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.