Vern and Sharon Erickson. Photo: Vern Erickson Jr.

Vern and Sharon Erickson. Photo: Vern Erickson Jr.

Dr. Vern and Sharon Erickson have been members of the Park Rapids Church in Minnesota for the past 29 years. Vern is the first elder and Sharon is the organist and Kindergarten Sabbath school teacher. OUTLOOK editor Brenda Dickerson recently interviewed them about church life and how they support their current pastoral family, Ken and Karen Mayberry.

There are tremendous pressures associated with being in the ministry that many lay people never fully understand. What attitudes can church members adopt that will help alleviate those pressures for pastors?

Sharon: First we need to remember that our pastors are people who have dedicated their lives to work full time in the service of Christ. They have been ordained of God. The pastors are to be respected by the congregation. With that in mind we as laypersons should be very intentional in developing positive ways to facilitate their efforts in serving our churches.

One attitude we can develop is friendship. This can be a win/win opportunity. Many years ago we had a single pastor assigned to our small church—his first pastorate right out of college. He seemed happy, carefree and probably lonely. Our home at that time was filled with the activity of five lively children living on a farm with lots to do. They liked the pastor and wanted him to visit our house often. The young pastor played and worked with the children; he also started a Pathfinder club. In time, he baptized our younger son and when we asked our boy what he wanted to be when he grew up he would respond, “I want to be a pastor.” The benefit for our family is that now our adult children respect pastors because they once had a pastor friend (who, by the way, is now our conference president).

Also, an attitude of support is important to let the pastor know we are working together—simple things like intentionally coming to Sabbath school and church each week, attending prayer meeting and special services such as evangelistic endeavors. An attitude of soul winning in making an effort to bring people to Jesus can help the pastor as well.

The attitude of acceptance from the church is important, not only to the pastor and family members but also to the pastor’s role in church administration. The pastor often knows more information on controversial issues than can be shared with the church; therefore laity needs to trust and support the pastor’s administrative endeavors.

Many pastors work long hours balancing heavy demands and experience stress and burnout. What specific actions on the part of church members can protect their wellbeing?

Sharon: From observing pastors and churches, I believe the biggest cause for pastoral burnout is unsolved discord in churches. I read one time that we should never be involved in church arguments because with every disagreement a soul is lost. That could be very true. Pastors could realize great peace if their churches remained healthy and free from strife. If members would avoid getting weighed down with church politics and offenses and instead keep focused on the mission of bringing people to Jesus, it would probably do wonders in relieving pastoral stressors.

As church members we need to pray daily for our pastors and their family, asking God to grant them balance and wisdom as they deal with the many issues of ministry. We can assist our pastors in ways they may never know—praying when the Sabbath sermon is given that the hearts of the listeners will be open to hear and accept the message; participating in and responding to the church service; and refraining from criticizing the pastor in any way.

Pastors usually give more than they receive, often leaving them feeling unappreciated. What are some practical ways that members can show honor for their pastors?

Vern: In many small churches the pastor ministers to three or more congregations. We as laity need to be content with shouldering the leadership in the pastor’s absence and try to build up the church without criticizing the pastor for not having a more active role.

Our pastors need to be plowing new ground and the laity needs to be part of a nurturing team for the active membership and let the pastor bring in new interest.

An example of this is that my mother’s family became church members because a pastor gave an evangelist series years ago and her parents with their 12 children joined the Adventist church. Now, several generations later, many of the offspring are still active leaders in the Adventist church.

Lay leaders need to nurture the local people and not depend on the pastor to do so. We need to free the pastor up to do evangelism.

Sharon: Our pastor is a kind and gentle leader, as well as a thorough Bible student. He is the pastor of three churches so we don’t see him as often as we would like. Our congregation in Park Rapids shows appreciation to our pastor and his wife by giving them a deep level of love, respect and acceptance.

One of most common frustrations pastors say they experience is that their church isn’t willing to support their vision. What advice can you give for dealing with this type of challenge?

Sharon: It is important that the congregation feels united with the pastor in the direction the church takes. God can unite churches for mission; He can change hearts in a way that amazes everyone. The roles that prayer and the working of the Holy Spirit play are vital in developing a vision for church leadership.

Membership should be willing to prayerfully consider change. Lay leaders can be slow in grasping pastors’ ideas, especially if the pastor is new and isn’t acquainted with the history of the church. The vision of the former pastor could be communicated to the new pastor in hope that open dialogue can build present unity in vision.

Time and relationships seem to build trust between pastoral leadership and laity. Most important of all is for lay leaders to communicate with God daily in Bible study and prayer so that they can clearly see the leading of the Holy Spirit as it relates to church plans and vision.

How do you see the role of an elder in relation to modeling and respect for both established and new church leadership at all levels?

Vern: If we really feel that the Lord is coming we need to become more earnest about doing the Lord’s work instead of emphasizing temporal accumulations that will fade away when He comes. Only what is done for Christ has any lasting value. The souls that we influence for Jesus will last for eternity.

The local elders need to take more of a role in church leadership to free up the pastors to enlarge the borders of our churches. God is in control of the shifts of leadership and He will guide the church for the future. The Bible says that God puts up kings and He takes kings down again—this applies to leadership as well. This is God’s church and we must do all we can to support it.

As church members, if we don’t like the church leadership on any level, we must not quit the church. We must determine to stay faithful to God and His church until our life on this earth is finished.