Peter Orr, Crossway, 2022
Having been a pastor for many years and now being involved in training many others to be pastors, I gladly affirm that it is a wonderful calling. There are many joys and privileges in pastoral ministry. But there is no doubt that it is also hard. Sometimes, very hard. There can be great discouragements and disappointments. There is often a demanding workload with an emotional edge to much of it. It is a people job, and people are often challenging. There may well be criticism. Over the last couple of years, the pandemic has made church leadership more complicated than ever. And the disturbingly large number of scandals among evangelical leaders has not only caused pastors pain and sometimes fear but has generated in many churches questions and concerns about pastoral authority and the reality of spiritual abuse.
It is timely, then, to have a book on how to care well for your pastor. Pastors won’t lead, preach or shepherd well if they are burnt out, weary, cynical, fearful, isolated, unaccountable, unloved, or constantly under attack. Every member the of the flock can help care for their pastor.
Peter Orr opens up seven ways to do so. First, he says, fight for your pastor. Fight for him not with him. Fight in particularly for his spiritual well-being, knowing that Satan would love him to fail and fall. The best way to do so is to pray for him, his ministry and his family. Orr opens up some of the many ways we should uphold pastors in prayer.
Next, Orr says, encourage your pastor. We easily grumble and complain when things don’t go well, but we need more constantly to encourage pastors. A consumer mentality makes us think that we pay them to do the job, so they should just get on with it. But a pastor is a member of the body of Christ; and we are to encourage one another, including the pastor. Again, Orr helps us think about specific ways in which we can encourage him.
Thirdly, we can listen. Being a good listener, particularly to sermons, is a great help to a pastor. But he also asks, “What do we do if our pastor isn’t a very good preacher?” That, he says, requires us to work even harder at listening. He also observes that nearly always there is something good in a sermon. And when we find a message unclear it can lead to further conversation with him or others about the text. There is also a need for preachers to receive, particularly from the elders, feedback that helps them grow and develop. But we must be realistic in what we are looking for. Orr notes that, “One reason we may find it hard to listen to our pastor is because we listen too much to the “great” preachers on the internet” (47).
In subsequent chapters we are encouraged to fight for our pastors as we “Give!” (Chapter 4); “Forgive!” (Chapter 5); “Submit!” (Chapter 6); and “Check!” (Chapter 7). Throughout, Orr builds on biblical commands and truths regarding how we are to treat those who have spiritual oversight of us.
As he does so, however, he does not set up a one-way street where the pastor is always right, and we should never challenge him. Pastors fail, make mistakes and get it wrong, which is why we must learn to forgive them. Sometimes they fail in major ways, demanding correction or discipline. Abusive and sinful behaviour must never be excused. But there are biblical principles and processes for dealing with accusations against church leaders. The elders of a church are responsible to see that complaints and concerns are handled rightly.
Orr concludes, “We need to realize that we can make a significant difference to our pastor’s ability to do ministry, and so to the health of our church, by actively supporting him–in our prayers, encouragement, listening, giving, forgiving submitting, and handling of accusations” (95). We often think of how our pastor relates to us, but we also need to think about how we relate to him. In just 95 easy- to- read pages, Peter Orr is a great guide to thinking about that.