Affection should be a part of pastoral ministry. It was for Paul:
I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:8)
. . . being affectionately desirous of you . . . because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 1:8)
Affection isn’t quite identical to kindness or even love. In these verses, for instance, affection involves yearning (Phil. 1:8), desire, and dearness (1 Thess. 1:8).
Put it this way: to do ministry well, you need to not only love people, but like them. You need to give your heart to them. But amid the strains and seasons of ministry, it’s easy for affection to cool. Just as in a marriage, romance does not keep on happening all by itself; you have to be intentional to keep kindling it. So also pastors, we must be intentional to keep kindling affection (for instance, yearning, desire, dearness) in our ministry relationships.
How do we do it? Here are seven ideas.
1. Show Interest in Their Families
As a dad, I know one of the things that means the most to me is when people care about my kids. Loving someone’s family is a way to love them. Little things that can go a long way in this regard. For instance, learn their names (use note cards and keep them in your pocket if necessary). Find at least one thing to talk about with each of the kids in your church, as much as you can depending on the size of your church (soccer? Halloween candy? Their favorite superhero?).
Write a note to all the outgoing college freshmen once they’ve landed on their campus, to encourage them, give them counsel on how to thrive spiritually in college, and communicate that you are praying for them.
2. Celebrate Evidences of Grace
As a pastor, it is easy to focus on all the problems. So we should be deliberate to look for, notice, talk about, and celebrate the good things God is doing in his people’s lives. Maybe it’s a graduate student working long hours with a non-grumbling attitude because of the gospel’s work in her heart. Maybe it’s a longtime member who is showing slow but discernible progress with a besetting sin. Maybe it’s a new visitor who was positively impacted by the ministry. These are not minor trifles. They are huge causes for celebration. Don’t brush them aside. Let their full weight be felt in your heart!
It’s difficult to have affection for people when you’re focusing only on the problems. It helps to draw up and identify the good stuff.
3. Visit Their Work Place
People appreciate you taking an interest in them in this way. And it changes your relationship with them for the better. They see you a little differently after you’ve been in “their world,” even after a single visit. And it can open opportunities to meet their co-workers.
4. Say ‘I Love You’ a Lot
My granddad (I’m told) once stopped in the middle of a sermon, looked around the room at different parts of the sanctuary, and said, “I love you” several times over. It had an impact on those who recounted this story to me (probably because, knowing my granddad, he meant it).
This might look differently for different people in different contexts. And of course, words by themselves, apart from actions, are not enough. But the words matter, too. Say the words out loud, “I love you,” and watch what they do. Especially when there has been strife and conflict previously, expressions of love can help rebuild trust and good will.
I will stake everything in my ministry on this, that love’s power to heal is greater than sin’s power to destroy. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
5. Pray for Them Regularly
This one is so basic, but it is easy to neglect or forget. It helps to have a schedule or system. My practice is exceedingly simple: I simply pray for one member of our church each morning after doing my quiet time. Of course, we should pray on other times and in other ways also. But this basic baseline practice can enable you, depending on the size of your church, to pray for every member of their church each year, possibly several times over.
6. Let Them Serve You
Sadly, churches have a lot of critical people who will attack their pastor. But most churches also have people who sincerely want to encourage their pastor. Sometimes these people don’t know how, though, or they need you to open that door for them. The encouragers and prayer warriors are often less visible and less vocal than the wolves and contrarians.
It’s understandable that pastors are often reluctant to show vulnerability to their congregation, and there are appropriate boundaries to set. But for healthy ministry to occur, we must learn how to receive from their people as well as give to them. We are members of the body as well as shepherds over it. If we wall ourselves off emotionally from people, affection will cool.
When people offer to babysit your kids, let them. Don’t feel guilty. When people ask to pray for you, be honest about your real prayer needs, as much as you are able (I know this is complicated). If you truly need a vacation or a sabbatical, be honest about it. Better to get fired for pursuing ministry health than keep your job but shrivel up inside.
7. See Them through God’s Eyes
These people are the sheep of the shepherd. God loves them with a jealous, yearning, husband-like love:
Love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord. (Song of Songs 8:6)
If all else fails, remember how much the Lord loves your people. Jesus, the One before whom you stand, is affectionate for your people. He was thinking of them, also, as he slowly died on the cross. He now intercedes for them as his precious, blood-bought people. That’s the measure of their worth in his eyes.
If Jesus gave his blood for them, we can give our hearts to them.