By Scott McConnell
Sometimes we blame Hallmark for creating holidays that create additional expectations. But the reality is we honor people less often when we don’t have specific occasions to serve as reminders—such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Boss’ Day, Administrative Assistant’s Day, etc.
I would prefer to do without these occasions that often prompt obligatory expressions from me. Looking back, however, I know I would’ve frequently gone months longer without demonstrating my appreciation if it had not been for such prompts.
Hallmark didn’t invent Pastor Appreciation Month, but this October emphasis serves as a similar reminder to many of the special days the greeting card company has promoted. It is an artificial occasion intended to stimulate believers to do what we are designed by God to do.We have a choice in whether we express our gratefulness for the work of the ministers in our church. But Scripture is clear about the right choice. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
We have a choice in whether we express our gratefulness for the work of the ministers in our church. But Scripture is clear about the right choice. Paul tells the church in Rome to “Take the lead in honoring one another,” (Rom 12:10).
Here are five ways we can honor our pastors throughout the year, whether we participated in Pastor Appreciation Month or not. Each of these corresponds with needs expressed in a Lifeway Research study of pastors and the stresses of their role.
Be a Peacemaker
More than two-thirds of pastors who have pastored more than one church say they experienced conflict in their last church. Unfortunately, these disagreements sometimes become uncivil and disrespectful. Thirty-nine percent of pastors who had served at another church experienced a significant personal attack at that church. A very small portion of pastors leave the pastorate before retirement each year (about 1.5%). But when they do, the second most common reason is conflict in the church.More than two-thirds of pastors who have pastored more than one church say they experienced conflict in their last church. Click To Tweet
Church is about people, and people have opinions. It doesn’t take many people before those opinions don’t match. Pastors, by God’s design, are in a place of leadership. Not only do they exhort the congregation to do the things God has already instructed us to do, they also encourage the congregation to carry out the church’s mission in our unique context by leading the way.
Our encouragement of our pastor should begin with supporting and participating in these congregational ministry efforts they are prescribing. Not everyone will agree with the method or specific direction the pastor chooses. So, when we hear others critical of that direction, we can express our support for the pastor and encourage others to give it a chance.
As uncomfortable as such movement or change might be, we should also encourage our pastor to keep leading. As Paul exhorted those with the gift of leadership to be “leading with diligence” (Rom 12:8), so we should exhort our pastor to not stop challenging us to move ahead.
Respect Time Off
It is hard for most churchgoers to comprehend the work of their pastor. The variety of tasks and the weight of those tasks would surprise many people. Pastors earnestly seek the Lord for what specific things to say as they preach. They share responsibility for many of the decision-making groups in the church. They feel the weight of the church’s finances. They know the confidential struggles of many families and individuals in the church. They represent the church in the community. All the pieces of this work represent a lot of responsibility.
When the limitations of time are added to a pastor’s responsibility, there are many ways this job can become burdensome. Churchgoers have a huge role to play in keeping this from happening. Most of those relate to our expectations. Today 23% of pastors say their church has unrealistic expectations of them.Our desire should be for our pastor to put in an honest day’s work and then to have the same time that we want for ourselves to rest, be with their family, and enjoy hobbies. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
Our desire should be for our pastor to put in an honest day’s work and then to have the same time that we want for ourselves to rest, be with their family, and enjoy hobbies. This expectation for them should influence how and when we interact with them about church work. Don’t expect replies to email after their work hours. Don’t text them or send direct messages about work when you know it’s their day off.
When we as churchgoers disrespect their personal time, the pastor or their family will suffer. Unfortunately, 19% of pastors agree their family resents the demands of pastoral ministry. If we can help respect the pastor’s time, we can help keep their calling from becoming burdensome.
Be a Friend
It is easy for churchgoers to put their pastor on a pedestal or think the pastor is in a different class than them. While we may mean that as a sign of respect, when we treat them differently than other friends at church, we actually dehumanize them. It is no wonder that 38% feel isolated as a pastor.
There is one surefire way for churches to lose their pastor in 10 years: “Treat him like a rock star,” says Lisa Whittle, the daughter of a megachurch pastor who had a public failure. The pastorate is “a position that deserves honor and respect,” Whittle writes. “But save the awe for God.”
The pastor can’t be everyone’s best friend. But being pastor shouldn’t mean they are not your friend. Talk with them about hobbies they enjoy. Ask them about their family. Show them hospitality by including them in parties and dinners.
Make It Tangible
Every expression of appreciation does not have to be a gift. Likewise, every thank you shouldn’t only be words. Paul instructed us to give elders double honor and to follow Old Testament principles of paying workers immediately. Whether you serve on a team that makes decisions about compensation or you can influence those who do, encourage your church to pay your pastor well.4 in 10 pastors are often concerned about the financial security of their family. Click To Tweet
Four in 10 pastors are often concerned about the financial security of their family. Many things likely factor into those concerns, but tangible gifts can make a difference. Consider giving occasional gift cards, event tickets, or other things they enjoy. These forms of appreciation that go beyond words can encourage a pastor’s family when those may be things they normally could not afford.
Put Your Encouragement into Words
Whether it is in person or in writing, we need to thank our pastors for their work. A good rule of thumb is to pause before sharing any criticism and ask when was the last time you encouraged your pastor. If it wasn’t recently, then we should probably keep our two cents to ourselves.
Ninety percent of pastors agree their family regularly receives encouragement from their church. However only 54% of pastors strongly agree. So, almost half of pastors admit their congregation could be more encouraging or could be doing so more regularly.
The truth is the pastor and their family need this encouragement. Sixty-three percent of pastors agree the role of being pastor is frequently overwhelming. Half of pastors agree they often feel the demands of ministry are greater than they can handle. They shouldn’t feel they are facing the work of ministry alone.
Our encouragement can go beyond just verbalizing a thank you. Some of the most encouraging things we can verbalize involve responding. When a pastor asks a question by email, answer it. When they ask for feedback or ask you to greet others in an online meeting, speak up. And when the pastor says they need help, say yes.
Each of us has a role in the church. It is by God’s grace that He equips us to serve others in the church in unique ways. To be a healthy body, we need our pastor serving well in their role. Part of our role as a churchgoer is to welcome our pastor’s leadership and encourage them in it all year long.
Scott is the executive director of Lifeway Research.