Every pastor would be well served if his people adopted the prayer of the late Senator Robert S. Kerr from Oklahoma who prayed for himself and his pastor: “Lord, let me be a pillar of strength, to hold my pastor up, and not a thorn in the flesh to sap his strength, nor a burden on his back to pull him down. Let me support him without striving to possess him. Let me lift his hands without placing shackles around him. Let me give him help that he may spend more time in working for the salvation of others, and less time in gratifying my vanity or struggling with my indifference or repeated neglects. Let me strive to serve the church more and be happy as its leadership serves me less and others more. Amen.”
Getting behind the church leadership through renewed prayer, submission, esteem, and practical support is a good thing, and are attitudes and actions promoted of believers in the Bible. On many occasions the New Testament offers practical advice on how members of churches can best serve those who serve them (Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Heb. 13:7, 17). A church and ministry functions best when the wheels of leadership mesh with the cogs of membership and are oiled by mutual love and respect for one another. Real church growth is dependent upon a leadership that functions well, and a membership that follows well. The reality is that most churches don’t need more energy to be given, but more synergy to be found.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul outlines what that synergy looks like as he urges the church at Thessalonica to serve their leaders. Paul believed the church’s effectiveness hinged on an informed, warm, and orderly relationship between pulpit and pew.
The first requirement of getting behind the leadership is to know them better - “to recognize those who labor among you” (1 Thess. 5:12). This is a recognition that comes through experience and intimacy. We talk a lot about the need for a pastor to know his congregation, but it works the other way. Recognition entails appreciating the nature of the work a pastor does, as well as understanding the spiritual peril the pastor is in as a target for Satan, the magnet he is for criticism, the fishbowl existence his family endures, and his vulnerability to fainting fits.
The second requirement for getting behind the leadership is to value them deeply - “to esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:13). The honoring of a leader is not to be cold or detached. It is to be marked by a warmheartedness rooted in a deep appreciation for the gospel work a leader does. Pastors should not be valued because of their wit, charm or personality, but because they are gospel men.
The third requirement for getting behind the leadership is to express unity in Christ - to “be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:13). Nobody wants to command a ship where the crew is in state of mutiny. Every pastor deserves to experience the joy of pastoring a church that is at peace with itself.
Remember, great churches are not only marked by great leaders, but great followers!