Last week, as more and more cards and notes appeared in my inbox, in my mailbox, and on my desk, all thanking me for serving as their minister, I began to wonder if someone had announced my retirement without my knowledge, or if I looked a little discouraged and folks were just trying to lift my spirits. In my momentary amnesia, I had forgotten that October is promoted by many as Pastor Appreciation Month.
Through the years I have been blessed to “feel” appreciated by the core membership of the congregations I have served. But I’m pretty sure that is not the universal experience of pastors. I am told by my counselor friends that many clergy are highly discouraged and often teeter on the brink of depression.
I readily acknowledge that there are a few slackers among us, as there are in every career field, but most of the pastors I know work hard and feel a deep sense of responsibility for their flock. Because the multiple roles within the pastoral vocation uniquely initiate a minister into almost every conceivable life situation (as well as a few inconceivable ones), a pastor’s work from one day to the next can fluctuate between affirmation and discouragement. Although the biblical job description of a pastor portrays one who is called to “nurture, lead, and guide,” in our culture of hyper-mobility and competing loyalties, ministry can seem more like “herding cats” than “shepherding sheep.”
What is the best way to show appreciation to your pastor? Included in the stack of cards I have received, there is a Starbucks gift card, pictures drawn by a children’s Sunday School class, and hand-written notes thanking me for “that time when” I was there when grandpa passed away, when junior got married, or when the baby was born. Through the years I have been the recipient of all kinds of tokens of appreciation, including jars of homemade jam, home-canned pickles, home-cooked cakes and pies, fresh baked bread, or garden-picked vegetables.
While I can’t speak for every pastor, here is what makes me feel the most appreciated: Faithful participation in the life of the church. For me, nothing can be quite as emotionally deflating as working hard all week, then getting to church on Sunday to discover that a high percentage of my flock is at the beach, on the boat, in the mountains, on the golf course, at the soccer game, or just sleeping in. And nothing can be quite as encouraging as working hard all week, and getting to church to see a faithful congregation of believers who have gathered to worship God.
Early in my ministry, I suppose I took it for granted that church members would be fairly faithful, especially in worship and Bible study. Now, even among historically devoted church members, participation in the life of the church is too often determined by convenience than by conviction and commitment.
This is Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor will appreciate your cards and notes, and jams and jellies. But if you really want your pastor to feel appreciated, be an active and faithful participant in your spiritual community. When I witness someone get connected and engaged in the synergy of God’s mission through the church, as a pastor, that makes my day.
(Barry Howard serves as the Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)