October has been declared “Pastor Appreciation Month.” That often means cards and notes, perhaps some thoughtful gifts or recognitions.
We don’t get into this much at Meck. Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly appreciated by our community of faith. It’s just that “Pastor Appreciation Month” has never been a galvanizing force for people’s thoughts or feelings. And I certainly don’t mark it as a litmus test for appreciation.
But the “month” does give me the opportunity to say a few things about how to appreciate your pastor in a way that will be meaningful for them. And it doesn’t involve what you might think. Most aren’t hoping to be invited over for a dinner, or having their picture put up in a hallway with candles lit on either side in memoriam.
But here are 10 things that I’m pretty sure, being a pastor myself, they would like:
1. Don’t put them on a pedestal. Like anyone, they desire to be honored and respected, but if you treat them like the fourth member of the Trinity, they will disappoint you. With that disappointment can often come condemnation. They are a human being, as sin-stained and sin-prone as you, who needs grace on a daily basis. And speaking of grace, show it. There is a subtle tendency to say, “Well, of course my pastor is a sinner and needs grace. But they should at least have this area in order.” And then you supply that “area.” The problem is that everyone has a different “area” where they think a pastor should be perfect. Add them all up, and before you know it, complete perfection in every area is expected. Don’t set them up for a fall in a way that’s unfair to them.
2. The same goes for spiritual gifts. Your pastor doesn’t have them all. You may know that intellectually, but have a private expectation of what certain gifts should be present. To a degree this is fair; part of a pastor’s calling is to be gifted by the Holy Spirit for certain aspects of service for the sake of the church (e.g., teaching and leadership). Just be careful you don’t make the assumption they have them all.
3. Try not to invade their personal life or world, such as going to their home uninvited, using personal email or calling them on their cell phone. They want and need to be accessible, but they also want and need a private, personal life that is protected from the never-ending demands of their role. You think “It’s just this one time,” but fail to realize how many other “just this one time” people there are. Even in an emergency, most churches have call lines set up for that with various people taking turns being “on call” so that there can be some sense of normalcy in a minister’s life.
4. Send notes or emails of encouragement. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had someone start off a note of encouragement by saying, “I know you probably hear this all the time.” No, we don’t. Most people only write when they have a complaint.
5. Don’t ask the pastor’s spouse to be anything but the pastor’s spouse. They are not automatically you’re children’s ministry leader, choir member, hospitality director or anything else. Your church isn’t getting a “two-for-one” special with the pastor’s spouse. Just let them be who they are – the pastor’s spouse – who will be as involved with the church as any other member, following their gifts and passions. My wife does happen to lead our children’s ministry, but it’s her calling, not the church’s expectation. And while we’re on family, don’t treat PKs (pastor’s kids) like PKs. They have enough of a fishbowl existence without a set of expectations placed on them to be perfectly groomed, super involved in youth ministry, and the high school valedictorian. It’s appropriate to expect your pastor to be a committed parent and to raise their children conscientiously, but don’t put any more demands on their kids than you would anyone else’s.
6. Pray for your pastor. Really, if you don’t, who will? Pray specifically for wisdom in leadership, discernment in working with people, protection from spiritual attack, and for the Holy Spirit to continually fan the flame of their teaching gift as they write and speak. Pray also for his protection from the hits and hurts that come with ministry. It’s been said that the three requirements of a pastor are the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros. Pray for his hide.
7. Pay your pastor a fair, even generous wage without awkwardness or apology. We all know that some churches pay their pastors way too much, amounts that would be scandalous to the average person. I’ve heard of seven figure salaries out there, and that’s just ridiculous. But equally ridiculous is paying a salary that makes answering the call to local church ministry an unnecessary hardship, or not rewarding someone for hard work and a thriving ministry. No one enters ministry (I hope) as a way to get rich. It’s always going to be a rather modest life for the average minister compared to the wages that can be earned in the marketplace. But the Bible is clear that those in ministry are worth their pay, and even double the amount of honor/compensation as others if they do it well. However you apply that, care for them financially in a way that would make God pleased for your honor of the role they fill in His church.
8. Give your pastor appropriate vacation time and study breaks/sabbaticals. Teachers get every summer off to refuel and prepare for another year of output. At the college level, they are also given extended sabbaticals in order to keep their teaching and expertise as fresh as possible. What is more important than teaching and applying God’s Word to our daily life? I cannot imagine where I would be today without my annual summer study break, used to plow up ground for another year of teaching and leadership, rest and renewal, study and writing, reading and reflection. Every pastor needs it. It’s not a perk or a luxury item, it’s an investment.
9. Give your pastor the tools they need to do the job. You would never hire someone to do something, and not give them the tools they need, would you? Whether it is a computer or a bulldozer, a cell phone or a drill bit, you have to give people the tools they need to do the job. Pastors need tools, too. They need things like books and computers, periodicals and DVDs, cell phones and gas mileage reimbursement, conference and seminars, hospitality support and more.
10. If you have 100 members in your church, don’t forget that you have 100 ministers, not just one. The Bible teaches that every member is a minister, not just those who are involved in ministry vocationally. We are called to care for each other, as well as the ministries of the church. Your pastor’s job is not to “do” the ministry, much less to be your private chaplain. Their primary job is to equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4). Make their day and step out for training.
All to say, if you want to show appreciation to your pastor this month, do it in a way that they will truly appreciate. Any of these 10 will do the trick.
Do all 10, and you might just make them feel appreciated all year long.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.