In navigating another full 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, tend to move ministry leaders away from healthy, daily rhythms. This moving kind of just happens from time to time and if we’re not mindful of it, we’ll shift into a new normal that we didn’t mean to and don’t want to sustain.

Because these shifts occur more frequently when our time, energy, and resources seem most limited, one of the rhythms that I try not to lose sight of is showing pastoral generosity to the people in my community. 

What is Pastoral Generosity?

I’m so 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.

Essentially, in the height of busy, I often try to ask myself, “what can I do for someone else?

It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. In addition to the physical and mental health benefits that directly correlate to living generously, there’s the spiritual experience that happens when generosity is expressed through showing care for others. As we learn in Proverbs 11:25, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

As the days and months roll along, and seasons wax and wane in the need for our attention, many of us reach points where we 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 experience more refreshment these days, here are three shifts I’ve found that can be of tremendous help.  

Shift #1: Start with something small

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 always the first step: give something small out of what you already have.

3 starter ideas:

  • 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.)

Look for opportunities to bless others right where you are with what you already know you can do. Such simple acts may take only a matter of minutes but they jumpstart that generosity back into our own lives and start refilling that refresh tank.

Shift #2: Incorporate something new

Once those more familiar opportunities have a place of regular rhythm in our pastoral care, our next move is to consider something new.

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 extra-generous ways – where it might require a little more of you. I believe you’ll begin to see the shift in yourself and your bandwidth for caring for your people if you incorporate something completely new.

Shift #3: Step into sacrifice

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 contains THE key to what helps us make the final shift into an increased level of pastoral generosity?

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 our ability to find joy in the work we’re doing and our 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.
  • In a recent 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 where I wouldn’t be at home, the joy that I found more than filled my bucket and gave me a renewed energy for caring for those in my local congregation.

As you focus on what’s happening now and what’s coming up next, I hope you can find some time for self-reflection around your own generosity-meter. Schedule a half-hour in the next week to consider where your pastoral generosity dial sits these days and what your next step can 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 others.

*Bonus note: 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.

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. 

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