The relationship between a pastor and a congregation is a God-ordained relationship. The Apostle Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus and Titus to Crete to minister the Gospel and “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). This relationship of a pastor and elders to a congregation is a special one. Last month’s article we looked at a pastor’s call, purpose, and duty. This month we are going to look at the congregation’s relationship to their pastor. These articles came out of the installation service that was held here in April. A part of the service was vows – vows taken on behalf of the pastor to the congregation, and also vows the congregation took to in regard to their relationship with their pastor.

Here are the questions asked of the congregation:
1. Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive your pastor, whom you have called?
2. Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?
3. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors, and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?
4. Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you?

These questions lay out how a congregation should receive, encourage, and provide for their pastor. Let’s take a look at each one.

The first question that is asked of the congregation is similar to the first question asked to the pastor. The pastor is asked if you accept this call to this particular congregation. Calling is a spiritual term with a spiritual function. Believing that God has called you particularly to the pastorate and specifically to this congregation. The congregation in turn is asked to receive this man believing that this calling and relationship is of the Lord. Having already voted to accept him, the congregation is now asked to keep that spirit of acceptance and readiness throughout his ministry. It is easy to receive a pastor when the pastor and the congregation are in the “honeymoon phase”. But as with all new things, the newness eventually wears off. However since this relationship is ordained of the Lord, the congregation must have a continual receiving of their pastor if the ministry is going to continue forward.
The second question is very much tied to the first. Do you receive the word of God from your pastor? Notice that if there is bitterness or despising in the heart of the congregation toward their pastor (no longer “receiving your pastor” as it states in question one) then the result is that they will not receive what he has to say. Even if it is true, if there is not respect for the pastor then one’s heart is not in a place to readily receive the word of God “with meekness and love” and will not “submit” to it. The message and the messenger are very much tied together. The congregation must continue to respect their pastor so that they may receive the Word of God from him for their own edification. Likewise the pastor must remain respectable in his godliness and character.

Most professions can be performed with competency regardless of one’s spiritual life. Not so with the pastorate. A pastor’s calling/vocation is directly tied with their spiritual health. This makes it a very challenging calling because pastors are mere men – prone to fatigue, discouragement, and temptation in their spiritual walk just like everyone else yet they are called to minister week in and week out. That is why question three is so helpful and my favorite question asked to the congregation. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors? Encouragement is such a needful gift in the church. Joseph was called Barnabas which means “son of encouragement” (Acts. 4:36) no doubt because he was an encourager. Pastors need encouragers – both with their words and also with their actions. Through their thoughtful words along with their faithful attendance and participation in the church and its ministry a pastor is very much encouraged and thus strengthened for the work ahead.

Since the pastor is called to this congregation, he will not be able to have other worldly employment to make an income for himself and his family. Thus the congregation is asked to provide for him so that he is able to give himself to this work fully. Paul was a “tentmaker” (had a second profession) for a time while in Corinth, but this was only temporary and he tells Timothy that “a worker is worthy of his hire” (1 Tim.5:18) and that a pastor should be given “double honor” (respect and pay). Just or equitable compensation for work performed in ministry is a part of a congregation’s provision for their pastor.

The relationship between a congregation and its pastor is a unique one. But as in a good marriage – when both are doing their duties there will be good harmony and blessing of the Lord. May this be true among us at Smyrna Presbyterian Church.