On Appreciating Pastors

I often have planned to write a piece like this, but then I would think I should wait until the month set aside for this comes along. But then it comes and goes, and I find I have forgotten about it. So let me do it now. It is long overdue, and should not be a once-off piece anyway.

October has been set aside as Clergy Appreciation Month, but given that our pastors deserve recognition and appreciation all twelve months of the year, let me present this in December. As far as this celebration goes, there is a history to it, so let me first discuss that matter. One site devoted to this is entitled, “A Brief History of Clergy Appreciation Month”. It begins this way:

“We believe that the concept of clergy appreciation started with the Apostle Paul as he was establishing the first Christian churches. In 1 Timothy, he wrote, ‘The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching’ (1 Tim. 5:17). And, in 1 Thessalonians, he said, ‘Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work’ (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

“Accordingly, over the centuries, decades and years, pastors have been recognized and honored, either formally or informally, by many denominations and local churches at various times of the year. It has been a long-standing practice.

“Focus on the Family named and began emphasizing Clergy Appreciation Month in 1994, reminding congregations that it was biblical and proper to honor their pastoral staffs and pastoral families throughout the year, but suggesting that they set aside the month of October for a special tangible tribute. For those churches that preferred a single weekend, we recommended the second weekend of the month. However, honoring a church’s entire pastoral staff and their families can be done at any time — and, in fact, should become a normal part of a church’s ongoing care of these special families throughout the entire year.”

It is a great idea, and I take it that H. B. London Jr., who for many years did the Pastor To Pastor radio series at Focus on the Family, would have been a driving force behind this. Pastors and clergy of course perform almost heroic tasks as they seek to serve their Lord and their congregations, and they are in need of appreciation and recognition.

I and others often critique the contemporary Western church, including some of its leaders, in the hopes that the church as a whole becomes all it is meant to be in Christ. To offer such criticisms, corrections and warnings is not of course to suggest that there are no good churches or church leaders.

Many are doing a great job, and God has always reserved for himself a godly remnant. Thus the strong words of rebuke and reproof offered by those with a prophetic or watchman ministry, such as a Tozer or a Ravenhill, should be understood in this light.

They may employ inclusive, all-embracing language, but they would of course recognise that not all leaders fall short, and not all churches are as bad as others. I guess it is the nature of such ministries to use strong and sweeping statements to alert us all to our needs, and to keep us all on our toes.

The prophets of old of course employed similar language and rhetoric. But the remnant doctrine is assumed throughout Scripture, and we can rejoice that in the midst of so much apostasy, heresy, carnality and compromise, there are many who have not bowed the knee to Baal, as Elijah had to be reminded of.

Quite often when I am speaking at churches I will take a few minutes of my time to encourage the congregation to bear in mind the work of their pastor, and how they are as human as we are, and certainly can use some encouragement. I will often say words to this effect:

‘Every Sunday all over the Western world pastors are conducting their final service. They are giving it up because they are burned out, bummed out, battered and bruised. They work their tails off and often get no or little praise, but plenty of criticism.

‘They put in 80-hour weeks, only to get plenty of grief, gripes and garbage from those they are seeking to serve. Theirs is often a thankless task, and because of discouragement, exhaustion and lack of support, many are giving it all away prematurely.

‘So please make sure you encourage your pastor this week. Take the one or two minutes needed to send him an email with a bit of praise and support. Offer to take him out for a coffee, with no strings attached. Offer to help him and his family out in tangible ways. Make sure they do not leave because of a lack of appreciation and recognition.’

To say all this is not to pretend our leaders are perfect or beyond reproach. They are not. They are human just like the rest of us, and they can and do make mistakes – and worse. Thus they have to be held accountable to others, must not be put on a pedestal, and must be open to critiques and correction when needed.

Getting the balance right is often difficult. Our churches and our leaders often get off the rails, and need to be brought back where they belong. Thus reproof, correction and rebukes are not out of place here. But given that we are all human, none of us can just live on constant criticism and complaints.

So think about who your leaders in the Lord are and pray for them now. Then think about how you can offer them a bit of much-needed encouragement and praise. Shoot them an email. Send them a card. Buy them a ticket to a sporting event. Offer to wash his car or mow his lawn or babysit his children, etc. Even a big hug would not go astray.

You will not only make his or her day by doing so, but you just might keep him on the job a whole lot longer than he was perhaps planning on.

[1051 words]

9 Replies to “On Appreciating Pastors”

  1. Your article at one point in my life may have stirred up the desire to ‘encourage the pastor’ however I would like to tell you my story which can be repeated from probably from most pews.
    Because hierarchy and tradition are the benchmarks for church organisation, and separation from the congregation is encouraged in fact insisted upon, it is more likely that the leadership estrange the people rather the people be given a chance to take the pastor for a coffee.
    My first church was a big AOG, after that Baptist and so on and so on. It matters not the denomination, it matters to report on the attitude of the leaders to the people.
    Let me give you a few examples.
    I finally got my appointment with a pastor of a medium sizes church of 900, as we had initiated many hall and house groups I simply wanted a coffee time with him to discuss further training and teaching. His opening words were “I don’t see people’
    He then qualified his position by suggesting I go further down the line.
    I have seen the snobbery in church leadership for too long now. I have been the leadership to welcome guest speakers and point out you get the best coffee, suppers and are treated like royalty. I have been the guest speaker and it alarms me that we get to be moved away quickly to our special rooms. After over 20 years in church life/staff/ and or leadership what I have see is not lack of encouragement for the pastor but lack of love by the leaders for the plebs!!
    Tradition has taught us to keep the pastor/s in an ivory tower that none may enter for fear of the mystique of leadership melting around their/our ankles.
    I have addressed this topic of separation at Masters level of study and it has convinced me even more that present structures in administration, invisible but felt walls, platforms, and technology serve further to distance the message of Jesus from the public and the relationship of the elders from the pews.
    The Christian message must be seen in us. The separations of man made traditions whether they be in clothing, status, titles, separate seating, better offices etc etc., disallow us to get closer to the pastors to encourage them. However if we are determined God has called us to climb the corporate ladder called the ministry we will always find a way to get into the in crowd. Sooner or later arriving there we see the inconsistencies with the message of Paul which calls for heartfelt love and not the swarmy self promoting kind.
    Psalm 150;1 says let us worship God under the stars as well as in his holy house. I suggest we keep that line as our focus and treat all with kindness and respect wherever the gospel is shared. I would ask the pastors/elders to extend a lot more love acceptance and forgiveness than they do
    to volunteers and other staff. I have seen pastors at conferences full of contempt for those who simply want to be part of the body and treated well. Chuck Missler and I quote said: ‘When I moved from corporate life to the ministry it was like moving from the convent to a brothel’. I have lived most of my school years in a convent and have served in churches for over 20 years but the one ingredient I have found missing in both institutions is love. This is my burden, this is my prayer ‘show me Lord how to love others as equals and not a ‘them and us’ mentality. I speak as to my brothers and sisters – ministry leaders are not small gods to be worshipped and fawned upon (as is the case particularly in Korean, and other Asian cultures as well as in Oz). Status does not qualify for more adulation. I think the apostle Paul was reminding us to be grateful to those who go above and beyond to bring the message of the gospel, nothing more.
    From my first church Hills to the country churches on byways let us as guest speakers not start the message with encouraging the people to love the pastors more but help the pastors to find safety in the idea of actually taking a coffee invite from one of the plebs. God is waiting to do miracles in such acts of sharing intimacy, equality and love between brothers and sisters in Christ. Not the current traditions which started with denominational separist ideology and continue in the egoism which persists in the heart of man.
    When the public see love and not party spirit in the churches and between the churches, and when love breaks down these barriers one day the real gospel of Jesus Christ may be experienced, seen and emulated.
    Ilona Sturla

  2. As I read this article I thought to myself, as much as it grids on me I’ll do it. So I wrote an email to my pastor thanking him for all his effort.
    Then I read Ilona Sturla comments. Thank you IIona, I’m sending your piece to my wife who has been snobbed of at every turn.
    Daniel Kempton

  3. Wow, Ilona. It’s so sad to see that, and I am so thankful to God for the first pastor I knew after being saved. He was an ex Salvo but by then in a CRC church.

    He explained his logic of who would preach from “his pulpit” as only those preachers who were prepared to doss down in his spare bedroom (in his ordinary suburban home).

    Anyone who asked for five-star accommodation and all the trimmings didn’t get inside his church.

    That was an excellent lesson for me as a young christian, and since then I have been involved in a variety of churches but none with more than 200 or so members. All of them were of a size that allowed personal contact. The only one where the pastor became distant led to him becoming un-accountable, leading to other problems.

    I am now an elder in a small Pressy church where our pastor is very approachable, and as elders we find ourselves talking to people in the congregation before the service and then running late for prayer before the formal commencement.

    John Angelico

  4. This is a joke that my pastor likes telling: Often people complain that Pastors only work for two days of the week, but unfortunately for them it is the weekend.

    Obviously Pastors do much more work than that. I certainly have looked as my pastor as a father like figure when I was growing up in my church.

    Ian Nairn

  5. AS John said: WOW Ilona! What a testimony!!
    AS I see it Pastors have been handed a poisoned chalice.
    The individual Pastor is supposed to embody all the gifts of the Spirit, wear multiple hats and fulfil multiple roles, cater to all sorts of different needs and demands when no one person is equipped with all gifts of the Holy Spirit and we are all limited by our own temperament strengths & weaknesses.
    It is an impossible task given to the professional clergyman. No wonder so many ‘ burn out.’

    The problem doesn’t primarily lie in the often well intentioned individual Pastors, but in the system that they are working under. ie an outdated ineffective hierarchical system of one Pastor, one church and a “church service.’ that bears little resemblance to the way church was always meant to be. ie a body of individually gifted individuals working co dependently, co operatively and interactively under a body of locally appointed elders….ALL sharing the load.
    There may be individual Pastors who are doing a ‘good job’ in spite of the impossible expectations made on them. They would be the exception to the norm.
    The recent Australia wide church survey clearly indicates that most people come to church looking for a sense of ‘community,’ not biblical literacy, or growth in spiritual maturity. The Pastor that can just provide a friendly accepting church that offers community – is seen as the successful pastor doing a good job.

    Peter Bonchar

  6. This has certainly become a lively conversation. Of course Bill’s right in quoting St Paul’s exhortations regarding how we should treat with honour our pastors ‘who watch over your souls’. However Ilona has made a true observation about the unpleasant and unscriptural hierarchical structures that sometimes exist. I treasure those words of Jesus about how the kings of the nations love to lord it over the people and to be called their benefactors. ‘Let it not be so with you’, He said.
    Terry Darmody

  7. Whilst I don’t expect pastors to be perfect, there have been so many times that I have heard preachers present their own opinion as scriptural truth, but only one time I have ever heard a pastor admit to teaching a doctrinal error…

    Yes I appreciate good pastors… I will leave my comment at that.

    Brett Gillie

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