Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pastor Appreciation Month

About two years ago I wrote a post about pastors & honorariums that generated a lot of positive buzz. (Well, let's be honest - any buzz that doesn't involve me having to spam filter out online gambling websites is positive buzz for this blog.) I had fun "pulling back the curtain" and hopefully giving people some guidance in an area that doesn't get a lot of discussion.

Almost immediately, I had an idea for another behind-the-pulpit post about Pastor Appreciation Month... and then my old friend "Fear of the Opinion of Others" and his cousin "You're Gonna Get In Trouble" paid me a visit and the idea went into my mental "that'd be great but it'll never happen" file for about a year & a half. And now I find myself without a paid church staff position and thus able to weigh on Pastor Appreciation Month.

Frankly, I was (and, if I'm honest, still am) a bit worried that folks in my former church will read this and take it the wrong way. So, if you're part of NewLife Community Church in Easton, CA, please know that I'm not harboring great honkin' wads of bitterness of what was or wasn't done for me each October. I'm writing this in order to serve other pastors & their churches, not try to send y'all on an all-expenses-paid guilt trip.

Seriously, there's a Pastor Appreciation Month?

Yes, there is. Just like there's a Administrative Professionals Day (which we less enlightened used to call Secretary's Day), a Boss's Day (nothing like an extra chance to schmooze the guy who writes your annual evaluation), and something from the Great Lakes region called
Sweetest Day, which evidently involves the purchase & consumption of large amounts of candy. (Note: Sweetest Day is the third Sunday in October and I, though not currently living in that part of the U.S., will be happy to celebrate it with you.)

After a little Internet research, I realized that the official name is Clergy Appreciation Month (which we less enlightened used to call Pastor Appreciation Month). I'm guessing the reason that didn't stick in my head is that I never thought of myself as "clergy" - even though technically I was. In my mind, "clergy" are those guys who wear clerical collars and carry around portable communion sets. The thought of wearing a clerical collar still chokes off my air supply.

Clergy Appreciation Month was created by Focus on the Family in 1994 with the stated purpose of reminding congregations to recognize & honor their pastoral staff. While churches have long taken various opportunities to show their love & generosity to their pastors, the folks doing clergy care at Focus felt like something specific & regular needed to take place.

Isn't this just another Hallmark Holiday - a cynical creation of an "event" in order to sell more merchandise?

Well, "no"... and maybe a little bit "yes". Having experienced the generous heart of H.B. London & the other folks in Pastoral Care at Focus firsthand, I can pretty safely say that they didn't create this as a marketing tool.

At the same time, Christian bookstores & publishers have jumped on the bandwagon to produce "resources" for appreciating clergy - some of which is quite lovely and some of which is, well, not.

So, what's the best way to appreciate my pastor(s)?

I have some specific suggestions which we'll get to in a minute, but I'll start by noting that there's a nicely put together online manual for Clergy Appreciation Month available at the
Thriving Pastor website. While there are some suggestions in there that are a little cheesy (please, oh, please, do not use the "flash mob during the worship service" suggestion - if that had happened to me, I'd probably have needed medical assistance right there on the platform), there are a number of great ideas as well.
  • Whether you do it analog (a Card Shower) or digital (a Super Text Event), I'd have been blessed & overwhelmed by hearing how my service made a difference in the lives of individuals. Important safety tip: make sure the cards/texts/communications are specific - pastors hear a lot of general praise that can become just a low background hum.
  • Giving your pastor an extra day off (by inviting & paying for a guest speaker) could be really cool - at my last church, I preached around 48 weeks each year. Warning: if your pastor has been receiving lots of criticism about his preaching skills/style, this may not feel like a gift to him - instead, it may be one more way for someone to comment on how he doesn't measure up.
  • Renovating the pastor's home and/or improving his working environment are both awesome ideas - pastors may not have the skills or the time to put into these kind of projects and your willingness as a church to make that possible says a lot to them. Note: home renovation projects are much more meaningful for pastors who own their own home or rent than for those living in a parsonage (sometimes called a manse, which always makes me think of Hound of the Baskervilles & fog-filled moors).
Not to be outdone, my denomination (Southern Baptists) published an article on the subject which needs some corrective notes:
  • If you're going to buy a pastor a commentary set, seriously consider getting him Logos instead. At least ask him what he wants before you buy - if you choose a $20-30 per volume set that he won't use, you're sinking some serious cash into some very theological d├ęcor for his bookshelves.
  • Where in the world is a pastor supposed to go wearing a "World's Greatest Pastor" T-shirt? You might as well hang a neon sing around his neck that says "non-believers, run for your lives!" and/or "Nutty religious people who want to argue esoteric points of doctrine, here's your guy!"
You said you were going to get specific... so, be specific already!

OK... I think there's one simple rule that ought to cover it:

Do something that will be meaningful to your pastor, not what would be meaningful to you.

That's it.

I say this because your tendency is going to be to purchase an item or choose a way to recognize him that appeals to your heart. Gary Smalley managed to create a cottage industry in books & resources based on this idea... we tend to express love to others in the way we would like love to be expressed to us.

Where we run into trouble - in marriage, in parenting, in pastor appreciation - is that "what makes one person feel loved/[appreciated] does not necessarily make another person feel loved/[appreciated]." (That's Gary S. talking...) Take, for example, me getting my wife a card game for her birthday. While I see that kind of gift as the height of thoughtfulness, she sees it as "Mark got himself a gift from my birthday". (And she'd be right - I made this mistake early on in our marriage. Once.)

So, if your pastor loves to fish, get him a Bass Pro Shops gift card... even if you think it's a waste of time. If he's a football fan, hunt down some high-quality tickets to go watch his favorite team.

Ask yourself: "What does our pastor do to relax & recharge?" Then find ways to make that easier/cheaper/more available for him.

What are some dumb ways to appreciate my pastor?

Thanks to the Unappreciated Pastor, I can give you a quick outline of a couple of things you shouldn't give your pastor:

  • He doesn't need a Bible. He has one (or 2 or 50) already.
  • He doesn't need Jesus Junk. (When I worked in a Christian bookstore, that's we called all the little trinkets, doodads, desk thingees, etc. that companies love to market.) He's already got a shelf full.
You should follow the link & read the whole article - it's really good and he's much, much funnier than I'll ever be. (Of course, he posting anonymously, so he can "let it all hang out" and go for the punch line.)

And just because I love his humor, some Pastor Appreciation-related Tweets from the Unappreciated Pastor:

  • The church asked for a theme verse for Pastor Appreciation. I suggested "Silver & gold have I none".
  • The hardest part of Pastor Appreciation month is finding Thank You cards in packs of two. 
  • I find it offensive that Pastor Appreciation month is the same month as the devil's birthday. #October31
Any final advice you want to add after 25+ years of ministry?

1. If your church isn't doing something big, find a way to do something on your own.

While an all-expense paid weekend getaway or substantial gift card to their favorite store is wonderful, something small is great, too. Ministry can be a progression of difficult situations & people (often, the two are intertwined)... and your small gesture (a plate of brownies, a Starbucks card, a personal letter of thanks & appreciation, etc.) can help stem the tide of disappointment & despair.

2. I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: when you write a card/letter/note to your pastor, make sure that you are specific in your encouragement & praise.

Throughout my ministry, I had people who would compliment me each week on my sermon: "That sure was a great message, Pastor." And I was thankful for those folks, if only to counteract the images of people checking their watches and/or fidgeting as if we'd handed them itching powder along with the bulletin.

But that general encouragement, over time, became less & less meaningful. I know full well that I was "on" some weeks and less "on" (or plain ol' "off") on others - but the praise kept coming... and the regularity diminished the impact severely.

What I appreciated greatly were compliments with specificity - "I like the way you handled this particular passage" or "When you talked about [fill in the blank], it was like you were talking right to me." (They don't have to be just about the message - they can be about personal counsel, ministry, prayer, leadership, friendship... whatever!)

3. Don't drop the ball just because your church is struggling with numbers and/or conflict.

In fact, your pastor needs your encouragement & support even more during times of discord. You may be one of the few voices of grace & peace he gets to hear.

4. Do something!

As Pastor Appreciation Month has become better known, it could also be recognized as Pastor Depression Month, as pastors read & hear stories about the wonderful ways other churches have celebrated their clergy - and no one in their congregation has made an effort. Don't let your pastor be one of those folks!

5. Do something for all of your staff - not just the senior/lead pastor.

Create unity through your appreciation - not disharmony between coworkers.

6. Don't limit appreciating & encouraging your pastor to one Sunday or one month out of the year.

Discouragement doesn't confine itself to a 31-day time span... neither should encouragement.

7. Pray about what to do.

I'm not sure why I put it last - but it certainly isn't the least important. Ask God for direction & wisdom in how to show your pastor you support & care for him.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17, NIV)


Jimbo said...

While I only noticed them last week, there are fall themed peeps at the grocery store. You can always fill a pastor's office or back yard with sugary nasty candies.

Larissa said...

You are a great writer, Mark. I can't wait to read a book you have written. I think this would have been helpful and non threatening for your congregation while you were still a pastor. That being said, I think I passed the test the last time I was responsible for purchasing an appreciation gift -- we decided on a gift certificate from a store from which we knew our pastor needed something.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thank you, Larissa...