7 Ways to Care for Your Pastor as a Person

I am committed to using my voice to give unsolicited advice to congregations and church leaders when it comes to how they care for their pastors as people. In a previous post, IMG_4607b“10 Ways to Keep the Pastor You Love,” I urged Christians to care for the pastor at home, but it’s hard for someone who has never been a pastor to know what helps the most.

Here is some of good ways to start based on what I’ve seen, experienced, and heard from pastoral families.

1. Shorten the Distance for a Pastor Who is Far From Family

As a general rule, most pastors do not live near their families. That can be hard for a multitude of reasons. If your pastor has young children, it’s hard to be far from the support of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. If your pastor has elderly parents, it is hard to provide care from a distance. If your pastor has grandchildren in a different part of the country, it can be excruciating. Of course many careers can move you far away from family, but it is the norm for those in the ministry and the military. If your pastor can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, think about extending an invitation to join your family at the table. If your pastor has an ill loved one back home, see if there’s anything you can help with to make it easier for your pastor to make the trip home (consider buying the plane ticket). Those little things can do a lot to alleviate the isolation of living far from family, care for your pastor as a person, and also reduce the temptation to look for a position closer to home.

Consequently, if your pastor is far from family, that probably means they spend most of their vacation time traveling to visit family. That is another reason to be generous in the vacation time you give your pastor (I’m a big proponent for at least 3-4 weeks for pastors since the average full-time lead pastor works 6-7 days per week and 60+ hours per week).

2. Give the Gift of Quality Family Time

If you are going to give your pastor a gift, give the gift of quality family time. One family years ago gave our family tickets to a Buffalo Sabres game for several years, and then gave us season passes to the local zoo. Those were little indulgences that were rare for us, and we made many wonderful memories as a result of those gifts. In the end, those gifts communicated to me that they valued my family in a way that went beyond the cost of those gifts (and they WERE generous gifts). Another year my board gave my family an all-expenses paid trip to the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY). We had a great little getaway, and created wonderful memories. And I felt both valued and that they understood one of the pressing needs in that season of my life: quality family time. They also set it up so that we could schedule the trip when it was most convenient for us, which also meant a lot. Part of caring for your pastor at home can be creatively finding ways to provide quality family time.

Some people are better gift givers than others, and some people are hard to please with a gift, but give the gift of quality time.

3. Boundaries

One of the perils of pastoral work is that most of the people we work with serve the church in their free time, so many pastors work normal “work hours” and then also do church work in what would otherwise be their “free time.” You may not think it’s a big deal to call your pastor at home in the evening, but in a church of even 100 people, if everyone calls the pastor at home once every year, that’s two calls at home at night every week. Before you intrude in the evening, on a weekend, or on your pastor’s day off, ask yourself, “Can it wait?” Part of caring for your pastor at home is recognizing that your phone call can usually wait until the morning.

4. Plan for Retirement

An oft-repeated joke about ministry is that the “The pay isn’t great, but the retirement is out of this world.” That’s cute, but one pastor’s son wrote to me: “My dad had a total of about $1,000 contributed to his retirement by churches over around 40 years of church ministry. So, he self-funded much of his retirement out of the meager salaries he received. They’re OK now, between social security and their parents’ estates, but that’s always grated on him.”

My last pastorate contributed generously to my retirement savings, but I know it is not the case for everyone. Helping to provide a secure future can go a long way toward caring for your pastor at home right now.

5. Parsonage & Homeownership

Having a paid-off home is one of the biggest ways for a pastor to prepare for retirement, and it’s one of the reasons I argue against parsonages (a church-owned home). I have searched high and low for a study to prove homeownership results in pastors who stay longer than their peers. While I have not found a study to prove it, I cannot find a study to refute it. I have also found countless advisors who say it’s true (or that it MUST be true). I also cannot find a single person who believes the opposite (that providing a parsonage encourages a longer pastorate, or prepares a pastor best for retirement). In a future post I plan to share my argument FOR a parsonage and my argument AGAINST a parsonage, but suffice it to say that I think helping your pastor become a homeowner is one of the best ways to care for your pastor at home.

6. Food

It’s a little thing, but it can be quite a boost to find a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup sitting on your desk.

Over the years of ministry some of the most memorable food gifts I have ever received have been:

  • a gallon of maple syrup
  • fresh concord grapes
  • homemade cookies
  • homemade pies
  • homemade cakes
  • candy bars
  • snacks for a Super Bowl party
  • an unexpected cup of coffee
  • restaurant gift cards

Of course, not all food is a treat. My wife and I were once invited over to someone’s house for dinner, and as our hosts were serving us coffee after dinner the milk in my wife’s coffee looked like it had curdled. She didn’t want to embarrass our hosts, but also didn’t want to drink coffee with cream that had gone bad. Our host realized what was going on and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I know it looks bad, but we stock up on milk when it’s on sale and throw it in our freezer. After you thaw the milk it only LOOKS like it’s curdled, but don’t worry – it’s fine!”

Of course it helps if you know what kinds of food or treats your pastor likes (and to avoid your pastor’s allergies), but it can be a real treat so long as you don’t serve curdled milk.

7. A personal story: 4 Deaths in 72 Hours

In the first 72 hours after we brought my youngest son home from the hospital we had four deaths in the church I was serving.

I had planned to take some extra time off to savor having a newborn son in the house, but instead I didn’t even get a single day off for two weeks while I made funeral arrangements with those families. Looking back I can’t think of anything I could have done or should have done differently because I was the pastor: I needed to be there in those moments. But it was nearly overwhelming. I was dealing with (1) my own grief for those who died, (2) my sadness over the lost time with my family and newborn son, and (3) my frustration that this was yet another scheduled vacation that would be interrupted by church work. But then I also felt extremely guilty for being so frustrated. It was really just an inconvenience for me, but these poor people had lost loved ones (this is part of the tension pastors feel).

I may never forget what one friend did in the midst of that dark week, though: he stopped by with coffee. I was surprised to see him, and actually as he walked through the door I was disappointed, thinking, “Oh man – I wish he had called. He went out of his way to see me, and I don’t have time to talk because I have a funeral in 2 hours.” Actually, he drove miles out of his way to deliver coffee to me because I was officiating my fourth funeral in two weeks. It was a simple gesture that said to me, “You’re a pastor, but you’re not a robot. This is hard for you, and I know it.” He didn’t stay long. He didn’t pry. He just showed me he understood by that simple gesture. He drove all that way to be with me in one of my deepest lows of ministry and then turned around and drove back home. And it meant a lot.

Do that.

Do that even if you don’t ever fully understand what it means to be a pastor, even if your pastor seems unflappable in tumultuous seasons. Be attentive to the highs and lows. Your pastor is often the one who is there for others when they go through a difficult time. If you want to care for your pastor at home, be the one who goes out of your way to be there like that for your pastor.


What do you think?

What did I miss? Anything you would add or take away from this list?

© Steve Dunmire 2015

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.

5 Ways to Avoid Having a Bitter Family in the Parsonage (Part 2 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. You can find part one of this two-part reflection here.IMG_1763b


In my previous post (When Pastor’s Vent Too Much in the Parsonage), I blogged about the potentially dangerous results of pastor’s venting about church problems in their homes. Sometimes this venting produces bitterness against the church in the hearts of the pastor, the spouse, and their children. If this bitterness festers in the family, they can end up demonizing members of their very own church family.

How might we prevent this from happening? How does a minister maintain open and honest communication with his/her family without subjecting them to this sort of temptation? I’d like to offer 5 ways to eliminate this demonization from the church parsonage.

First, the pastor needs to guard their family time… even when they’re spending time with family. Too easily, family time can become just another context for talking about the church. It’s okay to talk about the church and ministry, but there’s also lots of other great things to talk about! Pastoral families need to have fun together, laugh together, play together, etc. Sometimes the bitterness that develops toward the church is not the result of the pastor’s venting about problematic people, but the pastors neglect for his own family.

Second, I think it is important for the pastor’s life to be openly and honestly shared with his/her spouse. The answer to this potential problem is not to completely remove the church from the conversation. That being said, it is probably unwise for a pastor to share everything with his/her spouse. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not burden your spouse with an ugly piece of information. A mature pastor, I think, learns what to share and what not to share.

Third, it is important for pastors to make sure that they speak positively about the people in their church in the presence of their families. Pastors tend not to vent at work. It could endanger job security! It becomes tempting to be positive at church by day and negative at home by night. It might be especially worthwhile to verbalize the good qualities of the more stress-inducing people in the church.

Fourth, I would encourage all pastors to actually deal with conflicts! Venting is the result of unresolved conflict. Sometimes there simply hasn’t been opportunity to resolve the conflict yet and the venting is might actually be a healthy way to prepare ourselves for that opportunity. But, if we’re being honest, a lot of times we simply avoid dealing with conflict. It’s easier to complain about a problematic person than to talk to the person about the problem. Don’t allow your avoidance of an issue to become an annoyance for your family.

Fifth, at risk of ending a list of spiritual-to-do’s in a very clichéd way, I’d beg you to pray. The reason prayer is nearly always mentioned in lists like this is because it makes a difference. Pray about your heart. Pray for your wife. Pray for your kids. Pray for the person that is stressing you out. Pray for their family too. Pray for your whole church. Pray until you are genuinely in love with that person again. Love, done rightly, is even more contagious than complaint.

In closing, there’s one more issue I’d like to briefly address. What if I see evidence of this phenomenon (the demonizing of church members) in the life of a colleague or his/her family? How might I confront the situation in a way that keeps me from being demonized myself? Most of the same advice applies. Pray for that pastoral colleague and his/her family. Confront them in love. Interrupt negative venting with reminders of positive truths. Don’t add fuel to the fire by sharing every negative thing you come across with every other minister. And spend time together in life (not just ministry) so that your relationship allows for all of this advice to be applied. By all means, beware of the temptation to demonize a fellow-pastor over his/her habit of demonizing parishioners.

This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).

When Pastors Vent Too Much in the Parsonage (Part 1 of 2)

Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. I will post the second half of tIMG_6190bhis reflection next week.


This blog is about a very real phenomenon that I fear happens in many parsonages and pastor’s homes across North America. It damages many lives and destroys some local churches. The scariest part, though, is that it can all happen somewhat innocently.

Let me start by saying that pastoring a church is an awesome privilege that can also be seriously stressful. Pastors are people. They can get frustrated just like ‘normal’ people get frustrated. They sometimes need to vent those frustrations just like everyone else does. This venting may take place among colleagues, but it often happens at home.

Imagine a pastor going through a particularly frustrating time at his church. At the end of the day, he vents his frustration to his wife. She hears about how parishioner #1 popped-in to the office for what turned out to be a 2-hour visit to talk about nothing in particular in the midst of a very busy ministry schedule. She hears about how parishioner #2 is upset that her 2nd cousin didn’t get visited by the pastor in the hospital. She hears about how parishioner #3 had the nerve to disagree with her husband at the monthly board meeting.

All of these things are clearly weighing on her husband. They’re stressing him out. She’s concerned not only for his sanity, but his health. And, truth be told, she’s concerned about her future. She doesn’t want to move again. It’s unfair that these church-people can ruin a perfectly good evening at the parsonage. The kids soak this in this stressful atmosphere.

It’s very tempting, if this sort of cycle persists, for the pastor’s spouse (and possibly children) to begin to demonize these ‘problem-parishioners.’ While, most likely, the pastor was just (somewhat innocently) venting… the pastor’s spouse & children (motivated by love for their husband & father) defend him by making these members out to be the enemy.

All of this is understandable. Pastors need to vent and venting at home is often a good place to find sympathy. The spouse and children of the pastor love him dearly and hate anything (or anyone) that seems to be getting in the way of his happiness. There’s not necessarily any ill-will in this scenario, but the results can get ugly in a lot of different ways.

The supposed sources of the stress are real people too. And sometimes they start getting dirty looks from the spouse. The church, as a whole, might start to be viewed very negatively by the pastor’s children. The pastor himself can start to feel like his venting is validated and begin to demonize the people too. Very quickly, in some cases, the local church members are given labels as angels or demons.

I am a married pastor. I have pastor’s kids. I don’t want my wife, my children, or my own heart to stop loving and/or start demonizing the people in the church. Right? But how do I best protect them from this temptation without holding back from them what’s truly going on in my heart?

In my next post, I’d like to offer 5 key suggestions.

This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.

Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).