Floyd Bresee is a former Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference. 


Elders are seldom chosen who are not busy, successful people. The time they can spend in church work is limited by their vocations, families, and health. The reason pastors sometimes feel they must do everything themselves is that they have given assignments to elders who have proven undependable. Elders should probably not be elders if they see their work exclusively as a Sabbath morning responsibility.


No pastor is good at everything. Two reasons: The skills required are too varied for any one person to possess. Congregations expect their pastor to be skilled as: theologian, preacher, spouse and parent, administrator, soulwinner, trainer, counselor, visitor, promoter.

The expected skills are too varied. In the above list, skills at the top of the list tend to require a rather private, contemplative, introvertive personality. Skills toward the bottom of the list require a more public, gregarious, extrovertive personality. The skills are simply too varied for any one person to perfectly fit both ends of that continuum. No pastor is good at everything.

On the other hand, every pastor is good at something. Churches and local elders who expect their pastors to be good at and do everything may force them to spend most of their time doing what they like least and do worst. Some pastors admit they spend up to 80 percent of their time doing things at which they are second best. This not only frustrates the pastors, but deprives the church of the best the pastors can offer. Elders should cooperate with their pastors in identifying the pastors' strengths, then help them organize the church to take advantage of those strengths.


Romans 12 likens the church to the human body. If one part of the body fails, the body does not reject it. Rather, it compensates for it. If the eyes cannot see, the touch and hearing compensate by becoming more acute. Unfortunately congregations confronted with pastoral failures are quicker to criticize than to compensate. Compensating might be one of the most natural and significant roles of elders. Wherever the pastor is weak, surely some elder is strong, has the appropriate spiritual gift, and should volunteer to compensate. This creates the ideal pastor-elder partnership.


Pastors and their families need elders who will accept them and enjoy them as they are, without either awe or arrogance─in short, friends. There ought to be some program in every congregation for providing a support group for the pastoral family. This is one church activity where the pastor cannot give leadership. It is an elder's responsibility.

Pastor the pastor—Pastors are called shepherds, but they are also sheep. And sheep sometimes need shepherding. Pastors may choose a conference/mission ministerial secretary, fellow pastor, or someone else outside the congregation for their counselor and spiritual mentors. But primary support should always come from their own community of believers the─local church, led by its local elders.

It is not easy for most pastors to accept pastoral help from the people they pastor. They feel, "If I am a helper and I need help, what kind of helper am I?" But research indicates that those in the helping professions are most subject to stress and thus likely to sometimes need help. The elder who gives help and the pastor who accepts it are both practicing good incarnational theology. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). God comes to all of us, including pastors, by sending people to help us.


Accept their humanity. Pastors appreciate the love expressed to them, but sometimes feel it is because of what they represent, not because of the persons they are. Let them know they can be imperfect and still be loved.

Be a Barnabas, a minister of encouragement. Affirm them often and honestly. Share specific compliments. Tell them what point in the sermon helped you.

Be a listener. Listen with empathy if they choose to share problems. Keep necessary conversations strictly confidential.

Publicly support. If you have differences, settle them in private. This is one reason the elders' meeting is so important. In that meeting, pastors and elders may disagree, but plans that go from there to the church board and business meetings should be plans that the elders can support.

Give a testimony in church about something your pastor did that changed your life. Let members know you will not tolerate criticism of the pastoral family in your presence. Remember that, unlike you, pastors are directly responsible to their conference/mission. It means a lot to pastors when you affirm them to their conference/ mission leaders.

Have an annual pastor's day. Let pastors sit with their families on that day. Give the pastoral family a memento such as a photo album filled with pictures from the life of the church.

Offer yourself. "Pastor, I fear that you are working too hard. Is there something you would like me to do to lighten your load!" One pastor who was struggling alone with a problem was effectively helped when his elders approached him and lovingly said, "Pastor, we know something is wrong. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want, but we want you to know you are not in this alone. We love you and are praying for you."

Resolve congregational conflict. This is one place you as elder may be most effective in offering yourself. You have probably been in the congregation longer than your pastor and should understand the problems better. You have been chosen as elder because the congregation has confidence in you. Congregational conflict is one of the worst pastoral stressors, especially if the elders are part of the problem. If you can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring people together your pastor will be eternally grateful.

Insist on spiritual renewal time. Pastor's spiritual batteries may become drained. Encourage them to take adequate time for personal devotions.

Insist on family and recreation time. If the pastor's family life is not working, the pastor's work suffers. If the pastor's health is poorly cared for, the congregation will eventually be poorly cared for.

Encourage provision of anonymous counseling. Pastors and their families sometimes need professional counseling. They are reluctant to press for such privileges. The denomination, however, encourages every conference/mission to make such counseling available. Elders have great influence with conference/mission leaders and can plead that such services be made available to their pastors.

Pray. Pray for them and encourage them by letting them know it.

Encourage and affirm the pastor's spouse. Research indicates that most feel lonely. Congregational expectations can be overwhelming. Members expect the pastoral family to be always ideal and the pastoral home always open. They subconsciously expect his spouse to fill the same role in the church as the previous spouse. Elders should openly defend the right of pastoral spouses to choose their own role in the congregation and use their own spiritual gifts rather than those of a predecessor.

Encourage someone to invite pastors' spouses out to lunch on their birthdays. Help with the pastor's children during church services.

Pastor the pastor's children. Try not to idolize them when they are good or criticize them when they misbehave. Being expected to live the life of a perfect Christian is too heavy a load for any one to carry, especially children. They have more expected of them which can cause them problems with their peers. Empathize with hurting pastoral parents. Congregations tend to be very supportive when pastors have hurts, but quite critical if they feel the problem reflects a weakness on the pastor's part. All parents hurt when their children go astray, but probably none more than pastoral parents. They need your support, not your criticism.

Understand their uprootedness. They are moving to a new house, the kids are starting a new school where their first reception as a pastor's child will likely be as though they were a little odd, if the spouse works there is job hunting to be done, and they must find a whole new set of friends. Be sensitive to their grief and challenges.

Find some friendly way for members to greet the new pastoral family and help them get settled. Perhaps their new home can be cleaned and polished and a little food put in the cupboards. As soon as convenient have the largest, best planned welcome and installation service possible. Be sure to include the entire family. It is usually much easier for the new pastor to feel accepted than it is for the rest of the pastoral family. This is one of the most significant assignments for local elders. The introduction service should be planned by the elders in cooperation with the conference. Details are available in the final chapter of the Elder's Handbook and in the Minister's Manual. (See also the video from the General Conference Ministerial Association entitled "How to Love Your Pastoral Family.")

W. Floyd Bresee wrote this article when he was the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.