‘If I tell you, you know you can’t tell ANYone.”
“I know, I know. A lot of prayer requests are confidential.”
“Well, you know the preacher’s wife has been really tired and grumpy lately. And he’s getting dark circles under his eyes.”
“But he keeps smiling!”
“Yes, he does, but the word is that …..”
It doesn’t really matter what the word is. This could be about any ministry leader, paid staff or volunteer. The young folks leading a backyard Bible club are less stressed than the pastor, but why not encourage and support even when ministry is small? Everyone can use some friendly support when life is good, and everyone needs it when life is a bit stormy. We all need prayer; we all need money to pay the bills; we all need a safe place to vent; those with children can always use a few hours of respite to get groceries, prepare a lesson, take a walk in a park, or – gasp! – take a nap without the baby; most of us need some friendly, non-church, adult conversation. But how we help?
Some ways to help are very simple and well-known: show up, pay up, and shut up. We need to be present at events, even if it is not our favorite topic or the children may be a little loud. We need to pay our tithes and give generously when special needs arise. We need to shut up – stop the griping and complaining and gossiping, especially in the guise of prayer requests.
Additionally, can you take the leader’s children to the park for an afternoon? Can you sit with them during the service? Can you meet the leader for coffee or lunch and just listen? Can you hand them a card with $20 in it, or a gift card to a favorite restaurant? Can you offer to help prepare materials for an event? All those cutesy games and decorations do not just poof out of the air when needed. Can you listen on the phone when children and animals are in the background?
The most important thing, as you know, is prayer. I am big on intentional, specific prayer. When you pray for your spiritual leaders, how do you pray? God bless the pastor and his wife and children. God help that young couple working with the kids; that’s a rowdy bunch of energy. Those are good starts, but seriously helpful prayer requires some serious time and thought. Exactly HOW do these folks need help? Is a close relative ill, causing them to spend time away from immediate family and ministry? Pray for traveling mercies and enough rest. Is a child about to get married? Celebrate with them and pray for the future marriage and peaceful excitement during the festivities. Is there civil unrest in the community, requiring more diligence when traveling from place to place? Pray for safety, awareness of what is going on, discernment about which routes to take, and wisdom about all interactions with people. Are congregants disgruntled because of major decisions that are being made? Pray first for yourself to see clearly how God wants you to pray. Pray for everyone’s eyes to be opened to what GOD is doing, and that each person will examine himself or herself in relation to the problem. Pray for unity without uniformity.
A very, very important corollary is praying specifically is that you do NOT have to know everything. Every single one of us has something that is so personal and potentially painful that we must keep it to ourselves. And you know something? Long before they were ministry leaders, they were people – plain, ordinary people. They have the same basic needs as the rest of us, and one of those needs is privacy. If a leader shares, “Please pray for my child,” and stops there, leave it there. If they ask, “Will you pray for my child, I think she’s tried drugs?” just pray. Unless you have personal experience, do not go on a tirade of what to do and not do. If a leader confides any bit of information and you know there has to be a lot more, just listen. Do not poke and prod for more details.
One last thing that goes along with not knowing everything. Occasionally, a leader needs to vent. Have you ever just lost it and spewed out a lot of emotion and words that you would not want anyone else to know you said? Either you answered yes or you are lying or you should be considered for sainthood. IF you happen to be trusted to hear a rant from a leader, consider how much they value your trustworthiness. Humbly earn that trustworthiness. Their rants need to be even more confidential than you want yours to be, whether that leader is a pastor or a teenager learning how to teach children.
Support your leaders. Show up, pay up, shut up, and pray up. Be persistent in your prayers. And remember the lesson of Job’s friends – they did a great job of being a friend the first week.