Has Pastor Appreciation Month run its course?
As your new editor at the time, I suggested in 2006 that October should be set aside in our churches as a month to show concerted expressions of thanks to pastors.
The idea wasn’t original. It had been introduced years before by psychologist James Dobson, then director of Focus on the Family Ministries, and had taken root in the fundapentacharisgelical world in which he enjoyed near papal status. To import anything from that world would resonate with some Presbyterians, to be sure, but for many others it felt as out of place as venerating the bishop of Rome.
The idea of setting aside a whole month to honor our ministers brought other kinds of pushback. “Why not schedule a schoolteachers’ month? Or nurses’ month? Or police officers’ month? Or military month?” Some readers retorted that many vocations require long hours at low pay and require thick skin to repel critics’ tongue-lashings.
Some questioned why expressions of thanks should be confined to a particular time of the year — the Pilgrims’ and Native Americans’ original banquet notwithstanding.
Also, a whispered resistance came from those who thought their own pastor was too lazy a caregiver, too underachieving a leader and too mediocre a preacher to deserve any applause.
Put those points together, and add in Americans’ disinterest in adding to their calendars any days, weeks or months of token recognition, and you can see why, for most Presbyterians, this remains the season to appreciate autumn colors or buy Halloween candy or, thanks to our German neighbors, salute the brews of Oktoberfest.
Still pastors — aka teaching elders — do play a pivotal role in the community of faith. And as articles in this edition highlight, low morale and burnout run high among those serving in that capacity. So it behooves Christians of all stripes to exert themselves to equip and support their ministerial leaders. If our cars require regular attention — like a fill-up, oil change or periodic wash-and-wax – then it stands to reason our pastors would too.
And while October may not be the magic moment, there’s no time like the present to take the pastor out for lunch, give her a Starbucks gift card, lend the pastor’s family the key to the beach house, send him a greeting card (yes, Hallmark DOES publish pastor appreciation month cards) or ask your church’s ruling elders to schedule periodic sabbaticals into your minister’s career rhythms.
Dare I let you in on a ministerial trade secret? Most ministers share a particular kind of insecurity. Implicit in the very act of thinking one’s self called into ministry is the inclination toward being a rescuer, a liberator, a healer. Of course, we all know that Jesus is the Rescuer, Liberator, Healer — all with capital letters. But the “noble cause” mindset, similar to that which prompts others to pursue other helping vocations, sets such a person up for shock when one gets accused of falling short, or worse, of being misguided or even counterproductive.
And, at least in my case, when in my earlier years criticisms threw me into a funk, and others responded with, “You need to thicken your skin,” I would respond, “But Jesus has softened my heart, and I don’t want to lose that.” A quandary for sure.
So shall we treat our pastors with kid gloves? Certainly not. Pastors need to grow up like anybody else. And learning to deal with criticism is an essential trait of maturity. But just as we expect pastors to be authentic, caring nurturers who thrill to hold babies, hold our hands in the funeral home and drop everything to meet us in the emergency room, so too we all can turn the tables on them by finding authentic, caring ways to nurture them — and help them keep tender the soft heart given them by the Savior.
So do we need a particular month to do all of that? Heck, no. But in case you need an impetus, consider yourself prodded.