Re-thinking pastor appreciation

While pastors like to know they are appreciated by church members, what they really want and need is more disciples.

By Elizabeth Evans Hagan

Last year about this time, I posted a question to several pastoral colleagues on Twitter: “It’s Pastor Appreciation Month, do you feel appreciated?” I was curious about its observance.

Many of my colleagues responded back quickly, “It’s what?” Some, however, cited gifts of free babysitting or certificates for free dinners to a local seafood restaurant as result of this emphasis. One tweeted back, “I got a really nice card from the deacons.”

But, is this what pastors really want? Are free babysitting and seafood dinners what pastors really need?

While it seems like just one more holiday to keep the Christian bookstores in business, October is indeed Pastor Appreciation Month. Started in 1994 by Focus on the Family, this observance is a way for churches to be reminded to thank their pastors for all their dedication and service to the community.

According to the Focus on the Family website, the idea back then was “reminding congregations that it was biblical and proper to honor their pastoral staffs and pastoral families throughout the year, but suggesting that they set aside the month of October for a special tangible tribute.”

Being honored with “You preach a great sermon” or “I’m glad you are my pastor” is never a bad thing. Pastors need encouragement just like anyone else. Yet I believe what truly encourages pastors is something altogether different. They need more disciples.

Churches, as we know, are no longer the centerpieces of community life in many towns across our nation. Church attendance and baptism numbers have dropped all across mainline denominations.

Churches have become the place young couples come to marry and maybe even have their children blessed, but do not stick around for the long haul. The pews are full on Easter and Mother’s Day, but not in January or July.

Pastoral leaders can easily be the scapegoat as to why things aren’t like they were 50 years ago, even though the shift happening in our culture against institutional religion is so much bigger than the shoes any dynamic pastor, preacher, leader extraordinaire could do anything about alone.

While organizational theory tells us that the role of any leader is crucial to growth, communities do not thrive without the commitment of those within. Churches don’t thrive unless someone agrees to teach children’s Sunday school. Churches don’t thrive unless someone organizes the kitchen and makes sure there’s silverware for the Wednesday night dinner. Churches don’t thrive unless someone counts the money for the mission offering. Churches don’t thrive unless hearts are prepared to worship and encounter God each Sunday morning.

It’s simple. A church is only as strong as the disciples found within. And these are signs of discipleship:

-- People who show up -- even when weekend plans could easily take them away, because they believe in the gift of faith lived in community.

-- People who give regularly -- even when there are a thousand other things that they could have easily spent their money on, because they know everything they have ultimately came from God in the first place.

-- People who serve -- even when they think their gifts aren’t important enough to offer, because they trust God to multiple what they offer.

And in all of these offerings of presence, of funds and of gifts, the church becomes the church as we both take and receive from one another as we are able. Because it boils down to this is what discipleship is all about: building a sustainable community of folks who seek to follow Christ together.

So, I would encourage those making plans to celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month over the next few weeks to reconsider. Sure, by all means, tell your pastor that you love him or her, but do so with more than just a card or a Bible verse figurine.

Appreciate your pastor by making your own discipleship journey a priority. Attend a small group or Bible study gathering open to learn. Consider saying, “Yes!” when one of the pastors approaches you about starting a new ministry. Find something within the church that you enjoy doing and serve with gusto.

These are the actions that truly will help your pastor continue to serve with joy for years to come.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.