So how much do you appreciate your pastor? How much does she feel your appreciation? How often does he hear your thanks?
Lest I sink into the quicksand of sentimentalism, let’s get brutally honest. Not all pastors deserve special appreciation.
They all do deserve affirmation. All humans — made in the image of God, and loved by their Creator — need to experience agape love. The Savior’s unconditional positive regard needs to be felt by shy children and timid wallflowers, by star athletes and movie stars — and even church professionals — no exceptions. In other words, pastors ought to receive affirmation because God is love and God has commissioned us to be witnesses of that love to all.
Pastors also deserve to hear words of thanks — if only because the grace of Jesus prompts a spirit of gratitude in its recipients. As inheritors of Christ’s reconciliation, believers’ thanksgiving rightly overflows to all kinds of people. It stands to reason that those proclaiming that message of grace would hear thank-yous, too.
Still, some of us think pastors ought to enjoy a special season of appreciation. No, we haven’t sunk into the quicksand of sentimentalism. We realize that some pastors don’t work as hard as they could, don’t preach as riveting sermons as they might, don’t visit enough or listen well or empathize readily or do other tasks like they should. Some don’t deserve an extra measure of appreciation.
But they are the exception, not the rule.
Most pastors we know deserve and would benefit from hearing a little more thanks than they are hearing.
For one thing, many pastors understand that their clay-footed presence can be an instrument by which the touch of God gets felt — so they drop all to join the EMTs at the accident site and back up the nurses and doctors in the emergency room.
Many pastors know that some individuals and couples struggle for the courage to fight despair, so they schedule counseling appointments at hours when few psychologists and psychiatrists are available.
Many pastors know parents whose work schedules don’t mesh with their children’s activities, so they rush out of the church office to cheer for 8-year-olds’ baseball games and 10-year-olds’ gymnastics meets.
They know in their hearts that the people need to hear a word from God this Sunday, so they pore over the biblical texts, dig through theological studies, exegete both the ancient stories and the present context, and tap the best resources to find points of application that will sing in the ears and swell in the hearts of their congregants.
Plus they teach Bible studies and participate in committee meetings (two or three evenings a week) and organize community mission outreach programs and write newsletters and respond to emails and prepare blogs and, well, most of them forget what a 40-hour work week looks like (try 50 or 60 or even 70 hours).
Add to that the fact that when all is said and done, the public nature of their work means that they wear a bull’s-eye on their backs, ready targets for criticism, accusation and even character assassination. As we all know well, in the present environment some accusations only need to be whispered to destroy a person’s career, calling, mission, ministry — even if those accusations are totally fictitious.
Oh, and while we Presbyterians do compensate our pastors better than most, almost every pastor could be leveraging her skills for a much higher paycheck, if money were her motive.
Are we, the proponents of pastor appreciation month, asking you to dive into the quicksand of sentimentalism, to express sympathy toward your pathetic pastor, to turn him into a pet project for you to rescue? Certainly not. We’re simply suggesting that you say “thank you” in a few more obvious ways and with more concerted effort than you may have been doing through the past 11 months. That’s all.
We all need affirmation. We all need to be appreciated. Let’s make sure that at least now — but maybe later on, too — we say thanks to our pastors.