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To truly care for your flock, you must lean in


Shortly after arriving at his first pastorate, a friend of mine hosted a dinner at the parsonage for his church. As the members of the church trickled in, the same phrase was repeated: “So this is what it looks like inside here!”

No, my friend’s new partners in ministry were not being nosy about his decorating style. They were simply reacting to being in the parsonage for the first time. You see, during the 20-year tenure of his predecessor, many had never been invited to step foot in the pastor’s house, located just 30 yards from the church.

It’s not possible to provide effective pastoral care while keeping the flock at arm’s reach. I would suggest that while one can carry out the actions required for pastoral care without any particular emotional investment or relationship, caring for our people holistically requires much more. How do we nurture these necessary relationships?

Cultivate a heart of gratitude

In Philippians 4, Paul says, “Whatever is true, honorable, righteous, holy, pleasing, or praiseworthy, if there is something that is virtuous and if there is something worth praising, think intently about these things.” While this is a command for all Christians, it is a non-negotiable for pastors because it undergirds our care for our congregation. When we cultivate a heart of gratitude and think intently about the best in our people, it makes it much easier to care for them – not just through action, but through emotion as well.

Gratitude sets the tone for a positive relationship. Moreover, gratitude can be contagious. If you lead by example, your people will recognize you are not simply doing your job in caring for them, but that you truly appreciate them. That paves the way for them to develop reciprocal gratitude. It is a beautiful thing to see a pastor and a church member who each view the other with genuine thankfulness to the Lord.

Be vulnerable

Through personal experience, warnings from others, or simple personality preferences, some pastors develop a wall between themselves and their people. They are “on” when they are around their flock, and they will rarely, if ever, let their flock see behind the curtain. Perhaps you’ve even heard the phrase “mask of ministry.”

This sort of artificial relationship would be troubling if spotted in one of our members, but it is no less troubling when it shows up in our own lives. If you always wear the mask, don’t be surprised if your people never truly know you – or if you don’t know them either. Choose to be vulnerable. Let your members see behind the mask. Is there risk here? Of course! But it is the same risk you ask your people to take when you challenge them to be vulnerable and open with other believers.

Invest in their lives

A pastor choosing to invest in his members will look different in each church. For some, this can be as simple as learning the names and prayer needs of your people. But if you are able to invest more, do so, knowing that the pastoral dividend will be great. Bring a meal after a hospital stay, show up at birthday parties, invite your people to come watch sporting events with you … the options are truly endless.

Have patience

The last ingredient is time. Gratitude, vulnerability, and life investment are all necessary ingredients for caring for your people well. But much like stock, this investment requires time to bear the greatest fruit. A pastoral relationship with these key elements can yield wonderful fruit, but a relationship that has faithfully incorporated these elements for years will yield a much greater harvest.

So, faithfully tend to your flock knowing that your investment, vulnerability, gratitude, and patience will yield their greatest fruit in the years ahead.

Joshua Hébert is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Kemp, Texas. This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

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  • Joshua Hébert