Over the past couple of weeks, as more and more cards and notes appeared on my desk, in my mail, and in my inbox, 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. I had forgotten that October is Pastor Appreciation Month.
For the most part, 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 pastors are highly discouraged and usually teeter on the brink of depression. Pastors feel a deep sense of responsibility for their flock, and yet in our current mobile culture, though we are called to “shepherd the sheep,” due to the multiple loyalties of our church members, ministry can feel a lot like “herding cats.”
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 lots of personal notes thanking me for “that time when” I was there when grandma passed away or junior 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, and fresh grown fruits and vegetables.
I can’t speak for every pastor, but here is what makes me feel the most appreciated: Faithful participation in the life of the church. 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 your flock is at the beach, 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 flock of believers who have gathered to worship God.
Early in my ministry, I took it for granted that church members would be fairly faithful, especially in worship and Bible study. Now, even among fairly devout church members, participation in the life of the church is often more a matter of convenience than of conviction.
This is Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor will appreciate your cards, notes, and expressions of gratitude. But if you really want your pastor to feel appreciated, be an active and faithful participant. I am privileged to serve a fairly healthy church, and I am extremely grateful for that small core group of members who are radically faithful. However, if a simple majority of our membership all showed up for worship and Bible study, more than any other gift I can imagine, that would make my day, because that would mean to me that in some small way the central message of Good News is at work in their lives. And as a pastor, that is what I live for.