This blog is written for pastors, but they are not necessarily its primary audience. In fact, if pastors are the only readers of this blog, it probably isn’t going to do much in the grand scheme of things. The audience of this blog is anyone who follows the leadership of a pastor.
If you’ve never been a pastor, let me give you a little glimpse into their world. Some of it can be quite funny, and some of it will make you secretly thankful that you don’t have to do their job. This reality doesn’t just apply to senior pastors either—every ministry position has nuances and complexities. Sure we make fun of youth pastors (I was one, so it’s okay), but there is no easy ministry job. Let me see if I can explain why that is so.
Working in the ministry is complex
The first thing that you should remember is that, while there are some similarities between churches, no two ministry jobs are identical. Two large churches in similar demographic contexts might operate with completely different structures, while churches with similar structures might function differently depending on the size of the church or the demographics of the context. Churches take on personalities that reflect that of the people within, so churches really can be very different from one another.
The next thing you should remember is that everything about a church is personal. Why do churches squabble about the color of their carpet? Because when people make major, life-transforming decisions in the midst of a group—and if those groups are congregationally led—the weight of group decisions is internalized and can easily take precedence over mission and vision.
In other words, we are encouraged to voice our opinion and our preference, but if we’re not careful, those preferences can become the priority. After all, we imagine others making the same decisions we did in the exact same ways and in the same settings. We imagine our kids getting baptized, getting married, or maybe our own funerals in those same settings. Everything in a church is personal.
The work of ministry is deeply personal
Hardly an hour goes by for a minister that something deeply personal and emotionally draining doesn’t happen. Pastors and ministers are called into all kinds of life situations:
“I found drugs in my kid’s jeans.”
“I lost my job two months ago, but I didn’t have the courage to tell my wife. And now I’ve wiped out our savings.”
“There was an accident while my friend was coming home from work yesterday, and he’s leaving behind a wife and two children under three.”
“I visited another church and saw their children’s ministry, and it seemed much safer than our church. Are you taking our children’s safety seriously enough?”
“My aging father has to be moved into a full-time care facility, because he doesn’t remember who I am anymore.”
“It’s stage four.”
Of course, not all the phone calls are bad news. Sometimes they are requests to do baptisms, baby dedications, wedding ceremonies, or to speak or pray in any number of settings. But if you work for a normative size church with a staff of one or two people, the pastor probably gets all of these calls. And they must prepare a sermon, lead committee meetings, care for those people who aren’t experiencing a high or low on your call sheet, nurture a positive culture for the church, and set a vision before the people that God has laid on your heart through prayer and discernment.
So, with the amount of themselves our pastors put into our churches, let's celebrate and support them in the best way we can.
Tips for Pastor Appreciation Month
1. Be genuine.
The best churches recognize the burden that pastoring can be, especially on the family of the pastor. Express care for your pastor every month, and let October feel like a bonus month! The month of October is not the month to make up for mistreating your pastor the other 11 months of the year.
2. Cash / Gift cards & time to use them!
If your pastor has school-aged children, chances are they have favorite sitters for their kids. So, get creative and work with that family ahead of time! Write in the card, “Enjoy a date-night! And the _____ family is waiting on your call so they can watch the kids!”
3. Public recognition.
Every pastor has heard the question, “What do you do during the week?” It implies there isn’t much to do when not preaching. We’ve already covered how that isn’t true. But it never hurts to remind people that just because much of the work is unheralded doesn’t mean it should be. Make a video, create a framed recognition, and make a big splash from the stage. Just don’t skip item #2 on this list in the process.
4. Good policies.
Paid time off is one of the easiest ways to care for a pastor and their family, so be generous with holidays and vacation, especially if they have school-aged children. Give them their birthday as a holiday. Give them paid personal development time that they can spend at conferences or seminars, and then openly encourage them to use it. Make sure they have a day off during the week and a few Sundays during the year when they don’t have to preach. (Call the association if you need some pulpit supply, we’re happy to help). But most importantly, if your pastor is using time off, don’t call them unless it’s an absolute emergency.
5. Serious investments.
This is a catch-all category because everything here requires planning beyond what can be launched on October 1. Does your pastor’s office need remodeling? Has the church ever considered giving the pastor 1-3 months of sabbatical after every 5 years of full-time employment? (It should, we can help). Perhaps in addition to items #1-4 on this list, the church would provide funding for regular coaching or counseling before a problem arises? These kind of investments are great ways to show appreciation, but make sure to leave plenty of time for adequate preparation and consultation with the pastor about the best way to execute these good intentions.
There was an old Isotoner Glove commercial featuring Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Marino saying the tagline, “Take care of the hands that take care of you.” Regardless of whether you attend a megachurch with several pastors or a normal-sized church with one pastor, take care of the people who feel God’s call on their life to lead and take care of you. From ministry interns to senior pastors, we need them at their best, because they often see us at our worst.
Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.