Encouraging gospel ministers
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. (Galatians 6:6, ESV)
I remember the preacher and author John Stott writing somewhere that one of his greatest problems was discouragement. Since Dr Stott penned about 50 books, preached all over the world and was an eminent Christian leader, we might be a little surprised! But discouragement is a notable problem for Christian ministers.
I think part of it comes from the invisibility, at least in the short term, of the results of their work. Preaching, for instance, is not like cleaning the car - you don’t normally see instant results! It is all too often that the preacher homeward plods his weary way at the end of a Sunday, quietly hoping that his efforts have helped someone, but not absolutely sure.
Ministers should have a basic measure of confidence, of course, since insofar as they are teaching God’s Word, that Word is truly powerful to change lives, and will produce a harvest. But this is not something that they can see, at least in the short term - though one of the joys of longer-term ministry is that you can see lives wonderfully changed by Christ.
I wonder if what Paul has in mind in the verse from Galatians quoted above includes a word of thanks to a pastor for the way his ministry has helped them?
Of course, no true gospel minister should be doing their work for the praise of people. That is a terrible snare, and it will ultimately disappoint. In a forthcoming book, evangelist Rico Tice gives advice to ministers: If you do things primarily for your church [as opposed to for Jesus], you’ll grow jaded, cynical or bitter because your church will let you down. Moreover, the Lord Jesus’ words in Luke 6:26 need to be heard: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
But none of this means that those of us who benefit from ministry should not give thanks when we’ve been helped. Indeed, Paul seems to be positively encouraging this. The very ministers who receive flak from an unbelieving world are specially glad of boosts to morale!
We’re not talking about flattery - which is dishonest praise, and a terrible disservice to people. Instead, be truthful and specific. In an excellent short book, Christopher Ash writes, Being specific about something that helped you will be a particular encouragement to a pastor. Let’s see if there is some truth, some verse or some Bible phrase that we will take away from our meeting that will stir us afresh to repent and believe. Then let us tell our pastors about it in a brief word of thanks.
Thinking about this, I find I do fall short of doing this to others myself. Rachel and I belonged to a Bible teaching church together for ten years and, looking back, are ashamed we hardly ever thanked the staff! On the positive side, what a difference it makes. I sometimes write to thank the author of a book I’ve found helpful, and rather to my surprise, I’ve nearly always heard back from them a word from them, saying how much that means!