October is “Pastor Appreciation Month.” If I’m being honest, I really struggle to appreciate Pastor Appreciation Month. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, it feels pretentious for those of us in ministry to get a whole month dedicated to what we do! Some professions get a week, or a day, or the local church gives them a Sunday – but it is very rare to score a whole month. It feels like we ministers have cornered the market on “yay, thank me!” in a calendar year. I feel like this is the kinda thing Saul would’ve pulled for.
Another thing that I struggle with is the propensity for an awkward tension to set into a congregation. The pastor wonders, “How much do these people actually love me or not?” based upon gifts given or not given. The church, meanwhile, by-and-large has no idea that Pastor Appreciation Month even exists. Those that do might wonder, “Why do I have to give my pastor a gift – they don’t give me a gift for doing my job!”
Having aired out my own stinky laundry on this, let me bring a question into view: Could we approach Pastor Appreciation Month in a whole new way that doesn’t aim to hit our wallets? I think we can and, in fact, I think there are several vital ways that churches can show their pastor just how much his or her ministry makes a difference. I submit to you 5 ways to appreciate your pastor in October.
1. Forgive your pastor.
In my twelve years of ministry, I have done and said a lot of stupid stuff. Here’s the kicker: I have no idea how 95% of that has hurt anyone. Why? Because for some reason, people are either too intimidated by their pastors to be honest with them about a hurt, or too uninterested or uncommitted to their church to bring it up. It gets swept under the rug because their pastor might get mad or make excuses or try to defend the behavior*. Or it’s too much of a bother to resolve, so let’s just head on down the way to the next church – there’re plenty of options.
I don’t know any pastor worth their salt that isn’t interested in mending relationships. It’s biblical and most pastors are pretty into the bible. If you are carrying hurt from a leadership decision or a pastoral blunder, forgive your pastor! (Side note: this is biblical too!) You cannot imagine the impact forgiving your pastor has on them – it is life-giving and freeing and will end up being one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in the process. Just don’t forget to tell them about it so that they know.
2. Compliment & encourage your pastor.
One of the things pastors don’t learn in seminary or ministry training is the incredible amount of negativity that gets flung onto ministry leaders. There’s always something wrong with the building. One volunteer or this leader is always causing a problem (sometimes it’s the pastor, see above). Especially in solo pastorates, there are a million and one things that need to get done and many of them are left undone, buried in other priorities. Often, ministry ends up feeling like the pastor is constantly getting torn down for all of the problems – which is not (individually) each person’s intention who brings them a concern.
Pastors don’t often hear what they are doing well. Can we all agree that it’s ok to dislike the way some things are going or to have a concern and yet be able to say, “but boy, my pastor rocks at ____________”? The thing is, “good sermon, pastor” only goes so far. Tell her how the sermon spoke to you. Assure him that his visit or phone call meant something. Engage her when she teaches a class, talk about what was insightful about it and how she brought it to life. Explain how his prayers inspire or motivate you. That’s the kind of encouragement that sticks and lifts your pastor up.
3. Invest in your pastor’s spouse.
The world of ministry has changed from the way it was 40, 50, or 60 years ago. Households of two college-educated parents with two student debt loads are common and necessitate two-incomes to survive. That means that the old stereotypes of the pastor’s spouse may not hold water. Don’t expect your pastor’s spouse to be at every single thing the church has on the calendar – he or she may also be tending to children or working at their job. This doesn’t mean they are a bad pastoral spouse; it means there are other responsibilities they fulfill that likely allow your pastor to do what they do as freely as possible.
Instead of critiquing a pastor’s spouse, one way to show appreciation is to build their spouse up. Numbers 1 & 2 apply here – forgive and encourage, without a doubt. A nice note to show appreciation or sharing a specific story about how the spouse’s faith has impacted you can make a big difference. Check in with them. Ask questions of the pastor’s spouse that don’t relate to the ministry – he or she lives it, day in and day out, as they watch their pastoral spouse rejoice and suffer, praise and lament the hardships of ministry. Pastoral spouses especially feel the effects of the “glass house,” where everything is seen and judged. Be a safe space where they can let their guard down and be honest and open and vulnerable. Ministry can be lonely.
4. Send your pastor on a date with their spouse.
Sometimes, your pastor and his spouse are “move-ins” to your community. They don’t have any family or longstanding friends they can rely on for free or cheap babysitting. There are times when it can feel like ages between dates for a pastor and their spouse. Ministry is moving too fast. The demands of the spouse’s career are pushing too hard. Though the state of the pastor’s marriage is not your responsibility, it can be a wonderful ministry to offer him or her a guilt-free date night with their spouse. You don’t even need to provide the cost of dinner – the childcare is the biggest stressor.
The only cost is your time and energy, and you might fall in love with their children a little bit more as a result. What a blessing to having loving, goldy church goers hanging out with my children! Suzanne and I have been given this gift here and there in our ministry and it has made all the difference in seasons of our marriage. It gives us a chance to step away from living in a parsonage connected to the church and the demands of our daughter and have some space to breathe and dream. Marriage is the deepest most intimate relational well a pastor draws from outside of Jesus. Feeding that is like watering the deep roots of the pastor’s spirit.
5. Gift a gift that shows interest in who your pastor is.
Pastor appreciation gifts don’t need to cost a lot of money (or any if you’ve been following along). The first four points have hopefully illustrated that you can appreciate your pastor in many ways that don’t involve physical gifts. But if you do want to give your pastor a gift, give them something that will actually speak to them. Some pastors would love another “sword of the Lord” letter opener. Some pastors would proudly wear a purple Isaiah 40:31 tie with a majestic eagle on it. Others like coffee and Batman movies and chocolate sheet cake (…cough, ahem).
Know your pastor and give them a gift that shows interest in who they are. One side benefit of this is that it expresses care. Being known is an important feeling; when people are known they know they can be loved. Your pastor likely knows several things about you and asks after your interests. Return the feeling and know what he or she likes. An inexpensive gesture in this regard can make a world of difference – trust me, he or she is not expecting any gifts, let alone something that costs a lot of money.
Thanks for loving us.
When it’s all said and done, I don’t really dislike Pastor Appreciation Month – I just dislike some of the baggage it carries. If you encourage a pastor in your life in one of these ways I promise you you’ll be showing them an extra measure of love – and that love goes a long way in the dark valleys and pits of church leadership, when a pastor feels insecure or unworthy or rejected. Thanks for loving us – it makes a difference.
*This obviously excludes cases of abuse of all stripes. If you are being abused by a leader in ministry, never ever ever let forgiveness or some such spiritual fleecing be used to manipulate you into looking past abusive and harmful behavior, especially if it is systematic or shows a trend. A true man or woman of God guilty of abuse (hopefully in a fleeting incident of sin and not a pattern) will fess up to it and own the consequences.