The 1970s chorus said it well, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Scripture points to love as a defining characteristic of the Christian’s life. We are told to love one another. Even to love our enemies. Love is indeed the most excellent way. One of the privileges of pastoral ministry is the opportunity to love people. As I write this my mind is racing through thirty years of pastoral ministry. And thousands of people I have had and continue to have the privilege to love.
It’s important for pastors to love our people. I know that sounds like, “Well, duh. Of course we should.” But I have known pastors who loved preaching and other aspects of ministry. They just didn’t love people. It’s important to love the people God places under your care. It is also important to make sure that they know that you love them. This is especially true when you are leading a church through revitalization. Here are five reasons why…
1. Because you do.
When you love someone it’s important to let them know. Tell them that you love them. Show them that you love them. When I was in college I worked for a man who jokingly said, “I told my wife that I loved her on our wedding night. I also told her not to expect me to say it again, that if anything changed, I would let her know.” Pastor, that is not a good plan. Not for a marriage. And not for ministry. It’s important to let your people know that you love them because you do, and…
2. Because Jesus told you to.
The difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd is knowing and loving the sheep. Jesus calls us to lead. He also calls us to love those we are called to lead. Loving the people of your church is a matter of obedience. And let’s be honest, sometimes people are hard to love.
Several years ago I was just starting a new pastorate. In fact, it was my first Sunday. As I walked down one of the main hallways, I overheard a conversation between two senior adult ladies. They were talking about me. Sizing me up. Offering their first impressions. Deciding whether or not they were going “to like” me. They had no idea that I was behind them. Let alone that I could hear them. Over time these ladies became two of my all-time favorite church members. But in the beginning I had to love them because Jesus told me to.
It’s important to let your people know that you love them…
3. Because you will disappoint them.
Peter put it like this, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). No pastor is perfect. And some of us are more imperfect than others. I know that I will let people down. I will disappoint them and fail to live up to expectations.
Some expectations are reasonable. Others are not. A few years ago a church member told me, “I loved you when you first came as our pastor. But then you changed your hairstyle.” That is an unreasonable expectation. But the truth is that if I had shown her that I loved her, she might have given me the benefit of the doubt. Even with a new haircut!
Every church member has their own expectations when a new pastor arrives. This member wants you to modernize the worship service. That member wants you to bring back the handbell choir. In church revitalization there are a hundred things (and thirty-nine more) that need to change. At least one of those changes is going to disappoint someone. It’s important to let people know that you love them because you will let them down, and…
4. Because you will lead them to places they don’t want to go.
Leadership is hard. Especially in a church that needs to experience revitalization. Even when church members know they need a new direction, they often don’t fully understand what that means. They want change. But they also want things to remain the same. And the only way to lead them forward is to love them.
I recently had a conversation with a church that is in desperate need of revitalization. At some point their pastor is going to have to lead them to places they don’t want to go. And when that time comes, he will need to remind them, “You know that I love you, right?” If he has also shown them that he loves them, they will be more likely to follow.
Pastor, it is vital to let you people know that they are loved…
5. Because your leadership will be challenged.
In the summer of 2008 I experienced a serious challenge to my leadership. A member of my church declared that God had told her that it was time for me and our music minister to leave. She did not like the direction we were leading the church. And I had failed to live up to her expectations in ministry to a family member. By the end of the summer she had gathered a few others to her cause and attempted to force the issue.
Ultimately her challenge to our leadership failed. By this point I had served as pastor of that church for seven years. And for seven years I had shown them how much I loved the church. I had proven my love for church members. I had sat with them through surgeries. Prayed with them through tragedy. Walked with them through troubled waters. I had married their children. And buried their loved ones. So when she challenged our leadership, the overwhelming majority of church members did not join the challenge.
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Pastor, love your people. Tell them. And show them.
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church of Eupora, MS as a Transitional Pastor. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries or to financially support the work of church revitalization, visit https://robpaul.net