One of the great privileges of the pastor is to shepherd church members through difficult seasons. What can you do as a pastor to help and encourage?
1. Point them to the Lord. We can and should pray for people. We can and should encourage them. We can and should share biblical truth with them. But their primary relationship is not with us but with the Lord. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).
2. Give them regular attention and encouragement. A phone call, text, or note will mean a great deal. It tells them you have not forgotten them and reminds them of God’s care as well. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
3. Teach them to be alert for what God is doing in their lives. During my recent battle with cancer, my instinctive approach to the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation was to “tough it out.” I tried not to complain and hesitated to let people know what I was experiencing. There came a point when it was extremely difficult to swallow. I considered it a major accomplishment to take my pills. I didn’t want to eat. It was a chore to drink water. On a pain scale of 1–10, each swallow was a 6 or 7. One Sunday morning my pastor preached from Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it shall be given you . . . .” As I listened, the Spirit of God said, “Why don’t you ask Me?” So, I did. I went to the altar during the invitation and prayed, “Lord, would you please relieve the pain in my throat.” He did! From that Monday forward, my pain greatly diminished to a 3 or a 4. And I was blessed with a strengthened confidence in God.
4. Mobilize others to help. At my pastor’s request, my wife organized a caregiving ministry in our church called “Just Because.” Those in need are assigned a volunteer who will make them meals, send notes or texts, bring treats, and pray for them. Al and Kim Badour took this role for me during my illness. Their thoughtful, generous, faithful help was a constant blessing.
5. Encourage them to glorify God through their trial. Some people spend more time talking about their burden than they do about the Burden Bearer. They seem more concerned that you know how hard things have been on them than sharing how good God has been to them. The focus should never be on our hardships but on God’s help. First Corinthians 6:20 tells us, “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
I once listened to the testimony of a young believer who was drafted into the US Army and stationed in Vietnam. His efforts to witness to his fellow soldiers earned him the nicknames of “preacher,” “missionary,” and “evangelist.” He good naturedly responded by calling his three most vocal critics “pervert number one,” “pervert number two,” and “pervert number three.” One day while on patrol, a phosphorous grenade exploded in his hand. The blast blew away all the fingers on his right hand, his ear, his nose, and three fingers on his left hand as well as engulfing him in flames. The first words out of his mouth, shouted as he jumped into the water of a swamp, were “God, I still love you!” You can imagine the impact his testimony had on his previous critics. Our message must always be that we serve a good and wonderful God who is always worthy of our private adoration and our public praise.