Life in the Splash Zone {How to Serve Your Pastor}

Several years ago my family and I went to the sea lion show at the St. Louis Zoo.  One of the sea lions had been refusing to perform, so they opened the show up – for free – to try to coax him back into action.  He performed beautifully for us. 🙂

Have you ever been to one of those water-animal shows?  The first few rows are painted a different color to indicate the “splash zone.”  If you sit in those rows, you’ll be face to face with the clear side of the tank and see things no one else can see.  You might also get called up to touch the sea lions or to feed them fish, or to play some other part in the show.  But if you are sitting in the splash zone, watch out! As you see the amazing feats of the creatures God created to fill the seas, you will get wet.  When the animal impacts the water after an amazing jump, the water is displaced to make room for the animal.  Since it has no place to go, that “radial jet” flies upward and outward.  The initial splash leaves the tank at 20-30 times the speed of the animal hitting the water. And if you are in those front rows, it smacks you in the face and leaves you dripping from head to toe.  Some people like that and choose to sit in the splash zone.  Some people put up with it because they enjoy the special view.  Some of the people in the splash zone are sitting there because someone they love wants to be in the splash zone.

Our pastors live life in the splash zone.  And their wives and families are there with them because they love him. It’s a unique calling – life in the splash zone. One one hand, they have front row seats to watch God working. On the other hand, they are close enough to get smacked by the water, and getting smacked by the water isn’t always fun.

But just like a close-up view of an orca whale may make the splashes worthwhile, our pastors can embrace and endure any number of splashes of criticism, anger, messy marriages in the counseling room, censorship of the government, slander, gossip, and the pain of walking hand-in-hand with hurting, broken people when they catch those special moments of seeing that God is working through them.  There’s something incredibly in+couraging about seeing His strength at work in your weakness.  There’s something that inspires perseverance in the heart of a pastor, in knowing it’s all God, but he chose to use you as an instrument of his grace.

But what would it be like if the sides of the tank were solid metal instead of clear?  Would it be worth it to sit in the splash zone if the underwater view was obscured?

So, as we close out Pastor Appreciation Month (or as I like to call it, “Restart Acts of Appreciation for your Pastor Month“), let’s think about ways we can help our pastors to see the underwater action.  We can serve our pastors as they do life in the splash zone by telling them about how God is working in our lives (2 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor) and by protecting them from some of the spray (3 Ways to Protect Your Pastor). We can also serve them by sitting there with them – even if it means we get wet, too. Participating in ministry in your local church is one of the best ways to “appreciate” your pastor.

Maybe October is the time to look for ways to serve in the church, to join a Bible study, or to start a ministry. Do you have any idea how encouraging it is to a pastor to see the people God has entrusted to him growing by using their gifts to edify the church?  Have you thought about how encouraging it is to see that the sacrifices you make as a pastor make a difference?  When poeple are drawn to love Christ and live fully for him in the moments between Sundays… pastors are excited! They are in+couraged. And they see the glory and power of God on display.

A church full of folks living out Ephesians 4:1-16 would bring joy and encouragement to any pastor’s heart.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16

Joining him in the splash zone encourages him as together you sit in those front row seats with a view of God’s grace and power and glory. And though you might also experience the cold blast of the radial jet as folks crash in front of you, you’ll get the great view, too. You’ll get to see them rise above the water and swim with skill.

You might even get to rescue a few folks from drowning.


And that’s a Wrap!

I know, it’s still October. Is it really time to start Christmas shopping?

Well, in two days it’ll be November, and you know how fast November rushes by. So, yes. If you want a composed Christmas, where you are not rushing around trying to find the perfect gift in crowded stores with empty shelves on Christmas Eve, start now. Even if you are a Black Friday or Cyber Monday Shopper, having a list of ideas ready in advance saves the scramble to get ready for all those deals in the midst of defrosting the turkey and cleaning up spilled pie filling from the oven.

Now is a great time to sit down and make your list, check it twice – not for who has been naughty or nice, but to make sure you haven’t forgotten anyone. Now is a great time to think about how much money you can afford to spend on all of Christmas (gifts, shipping, special foods, gift wrap and packaging, decorations…), so you don’t arrive in January with a newly-induced New Year’s Resolution to get out of debt.

Go ahead and include the letter carrier, trash guys, teachers, exterminator… anyone you want to give a gift to, be it small or large. And maybe you’d like to include a few small, multi-purpose gifts for last minute dinner invitations, or that person you forgot to include. It’s also a great time to start thinking about what you’ll use to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. And don’t forget gift wrapping supplies. I like to buy anything I need (that I didn’t get at the after-Christmas sales the year before) on the first trip out, so I have everything ready to wrap as I go.

That's A Wrap!

Once you know who you are giving to, you can start filling in what you’d like to get them – or asking for ideas. If you need to make it, make a plan – what materials are needed? What time do you need to schedule? When do you need to have it ready? That last day before the school break always caught me by surprise when we had kids in school/mother’s day out, etc.

With a well thought list, you’ll be ready when you see sales and already have items on your list when you are at the store (for more on organizing shopping lists, see my post about Organized Spending.)

And, when you bring it in the door, don’t forget to wrap it! It won’t really take up any more space and it’ll save a HUGE amount of time when things get busier as Thanksgiving and Christmas activities abound.

We live in a small town and order a lot of our gifts online. When they arrive, we set aside the shipping boxes and re-label them for the folks to whom we will mail gifts. As we buy and wrap items that need to ship, we pop them in the appropriate box. When everything is ready, we crumple up some empty grocery bags for packing material, and go ahead and ship it. It saves us last-minute shipping rates and helps us avoid late deliveries when the USPS, UPS, and FedEx are all overwhelmed.

We set aside another couple of boxes for gifts we’ll put under our tree or will deliver locally. As soon as the tree is decorated, out come the wrapped presents! If we are still shopping after December 1, or receive gifts from others via the mail or hand delivery, we set them beneath the tree as well. We have almost a month to physically observe the growing grace of God through the people he has placed in our lives. Planning ahead gives us ample opportunity to anticipate the joy others will have as God uses us to extend his grace, too.

Run to Win

On Friday I completed a study of the book of Esther. It’s a really good book. I highly recommend reading it. And studying it. It has God written all over it, even though he is never mentioned. Not even once.

As that study wound to a close, God really impressed on my heart how faithful Mordecai and Esther were to be obedient, regardless of the outcome.

In the end, biblical truisms held true in this life for Mordecai. He had rest from his enemies and evil was pushed back (Proverbs 16:6-7).  His enemies were silenced (Titus 2:7-8). He also was lifted up to a high place of honor (Esther 10:1-3), which is what God promises to those who walk in humility (James 4:10). {No, I do not believe God always raises the humble to positions of honor in this life, but what greater honor will there be than to be invited to the wedding feast in heaven (Revelation 19:9)?}

Thinking about all the events in the book of Esther I have to ask myself the question: Do I live like I believe my job is obedience not outcomes? Do I live for God’s pleasure?

I can’t help but think of the Eric Liddell quote, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

When I run the race set before me – the race of MY life – do I feel God’s pleasure? Do I put off encumbrances and run the race God has set before me with endurance (Hebrews 12:1)? Do I run and not grow weary (Isaiah 40:31, Hebrews 12:3)? Do I run to win (1 Corinthians 9:24), not just to finish? Do I live up to the calling God has on my life (Ephesians 4:1) based on how he knit me together (Psalm 139:13-14) trusting that not a hair on my head will perish (Luke 21:18) outside of the will of my father who’s purposes will stand (Proverbs 19:21)?

Runners will tell you one of the surest ways to lose the race is to look around at the other runners to see how they are doing. Their race is not your race. If you are running to win, you must keep your eye on the finish line and run full blast until you cross it.

Running to Win

So, will you run the race God has set before you (Hebrews 12:1) without comparing yourself to others (Galatians 6:4)?

Will you keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2) so that you can remain faithful to the end (Hebrews 3:13-14, Luke 14:28-30, 2 John 1:8)?

Will you run full blast to the end (Revelation 2:10; Hebrews 4:9-13; 2 Timothy 4:7; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 3:12-16), not stealing heaven’s joys in advance by stopping to rest before God has called you home to rest (Revelation 21:1-8; Proverbs 14:12)?

Will you run all the way to the finish line (Hebrews 10:35-39)?

Are you running to win (Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:5)?

3 Ways to Protect Your Pastor

As I started thinking and praying about ways to show appreciation to our pastors, my thoughts took an interesting turn.  Maybe you’ve never thought about it quite like this either.

We are all called to do something.  And whatever it is, whether we eat or drink, we should do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23).  Our pastors are called to labor in the church – to sacrifice, to serve, to teach and admonish, to pray and weep, to keep watch over the souls of his flock, to accurately handle the word of God – all for the glory of God and for the sake of the body.  This is no small calling.

And when we think about the devil prowling around seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), it makes sense that those who lead others to Christ and into greater understanding of obedience to Christ are a specific target for that “devouring.”

At different points in history, we have seen or read about pastors who have “fallen.”  Whether they have fallen into sexual sin, embezzlement, or manipulated their authority (which should be servant leadership) to grasp for power that should not be theirs, when we see and publicize these falls, we hurt the whole body.

That does not mean we should hide the fallen soldiers (for that is truly what they are, fallen soldiers) or make excuses for their sin.  It also does not mean we should condemn them – they are already held accountable for the souls under their care by God himself (Hebrews 13:17).  Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). Even fallen pastors are in Christ.

What it does mean is that we need to protect those who lead us.  We need to look on these giants of the faith – these everyday heroes – and realize Satan knows their kryptonite. The men and women who lead in our churches are human – sinners saved by grace – soldiers in a cosmic battle. Sometimes soldiers fall.  But we can do a lot to protect and defend our leaders so that they can remain steadfast.  We can do a lot to uphold them so they can continue to lead the fight, to push back the dominion of darkness.  They don’t have to fall.

3 Ways to Protect Your Pastor

As you think through ways to appreciate your pastor this month, I’d like to encourage you to protect your pastor in three ways.

  • Pray for your pastor

    This may seem obvious, but how often and how much time do you spend really praying for your pastor – more than the cursory “be with our pastor as he brings the word” type prayers? October is a great time to commit to praying regularly for your pastor – for the particular temptations and unique struggles he faces. Please, please, please spend regular, concentrated, intentional time praying for your pastor. Pray for him to remain humble and sensitive to the Spirit. Pray for him to rightly divide the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). Pray for him to understand you and the congregation such that he can apply Scripture with great wisdom. Pray for his congregation (you!) to search the scriptures (not opinions or feelings) to see if what he says is true (Acts 17:11).  Pray for his heart to find confidence in Christ alone.  Pray for his relationships with his wife and his children.  Pray for their relationships with Christ – that they might encourage and strengthen him as they labor together as a ministry family for the body of Christ. Pray that he stands firm in the day of trouble and and that he will have courage to follow Christ during persecution.

  • Guard his time – with God and with his family

    Pastors are people, too. And ministry is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. If your pastor is going to do all we prayed for above, he is going to have to be connected to Christ and connected to his family. And he will need your practical support, in addition to your prayers, if he is to remain steadfast in the word and a leader in his home.  October is a great time to think about how to guard his time throughout the year with his family and to commit to supporting and protecting his time alone with God. Thinking practically here, it might mean respecting his time in prayer – like when his head is bowed in his office, and you have to decide whether or not to knock. It might mean understanding the balance he needs to have between studying alone in his office, and being engaged with members of the congregation or reaching out to unbelievers. It might look like offering babysitting for a “date night” in October or a gift card to his favorite restaurant so he can spend time with his family, but maybe it’s about cultivating an environment year round where the pastor is not the only acceptable person to do hospital visits, funerals, and crisis counseling. Maybe we allow for our pastor to honor his commitments to his wife and kids as much as we expect him to honor his commitments to the other members of the church. And please, make sure he takes a regular day off (Mondays might not be best)- and respect his day off. {On a personal note, our church actually set up a schedule for couples to babysit in our home on a monthly basis so Mike and I can have a regular opportunity to connect. For those of you with pastors who have young children – this is a great way to support his ministry in the home.} Other ideas I’ve seen in practice: there are churches maintain the yard for the pastor’s home – not a parsonage, but their privately owned home – so the pastor is freed to spend his time “off” with his family. Other churches offer housecleaning, child care, an end-of-year gift, or occasional grocery cards. Get creative and think about how you, as an individual, and as a church, can protect and support your pastor’s time with God and with his family.

  • Defend your pastor in your own mind and with others

    If you are praying, in faith, for all those things in #1 above, then please commit to assuming the best about what the elders in your church decide. Commit to respectfully asking for more information if something doesn’t make sense to you.  And commit to directing critics to speak directly with the leaders in the church rather than having conversations amongst the members which put the pastors, elders, and deacons in a negative light. Slander and gossip have no place in a church, and will undermine the work of the church.  When you have concerns, go to God first, and pray for wisdom and clarity. Search the scriptures for truth and understanding. And then, if you think the pastor is or your elders are  wrong – commit to talking to them privately and directly (Matthew 18:15-20) before you voice your concerns to others. Another way to defend your pastor is to defend his ministry in the budget process. Pastor Appreciation Month often coincides with the budget process. Take your care for his ministry into conversations about the budget. As you think about a book allowance, study leave, a line item for expenses associated with pastoral visits and denominational involvement, as you consider vacation time, his salary and benefits, and set the budget for outreach – defend him. Commit to seeing him as a person, not a line item in an ever-tightening budget. Defend him as a person called to serve in a specific way who is to “get his living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).

And I leave you with these verses as you consider protecting your leaders:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. 1 Thessalonians 5:11-12

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! {Christmas Cards & Update Letters}

Last week I wrote about eliminating unwanted mail from your mailboxes (Incidentally, PaperKarma has added a subscription to their “Free App” that I didn’t know about. Apparently new users have a $9.99 annual subscription required to use the service after the first 5 “trials.” I didn’t know about the change. For me it has always been completely free. You’ll have to decide if an empty mailbox is worth $9.99 in your house. I don’t think you’d need more than one year – almost all of my junk mail was eliminated in the first three months.)

Anyway – this week I want to write about mail I enjoy filling my mailbox. The mail I want to see.

Christmas Newsletters and Annual Family Updates.

I always enjoy getting the news from folks I don’t connect with very often through the year. Often it gives us a starting point when we do get to connect. It’s not like we have to start all over and get caught up on all that’s happened between visits. We already know a good bit of the in-between stuff.

However, I don’t always enjoy writing ours.  It’s an odd phenomenon for a writer… dreading writing, but there you have it. I do.

A few years ago we came up with a solution. I have each person in our family write a section on what they want to report about their year. I only have to write an update on the important things from my own life.  My husband and kids are blessed to have the things important to them included. I didn’t always hit the mark on what they deemed important when I wrote about them on their behalf.

So, here we are in late October, working on our Christmas letter, but we aren’t actually writing the letter yet.

This is the week to get our Christmas envelopes addressed and stamped and tucked away. We do it by setting up an assembly line of folks who enjoy doing stickers. An envelope’s first stop is the return address sticker. The second stop is the mailing address sticker. And the final stop is the postage stamp. (Pro tip: be sure to pull any international envelopes out ahead of time, so you can put specific postage on those.)

If you don’t want to be caught scrambling to write a Valentine’s update (yes, I really did this one year!), you might like to follow along with us. We aim to drop our letters in the mail on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Update Letter Schedule Announcement

Here’s our schedule for the rest of the letter/card process, in case you’d like to join us.

(In September we bought envelopes, postage, and labels. We also verified addresses and updated our mailing list. So if you haven’t done those two steps, do them this week and then pick up with the schedule next week and you’ll be right on track.)

Thursday, October 23
Print labels for Christmas Letter

Friday, October 24
Address and Stamp envelopes for Christmas Letter {and wish my awesome nephew a Happy Birthday! 🙂 }

Friday, November 7
Write Christmas Letter

Monday, November 10
Take picture for Christmas Letter
Order prints of picture for Christmas Letter {These will arrive by mail or be picked up when I run weekly errands.}

Monday, November 17
Finalize and print Christmas Letter (Notice we had more than a week to write and edit – it doesn’t always happen in one sitting!)

Tuesday, November 18
Fold and stuff Christmas Letter & picture.
Seal envelopes for Christmas Letter
{Again, this is usually an assembly line – one person folds the letter, then next slips in a picture, the next slips it in an envelope, and the last uses a dampened sponge piece to wet and seal the envelopes.}

Friday, November 28
Mail Christmas Letters

Monday, December 1
Relax and enjoy the cards and letters that begin arriving – without the nagging reminder that ours needs to be finished! 🙂