Pastors wear multiple hats: shepherd, teacher, speaker, counselor, administrator, and entrepreneur. On a good day, pastoral ministry can be exciting and invigorating; on a bad day, ministers may wonder why they ever entered ministry.
The apostle Paul understood the hardships ministers face. In his letters to churches, he often included an encouraging word to his co-laborers in the field. In Philemon 1:7, he wrote, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Paul knew that ministry is tough and needs appreciation.
Hope Reformed Church of Brantford, Ontario, Canada, posted the following humorous insight on their Web page: “When a church seeks a pastor, they want the strength of an eagle, the grace of a swan, the gentleness of a dove, the friendliness of a sparrow, and the night hours of an owl. And when they catch that bird, they expect the pastor to live on the food of a canary.”1
Scripture tells us that church leaders are to be people of high integrity, but people frequently hold pastors to a higher set of standards than they set for themselves. At times this pressurecooker existence can become unbearable. One Sabbath morning, a wife prepared for church. It was nearly time for the service when she noticed her husband wasn’t ready. Perplexed, she asked, “Why aren’t you getting dressed for church?”
He said, “Because I don’t want to go.”
“Do you have any reason?”
“Yes, I have three good reasons. First, the congregation is cold. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don’t want to go.” The wife replied, “Well, honey, I have three reasons why you should go. First, the congregation is warm. Second, there are a few people there who like you. And third, you’re the pastor! Get dressed!”2
eople have the innate desire to be noticed and valued. Pastors are no exception. Encouragement and appreciation can reenergize us to press on when we are weary and discouraged.
Churches are recognizing the need for appreciation. A church in Gurnee, Illinois, gave its pastor permission to take an eightweek sabbatical from his duties. “Make it something you enjoy and something that will refresh you for the next 10 years of ministry,” they encouraged. So the pastor and his wife, both avid motorcyclists, packed their bike and headed east on a combination mission trip/vacation. During the trip, they visited 12 different churches and returned with a renewed passion for serving and many new ministry ideas gleaned from the churches they had visited.3
Organized efforts. Many churches have started celebrating Pastor Appreciation Month. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has reserved the fourth Saturday of October to express special recognition to pastors and their families. A concrete date on the calendar brings pastor appreciation to the front of members’ thoughts. One church in Englewood, Colorado, annually enlists its small groups in its appreciation efforts, assigning them specific days during Pastor Appreciation Month to show their gratitude. They bombard pastors with cards, dinners, and gifts. A member who knew the pastor’s weakness for Carmella bars anonymously left a candy bar at his door each day. When she had to go out of town, she arranged for a substitute delivery person. Another church hired a limousine to whisk the pastor and his family to a classy restaurant. Yet another put on a variety show imitating the pastor. From doing yard work at the pastor’s home to passing out blank cards so members can write notes saying what they appreciate about their minister, churches are making efforts to show they care.
Random acts of kindness. Organized efforts are the first step in showing appreciation, and they can create a “what-we-aregoing-to-do-this-year” sense of obligation. My husband and to the real issue—that we truly want our pastors to feel loved, encouraged, and supported in some basic, foundational areas.
Salary. Denominational corporate structure can help encourage fair treatment of pastors by establishing regulations regarding how clergy hiring and firing should be handled, and for setting adequate salary and benefits.
Participation. Congregations have often been referred to as flocks. Those who serve in ministry can agree that pastoral ministry is very akin to shepherding. Naturally when a sheep is missing, it can cause the shepherd to fret. Because pastors care so much about the people they serve, it is discouraging when members attend only sporadically, or when they sit through the sermon week after week without ever getting involved.
Showing up for church regularly can encourage your pastor more than you’ll ever know, but if you really want to encourage him or her, get involved in ministry. Serving shows Christian maturity and demonstrates that we support the pastor and want to be a part of the greater vision of the church.
Respect. Like politicians, pastors are always in the public limelight, and they are constantly barraged with criticisms because everyone has a differing opinion about how the church should operate. Keep this in mind before you force your opinion on your pastor regarding the way things should really be run: it is one thing to nit-pick and quite another to offer constructive I have served in ministry for years and, on several occasions, we have been recipients of these efforts, which are always appreciated. But it is often the unplanned acts of kindness that have touched us most, like the time our minivan’s air conditioner broke a few days before we were to drive to Florida for vacation, and an elderly couple paid to have it fixed. Or the time, just after we’d relocated to a new church, a professional hairstylist offered to cut our family’s hair for free. Even more recently, a couple who had just read a book on pastor appreciation told us they wanted to be our support network. They now pray for us regularly and ask how we are doing.
What pastors really long for in the way of appreciation. Remember the game you used to play as a kid where you’d hide something and someone else would guess if they were getting close or not? Hints like “You’re getting warmer” or “You’re burning hot” helped the other players know when they were getting near the hidden object. When we offer notes, chocolates, and kind deeds to show appreciation, we are getting “warmer,” closer to the real heart of the matter. Each of the aforementioned gestures moves closer criticism. Constant criticism shows a lack of respect for the pastor. Sometimes criticism results from church members not having a clear idea of the pastor’s role. People may look at the minister as the “hired hand,” but healthy churches recognize the role of the pastor as more of an administrator who equips and teaches members for lay ministry. When members adhere to the idea that they are the ones who should be doing the bulk of the service, criticism usually declines since they recognize they are also to blame when things go wrong. To effectively get members to embrace this idea, we must continually recast the vision of the role of the pastor alongside of the role of the lay minister. Only then will members respect the pastor’s position.
Appreciation is more attitude than act. Earmarking a special month and giving creative gifts are wonderful ways to show appreciation for pastors, and these activities do have their place. However, genuine pastoral appreciation that is concerned with the pastor’s wellbeing is most valued by those in ministry.
What are you doing to show your pastor you care?
2. Dan Chase, October 97, http://www.case-studies.com/articles/ pastor_appreciation_month.htm>
3. Joe Boerman, “Ride Across America” in The Standard, April 2000.
Teena M. Stewart