligence do the words we hear on Sunday accurately teach God’s Word. So when our souls are fed by the careful exposition and application of Scripture, we should encourage our pastors.
We also should encourage our pastors as they care for the flock. They carry broken marriages, rebellious teens, suffering saints, and much more on their hearts. They feel the weight of division among congregants, the sting of gossip among dissenters, and the eternal need of the unsaved. They counsel those in overwhelming circumstances: people enslaved by addiction, betrayed by infidelity, or healing from childhood abuse. Knowing their burden, encourage your pastors—help them run to Christ when they are heavy laden, that they may find rest for their souls (Matt. 11:28–30).
2. Be patient toward your pastor’s weaknesses (1 Cor. 13:4).
All pastors have weaknesses—tendencies or personality quirks that can often irritate or cause hurt within a church. Some pastors might be forgetful and fail to follow up on conversations or sensitive situations, hurting feelings in the process. Some might be too slow to make decisions, discouraging the go-getters. Others might simply be disorganized, frustrating churchgoers with their administrative mistakes.
Sometimes these weaknesses should be addressed with proactive steps for the pastor to grow. But even if the forgetful pastor sets reminders on his phone, his deficiencies will be apparent. Even if the overly analytical pastor seeks to streamline decision-making processes, his natural inclinations will be there. We should bear with these weaknesses—just as we want others to bear with ours—hopeful that God will use them. As iron sharpens iron, flawed saints sharpen one another. Your pastor’s weaknesses that most provoke you might be the very tools God is using for your sanctification.
3. Forgive your pastor’s sin (Col. 3:13).
No matter how godly, pastors will sin against their congregants. At times they might say harsh words or make unfair judgments. They may exhibit pride or act selfishly. When our pastors stumble, are we eager to point out their failings? Or do we live as brothers and sisters, eager to forgive and point them to the grace that covers sin?
Who are we to keep a record of wrongs when Jesus has erased the record against us? Who are we to withhold forgiveness when Jesus has lavished us with it? Who are we to withdraw in cords of bitterness when our Savior has sought us in love? To love our pastors means to kill resentment when we’re tempted to feed it, knowing that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). It means to pursue them steadfastly when we’d rather retreat from them angrily; to call out their sin graciously rather than rebuke them vindictively.
4. Respect your pastor’s leadership (Heb. 13:17).
In a culture that worships autonomy and rails against authority, the idea of “respecting your pastor” feels oppressive. But Scripture commands it, and it’s for our good. God calls pastors into leadership and holds them accountable to handle their authority with humility and godliness. He also calls churches to respect and submit to their leaders and holds us accountable to do so with joy (Heb. 13:17). God has established pastors as a means of extending his provision and protection. It is because we trust the Good Shepherd that we respect the pastoral shepherds he places over us.
Respect does not mean we consider our leaders infallible (which is idolatry), or that we never confront sin (which is unloving), or that we withhold input in decision-making (which abdicates our roles as members). Church members can and should offer insight for building up pastors and churches. But these opinions must be brought to the right people (complaining to others is still gossip even if you’re “right”)—and must always be brought in meekness and love. We dishonor our King with spirits of contention. Love calls us to hold our perspectives humbly, not insisting on our own way (1 Cor. 13:4–5).
When we commit ourselves to loving our pastors well, they will be strengthened, we will be sanctified, and the witness of the church will be spread—all for the glory of Christ.