Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Appreciating Pastors

I wonder if my experience might help you understand the heart of your pastor.  In so doing, my hope is that you will take time this month to extend a word of kindness, a show of appreciation, during October, which for 17 years in the USA has been “Clergy Appreciation Month.” 

I have worked a few jobs. I have been a lumberjack, worked a ranch, in a garment factory, as a dishwasher, cook, counselor, social worker, business owner, landlord, administrator, university educator and more. I have worked 9-5, swing shift, rotating and overnight shifts. I know for a fact, first hand, that every job has its challenges, charms, curses and blessings.

I have also pastored. It is hands down the most varied, challenging, difficult and delightful role in my personal experience. It is uniquely challenging. It is the only job where I have worked no less than 60 hours a week routinely but have been accused of being a slacker who really works but few hours a week. It is the only job where drawing a salary (in every case, much less than the average salary of the church’s board members) for solid, competent work was viewed as potentially unspiritual. It is the only job in which every fault or flaw not of my own but of my wife and children have been critiqued, often openly and painfully.  It is the only job in which I have been asked to be humble and bold, lead with vision while being asked to serve all, embrace and love everyone with warm grace while challenging everyone equally with sometimes harsh calls to repentance, create a sense of unified purpose and adherence to standards of conduct while being sensitive to the needs of the harshest detractors and unrepentant sinners.  It’s all quite logically and practically impossible!

There have been seasons when it seemed every word, every direction, every sermon was critiqued and every motive challenged.  As the pastor’s biggest critic is usually him or herself, I have felt the weight of constant self-evaluation and reflection upon integrity as one called to proclaim the very Word of God, knowing that people, even when critical, are depending upon the pastor getting it “right” so that they may be encouraged, challenged, inspired, changed not by the personal opinions of the preacher by the good news of the gospel. Most difficult of all is sharing the gospel as continually and faithfully as I know how, in the church and outside of the church, through word and deed, and seeing how often the love of God is rejected, disputed and mocked – and seeing the resulting pain in lives that could be healed and full of joy through simple trust in God’s grace and obedience to His loving commands.   

But then again, pastoring is uniquely wonderful.  To journey with human beings through every stage of life, from birth, to growth, to youth, to marriage, to family, to sickness, to health, to professional struggles and gains, to the losses incurred through the ravages of time, to death, to comfort, to eternal hope.  No other vocation affords this blessing.  To be the midwife who catches the newly “born again” when the Holy Spirit moves and to see the amazing changes of healing and hope that occur.  To champion the poor and disenfranchised and see the homeless housed, hungry fed, abused healed, enslaved freed, jobless employed, hopeless hopeful and communities transformed. To take hits for leading through biblical truth and see over time the power of persuasion soften hearts and make room for the holy.  To be frequently awed by the power of the Spirit to answer prayers prayed with tears and faith as people experience miracles skeptics say don’t exist. To see enemies become friends. To see goodness happen. There are challenges, but when called to pastor, it is difficult to imagine any other form of service. Pastoring is fantastic.  

GeorgeBarna, demographer, researched pastor’s work habits and experiences.  He writes, "Most pastors work long hours, are constantly on-call, often sacrifice time with family to tend to congregational crises, carry long-term debt from the cost of seminary and receive below-average compensation in return for performing a difficult job. Trained in theology, they are expected to master leadership, politics, finance, management, psychology and conflict resolution. Pastoring must be a calling from God if one is to garner a sense of satisfaction and maintain unflagging commitment to that job. Fortunately, we have thousands of men and women who have responded to that call and serve God and His people with energy and grace. May they be encouraged by an outpouring of love and gratitude this October - and beyond!"

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month. There is much that is worth appreciating. There are unique struggles and unique joys. Let me encourage you to celebrate and appreciate your pastor this month. You will find Pastor Appreciation Resources at You may wish to send your pastor to the NCC Annual Pastor’s retreat in October. Remember, your pastor is doing what he or she does out of love for you and obedience to God in Christ Jesus.  

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