October is Pastor Appreciation Month. It reminds me a little bit of Feb. 14, the day set aside to make sure you express love to your beloved—just in case a whole year has gone by since the last time you told them they matter to you. Five years into our marriage, I told my husband, Craig, that I didn’t expect him to give me flowers or chocolates or whatever the TV commercials were telling him he was required to do for his sweetheart on that particular day. Instead, I told him, “You do such a good job of making me feel loved all year; from now on, you’re off the hook for Valentine’s Day.”
It’s wonderful to have a month to celebrate our pastors and make sure they know that we appreciate their care for us and their devotion to our congregations. But like showing love to our sweethearts, we can show our appreciation and support all year long in thoughtful and intentional ways.
Craig has served as a lead pastor for more than 20 years, and we have appreciated all the expressions of support and gratitude over that time as well as all the sincere efforts that didn’t quite work. I work as a coach or consultant with many pastors across the U.S. and Canada, and many of them have told me what is meaningful to them. Here are some of our ideas for letting your pastor know that you think their ministry matters.
When their ministry makes a difference in your life, tell them.
Most pastors don’t actually need a lot of praise. What they need is to know that what they are doing matters to someone, that it makes a difference. Instead of saying, “Good sermon, pastor,” tell them what they said that you found helpful. When the church under their leadership blesses you and your family, let your pastor know specifically what and when and how.
If you’ve experienced emotional, relational, or spiritual healing because of your pastor’s ministry, say so and tell them the story. If you want to make it last, send them a letter that says more than, “thank you.” Send them one that describes the reasons for your gratitude. Most pastors I know keep those letters in a file to look over on discouraging days.
Give them gifts they can use.
Very few pastors need another Bible, especially not one they haven’t chosen themselves. They usually don’t need little Scripture plaques (with the exception of the pastors that you know have an affinity for Footprints prints), and they don’t need little trinkets—although they truly appreciate your effort. So, what do they need? Gift cards.
Every pastor I know would enjoy a gift card to a bookstore to support their reading habit or to a sporting goods store to support their hobby. A different kind of gift card can subsidize their ministry. Many pastors meet parishioners and guests for coffee or lunch and often need to pick up the tab. If they take that college student out for coffee or meet that couple that visited the church for lunch, a Starbucks card or a gift certificate to a local café could be the difference between running out of grocery money or not. Craig and I always appreciated gift certificates to local restaurants so that we could have a date night; when people threw in a night of babysitting, we thought we had died and gone to heaven!
Fill in the gaps.
If you see that something needs to be done and you can reasonably do it, do it. The people I appreciate most in the congregations we have served are those who open up the building and lock it up after Sunday services. Knowing that Craig and I could head home for lunch with our kids or out to a restaurant with congregants without having to stay until every last person had left was a gift.
There are other simple tasks that you could take off your pastor’s plate. I know of a pastor whose last Sunday before a sabbatical was Easter Sunday. When she returned three months later, the sanctuary was still filled with lilies—all dead. The congregation had continued to meet and to worship, but no one had discarded the Easter lilies because no one thought it was their job.
Stand up for your pastor in public and in private.
You may not be able to stop others from gossiping about your pastor, but you can make it clear that you’re not interested in hearing criticism and that you’re not going to contribute to it. It’s just as important to stand up for your pastor in public settings as in private.
I remember one church council meeting where a member stood up and shredded the pastor and a decision a committee had made about outreach. She went on and on, her tone furious and blaming, expressing her disappointment and outlining his faults. Everyone in the room looked uncomfortable, but no one said a word. Some of the decisions she was blaming him for had actually been made by other people in the room, but still, no one came to his defense.
After the meeting, I watched in disbelief as the meeting participants gathered around him, expressing support for him and frustration with the woman. But they did it at no risk to themselves and left him to take the full force of her anger and criticism.
Take them seriously.
One more way you can show your pastor your appreciation? Let’s retire the old joke about pastors only working one day a week. Chances are that your pastor works more than you know—in the office, in coffee shops, in hospitals, and in funeral homes. Most pastors don’t mind working hard, but it feels demoralizing to be teased about being lazy.
Much of a pastor’s work is emotionally demanding and happens in private. About one-third of Protestant pastors are at risk for burnout right now. It means more than you know when you express any kind of appreciation or support—not just in October but all year long.