While we are thinking about weight-loss resolutions, why not make a few resolutions that will increase the health of your church?

Offer the gift of encouragement to your pastor. Go out of your way to affirm your minister when she does something well. Never walk out the front door of the church and say, “Nice sermon today.” Go home and write a note or compose an e-mail. Encourage other church members to affirm “a job well done.”

Offer the gift of counsel, if invited. Few people in a church will develop deep personal relationships with a particular pastor. In your lifetime you might be really close to one minister; do not assume you will be close to every pastor of your church. If an “insider,” prove yourself trustworthy. Offer counsel on behalf of the larger fellowship. Help the minister affirm strengths and weaknesses. Listen a lot.

Offer the gift of hospitality. Open you home to your minister. If you have a second home, offer it as a place to get away for the minister. When in your home, let the minister be herself; leave expectations at the church. Do not spend time rehashing church life. Find an interest you share with the minister outside congregational life.

Offer the gift of financial support. Include $100 in the minister’s Christmas card with, “Just a little something to help at Christmas.” Offer grace and expect nothing in return. Do it as a spiritual discipline.

Offer the gift of time. Say: “Before I commit all my volunteer time for the coming year, I thought I would offer some to you. Is there something I can do to help you, your family or your ministry this year?” Offer to check back in a week; the minister may need to think about the offer. Do not “push yourself” on the minister; just make a thoughtful offer. You might go fishing with the minister four times a year or shopping or watch her children and so on. What could you personally do to help your pastor this coming year?

Offer the gift of critique wrapped in personal care for the minister. Most church members would be shocked to know how many times ministers are treated poorly by church members; finger-pointing and angry tirades go with the territory of local ministry. When things go poorly, ask, “Are you doing OK? Is there anything I can do to help you?” In asking the question, you acknowledge things are a bit rough, but you also offer help, which may be desperately needed.

Offer the gift of confrontation if it is required. Not every minister is going to be successful in every church setting. Sometimes search committees get it wrong. Ignoring problems in the church-pastor relationship in sinful. Plenty of church-pastor marriages can benefit from a counselor, mediator or consultant. As with a marriage, get help sooner rather than later as “too much water under the bridge” will destroy any marriage. If the minister is unwilling to “work on the relationship,” then the church should proceed with conversations to offer a generous severance package.

Healthy lay-clergy relationships are essential for churches to flourish. Laity and clergy both have to work on these relationships. Make a resolution for your church – and keep it.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

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