Sometimes, annual events like Pastor Appreciation Month can be more about not forgetting to recognize your pastors instead of a time to really encourage them. So as a former pastor, I want to give you a few things to think about this October.
Offer praise, not pity. Although ministry life isn’t easy, being a pastor isn’t a mandate to misery. I’ve always been uncomfortable with praise that comes from pity. There’s nothing encouraging about recognition that basically says, “Boy, I’m glad that I’m not you!” The God of creation called your pastor to serve Him in your church. Most people will never recognize the honor and the responsibility of such a calling. I’m privileged to be friends with many pastors. The ones who are worth their salt view themselves as soldiers sent into battle, not prisoners sentenced to a life term.
Offer a thoughtful gift. Most individuals in the ministry are appreciative of any encouragement, but I suggest that you don’t reduce the moment to the equivalent of a participation trophy. Think through your senior pastor’s sermons or conversations with your student pastor. Have they mentioned a particular place they would like to visit, a favorite restaurant, or a hobby they enjoy? One of the most thoughtful gifts you can give your pastor is an all expense paid weekend away with his wife. She gives up a lot so he can serve the church body; giving them dedicated time together shows that the church appreciates that sacrifice. Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive but it should be carefully thought out.
Offer yourself. For me, the greatest honor in pastoring was serving with the people. The book of Nehemiah offers an awesome example of what I mean. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall for the people and with the people; they were on a mission together. Over the years, I’ve benefitted from serving alongside gifted men and women who desired to see others come to faith in Jesus Christ and to grow in Him. Some of the best and most insightful ideas have come from those I was called to serve. They encouraged my faith with their friendship and their service, and they lifted my hands when I was weary. The greatest honor you can give your pastor is to help him by offering yourself. And pastor, one of your greatest needs is to let them.
I have always loved being in the ministry – first as a pastor and now as an evangelist. I am humbled that God has called me into this amazing life of service. Is it sometimes overwhelming and discouraging? Yes! Am I often tempted to think of other ways to make a living? I would be a liar if I said differently. That’s why one of the greatest joys of the pastorate is encouragement from people who express heartfelt appreciation. This October, look for ways to serve alongside your pastor to fulfill the mission of your church. Meet with other members to think through a gift perfectly suited for each pastor on your staff. But above all, encourage your pastor by reminding him that he was sent, not sentenced.