In navigating another holiday season, I wonder if you’ve found yourself in a place where so many of us land: hyper-focused on programs and events that, while really good and ever-so timely, tend to move ministry leaders away from our daily rhythms. One of the rhythms that I try not to lose sight of amidst the hustle and bustle is showing pastoral generosity to the people in my community.
What is pastoral generosity? I’m glad you asked. In its simplest terms, pastoral generosity is the act of taking time to care for the personal, spiritual, and emotional needs of our congregation members. The connection between generosity and showing care for others finds its foundation in the scriptures. Proverbs 11:25 tells us that, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
As we make the move from Christmas into a new year, many of us are tired and feeling far from refreshed. But, could it be that if we want to feel refreshed in our ministries, then the first step may be to intentionally refresh others?
If you’re looking for a way to turn up the generosity dial, there are three shifts I’ve found that can be of tremendous help. Spoiler alert: these three shifts are the same three shifts that I’ve used in my local congregation to develop generosity in service and financial support of the church’s ministry.
The first move toward generosity is the act of being charitable with what we’ve been given. That might seem oversimplified, but those of us who have learned, lived, and discipled others in the ways of generosity know it’s the first step toward living a generous life.
In the same way that we might look for ways for our congregants to take their first step into generous living through acts of charity – giving a small something out of the excess that they possess – pastors can step into generosity in their care for congregants by looking for small ways to bless their people.
- Write five thank you cards this week to let families in the church know you’re grateful to have them in your life.
- Go out of your way to comment on social media pictures that celebrate significant moments in the life of those you lead in worship.
- Send a couple of text messages to some of your core volunteers to let them know that you’re praying for them. (And actually pray for them.)
Such simple acts may take only a matter of minutes but they begin cultivating generosity in our own lives and filling up that refresh tank.
Once charitable gestures have a place in our regular practice of pastoral care, our next move is to consider how we can shift from giving out of our excess to giving from the margins of our life.
I know a pastor who has a printed birthday directory of her church’s membership and she gives each person a birthday phone call, aiming to spend 10-20 minutes in conversation with each person. In doing this, she’s being more than just charitable with her time. As you consider your congregation and their needs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed if you think you have to be everything to everyone. Instead, choose a rotating circle of people to connect with in generous ways – where it might require a little more of you – and you’ll begin to see the shift in yourself and your bandwidth for caring for your people.
You’re probably familiar with the story from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus sends out the 72 to do ministry in His name. But, did you know that this story includes the key to what can empower you to make the final shift into an increased level of pastoral generosity?
And that key is sacrifice.
After giving what many coaches would call the worst pep rally speech ever (“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” – Jesus, Luke 10:3), followers of Jesus are sent out to do work in His name, with very little to call their own. One might think that such a stressful task would wear a person out but, instead, Luke tells us that they “returned with joy” after seeing God’s power lived out through their ministry.
Pastoral generosity can wear a person out, whether it’s done charitably or sacrificially. The difference is often found in your ability to find joy in the work you’re doing and your desire to share that joy with others. The key to avoiding burnout when we shift into sacrificial pastoral care is finding ways to spend our time beyond our margins in ways that bring us enough joy that we can’t help but share it with others.
If your joy quotient is low, consider scaling back and assessing what acts of pastoral care you could focus on that would bring you joy.
- Some pastors enjoy spending Saturdays at the little league field and praying over kids and families before the start of each game.
- Others are filled up by spending time in the homes of new parents, holding their little ones while mom or dad can take a much-needed chance to catch their breath.
- This past year, as I fought off my own experience of a joy-less season of ministry, I joined a friend from our church and became a high school football referee. Though it meant that I was sacrificing three nights each week that I wouldn’t be at home, the joy that I found in getting to provide pastoral care as a chaplain-of-sorts to sixty other referees in our association and the school administrators more-than-filled my bucket and gave me a renewed energy for caring for those in my local congregation.
As we turn the clock on this month and look forward to the next, take some time in self-reflection to determine where your pastoral generosity dial sits today and what your next step might be to live into your role as caregiver and shepherd within your congregation a little more fully. If the teachings of scripture are true, and I believe that they are, then I hope you’re refreshed as you refresh those you are called to pastor.
Anthony Prince is a husband, dad, and pastor—in that order. Anthony currently serves as the Executive Pastor at Real Life Church of LA, a growing multi-site church plant in the foothills of Los Angeles, CA. He is a graduate of Fuller Seminary, with an M.A. in Global Leadership and an emphasis in Youth, Family & Culture. Anthony is a sought-after speaker on the topics of children & family ministry, strategic church leadership, and volunteer recruitment.