I don’t know who first declared October as Pastor Appreciation Month, but it’s never been a special focus for my congregation. I don’t get showered with Pastor Appreciation cards. No one plans a special worship celebration acknowledging my ministry and leadership. My church has never taken out a full-page ad in the local newspaper with my photo and an expression of their thanks as suggested by one LifeWay blogger–and good thing they haven’t, since I’d feel totally embarrassed!
Yet just last Sunday in my church mailbox, I appreciated receiving a beautiful hand-made card with the following note:
Here’s just a note to express our appreciation for your loving professional leadership in our church. We realize it must be quite stressful sometimes meeting the spiritual needs of so many people and balancing schedules at the same time. We wish you much joy and God’s blessing as you continue to serve Him. With love and prayers. . . .
The members who sent me this card didn’t mention Pastor Appreciation Month, and I’m not sure they’re even aware of it. They’re not part of a special Pastor Appreciation Committee. Instead, their note came out of our shared experience, their own thoughtfulness, and God’s prompting in their life. Their sincere understanding, love, and prayers mean a lot to me.
While some may find Pastor Appreciation Month unnecessary, redundant, or just plain awkward, expressing appreciation can be a beautiful gift. How then are we to think about this month? Is it just one more made-up celebration to boost the greeting card and gift-giving industry? Or a good way to strengthen employer/employee relationships within the church and related organizations?
On the plus side, any day or month is a good time to express appreciation for pastors and other church workers, so why not October? Being intentional about saying thank you demonstrates love and practical encouragement. It can help set a positive tone for employer/employee relationships. It’s grounded in Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:17:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
On the down side, why should appreciating pastors and other church workers be limited to just one month or even more narrowly to Clergy Appreciation Day which some observe on the second Monday in October? Isn’t that somewhat confusing, since that’s also Thanksgiving Day in Canada? And why October, which is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and even Window Covering Safety Month.
Personally and pastorally, I don’t need a Pastor Appreciation Month, and yet I’m grateful for any and all expressions of thanks. Appreciation is part of a healthy relationship that goes both ways–congregations appreciating their pastors, and pastors appreciating their congregations; workers in Christian organizations appreciating one another and their constituency, and their constituency appreciating their work.
So for Pastor Appreciation Month and year round, below are the most helpful suggestions I’ve found on expressing appreciation for workers in the church and other Christian organizations.
1. Spread the love around.
As Luke Geraty points out in 5 Reasons Why I Dislike Pastor Appreciation Month, senior or lead pastors often get the most attention in the local congregation. In church organizations, the executive or senior ministry staff may be the focal point. But the lead staff don’t actually do all of the work, so when expressing appreciation, remember associate staff, office personnel, custodians, and other workers too.
2. Be thoughtful.
As one blog reader has pointed out,
I think I would feel a bit more appreciated if we weren’t told as a staff team to come up with the thing that the church board would do/pay for (within a certain budget) to make us feel appreciated. The fact that we, as staff, have to come up with the expression of appreciation doesn’t go very far in making me feel appreciated.
So put on your thinking cap. Does your staff member enjoy fishing, or live theatre, or a particular sport or hobby? Would they appreciate some home-made baking or an evening of child care? An office makeover or a surprise party? Be thoughtful. Be specific. Be creative.
3. Be consistent.
Again from Luke Geraty’s 5 Reasons Why I Dislike Pastor Appreciation Month, don’t give an appreciation gift to make up for constant complaining or talking negatively about ministry workers behind their backs. No gift basket delivered with a grin will make up for otherwise difficult behaviour. So treat your ministry workers with respect year round. Make any complaints constructive. Practice grace. Then be sincere in your expression of thanks.
4. Practice long-term care.
At one time Focus on the Family offered a Clergy Appreciation Planning Guide that included some simple ideas (e.g., planning an informal pizza party) and other more elaborate events (e.g., inviting local dignitaries to a formal banquet and giving a significant gift). But the most valuable section of their resource was on long-term care that includes providing fair pay and retirement benefits, professional development time, adequate vacation and other time off, regular prayer, realistic ministry expectations, and much more. Whether or not you observe October as Appreciation Month, practice this kind of on-going appreciation year-round.
5. Check out these ideas:
- Pray. Pray during the call process. Pray during the honeymoon, the good years, the lean ones. I’m grateful for all those who pray for me regularly, irregularly, and I know that some even pray for me daily.
- Address systemic church issues. I’m putting this one high on my list since I haven’t seen it on any other list of how to love your pastor. While complete resolution may not be possible, the healthier the church, the better the environment for a pastor to thrive. Since I followed a difficult pastoral departure, I’m glad my church was willing to face some hard questions—what happened? what structures and supports need to be in place so we don’t find ourselves in a similar place down the road?
Read more at 22 Time-Tested Ways to Love Your Pastor. These best practices are drawn from my experience of pastoral ministry in a local congregation, but they apply equally well to other settings and other ministry leaders, whether paid or unpaid, full-time, part-time, or bivocational.
If you work for the church, what makes you feel appreciated? If you’re in the role of employer, what tangible expressions of appreciation have you given, and how have they been received? As always, I welcome your comments and want to learn from you.
Next Up: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a student ministry operating on over 650 college campuses across the United States. This evangelical group has been making headlines recently for its new policy of “involuntary terminations” for staff who disagree with its theology on human sexuality. Is InterVarsity really dismissing employees who support gay marriage as reported in Time magazine? What are we to make of their employment practice, and what does their experience raise for other Christian organizations? Check out On Not Agreeing to Disagree: Supporting Gay Marriage and Losing Your Job.
For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better,