I’ve never particularly needed to feel valued or validated by compliments. To be honest, I don’t really know what to do with compliments. I was raised by loving, godly parents who – I don’t know whether I’d call this a failing so much as just a character trait – didn’t give encouragement naturally.
My dad comes from a working class Liverpudlian family whose principle ‘love language’ was, and remains, mocking sarcasm. Both my parents tended to function on the ‘why would I praise you for doing exactly what you’re supposed to do’ principle of parenting. I don’t consider it a flaw, just an inclination. Some folks would react to that and become quite needy, looking for praise and validation wherever they can get it. I (and, as far as I can tell, my siblings) simply feel no need for great encouragement. I am happy to crack on without being lavished with praise.
What it has done is inculcated a similar approach in me. I am frequently told by my wife – who does like compliments and encouragement from time to time – that I am not effuse with my praise and fairly tight lipped with my encouragement. It’s not that I don’t ever say those things to people, it’s just that I find it hard – and feel a bit patronising and condescending, if I’m honest – lavishing praise on people doing what I consider to be fairly straightforward tasks they almost certainly should be doing and shouldn’t have any trouble executing. I very much value people who quietly crack on with minimal fuss and fanfare.
Though I have no need of compliments and praise – honestly, it tends to just embarrass me more than anything as I don’t know how to react to it – I do have a preference not to be criticised. So, I am totally fine with months, years even, passing by without people telling me how great and wonderful I am for doing stuff I feel I should be doing anyway. But I don’t do quite so well when, in lieu of praise or stony silence on any aspect of my performance, people openly criticise me and have a go at me for stuff on which I am doing my level best. As I’ve said to my wife, I don’t mind getting no compliments as long as I’m not getting a barrage of criticism.
I bring this up because we all want to feel valued, however we prefer that to be expressed. I believe that people value what I’m doing (or are, at least, fine with it) until they tell me otherwise. I work on the premise that people would tell me if they were unhappy. Other people presume nobody values them until such time as somebody tells them they do. But (and you knew there was one coming) here is where pastors are particularly vulnerable. In our desire to be valued, we can fall into the trap of feeling the need to prove our worth.
My wife is an archivist in an historic school. Now, most people don’t even know what an archivist is, let alone what one does. Beyond this, and this is obvious enough when you reckon with the fact that most schools simply don’t employ archivists, there is constant need to try to prove the reason for your existence. In a school, no teacher has to prove why they are there and in a hospital no doctor needs to show the value of their existence either because it is assumed. Archivists, not so much.
This means there tends to be a need to prove your worth. This is true in all sorts of jobs. If the immediate worth of your job isn’t assumed in its job title (hospital doctor, school teacher, court judge, etc) there is inevitably a bit of pressure to show why your role exists in the first place. Then when you do prove your worth, the question of whether anybody else recognises your value rears its head.
This sort of thinking easily creeps into the pastorate. We want to be valued and so we feel the need to show our worth to our church. Very often, this sort of attitude means that it is very hard for us to let go of the ‘up front’ stuff that people will see. I prove my worth by preaching well, leading excellent Bible studies, running evangelistic events based on the apologetics that only I can handle, the list goes on and on. And different churches will inevitably have different measures for what they value that will, if we’re tempted to think this way, start to pull us toward focusing our time upon it. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune; the church that pay your salary ought to see you working hard in the stuff they value, right?
The church ought to see you (or, as the case may be, not see you) working hard in the things the Lord values. The church needs to be led to value the things the Lord values. And – and this one’s the real kicker for those of us trying to prove our worth – the church needs to be trained to do the work of mission and ministry that is impossible for one man to carry alone and, even if such a super-human did exist (and they don’t), can’t carry on for all eternity because… death.
Here is how you should show your worth to the church: lead your church in such a way that things wouldn’t fall apart if you aren’t there. If everything revolves around you because the church want to make you work for your money, or you want to prove your worth to the church, what is going to happen when you get ill or if you got hit by a double-decker? Your church will go into free-fall as all those people relying on you to do everything suddenly find themselves on their own. There they will be without training, without experience, without means of making anything happen. Then what will your worth be to the church? You will be nothing more than the pastor who ran everything once who caused the church to crumble because you never trained anyone else to do it in your absence.
Here’s the thing, you are not the saviour of your church; Jesus is. He got on just fine before you turned up and he’ll get on fine when you’ve gone. Your task as a church pastor is primarily to remain faithful to Christ and to keep pointing people to him. When you run your church to prove your worth, you are pointing people primarily to yourself. You are valuable, you make ministry happen, you will grow the church. That attitude will kill your church in the long run as it flounders the moment you are gone or laid low.
The best way to prove your value to your church is to show them that you are not ultimately valuable. The church can get another pastor, they can’t get another saviour. Point them to Christ, not to yourself. But also be clear what Christ is calling your church to do. He doesn’t call them to feed off of you, but to feed on him. He doesn’t call them to be passive but to be active. He doesn’t call converts, he calls disciples. He doesn’t call them to grow by being hearers of the Word only, but by being doers also.
Now, as a pastor, your primary calling is to be faithful to Christ. As you look at what the Lord calls your church to do – and as you faithfully teach them from the Word what the Lord demands of his followers – ask yourself this: does your doing everything achieve any of that? Does your proving your worth to the church lead to your church becoming valuable disciples of Christ?
The best way to prove your value to the church is to lead it in such a way as it recognises it doesn’t need you. Lead your church in such a way that it recognises Jesus is both its actual, and functional, saviour. Lead your church in such a way that others are able to lead so that, should the church have to go on without you, it can go on without you. The most value you can add to your church is to show that every member adds value to the church and to lead in such a way that the members could lead should you not be able.