October is Clergy Appreciation Month. It’s a special time that congregations honor their ministers for the hard work they provide. Pastors and their families live under incredible pressures. Their lives are played out in a fish bowl, with the entire congregation and community watching their every move. Too often, a pastor becomes overwhelmed, seems depressed, disappoints people, or completely burns out. Have you ever wondered why?
I recall the World War II incident of the four chaplains on the sinking Dorchester who gave up their life jackets so that others could live. True and touching, but not unique. Acts of heroism and selfless devotion are the stuff of war. Just don’t make the incident on the Dorchester more than what it was. They were brave, but so were all of America’s children who went to war.
Actually, a pastor’s mission would be easy if it were limited to heroics.
However, the pastor’s lot is seldom really examined. Most churches expect their pastor to have the Strength of an Ox, the Daring of a Lion, the Industry of a Beaver, the Hide of a Rhinoceros, the Memory of an Elephant, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Diplomacy of a Statesman, the Disposition of an Angel, the Loyalty of an Apostle, the Serenity of a Lamb, the Heroism of a Martyr, the Tenderness of a Shepherd, the Faithfulness of a Prophet, and the Devotion of a Mother.
He is expected to be knowledgeable, interesting, and fresh every time he steps into the pulpit. He is to be free of all irritating habits and mannerisms. He is to speak loudly enough to be heard, yet softly enough so as not to disturb those in restful contemplation. He is to be intelligent and intuitive; always ready with stories and delightful illustrations. He is to be informative, yet brief; simple yet profound; happy yet serious; pleasant yet direct; pleasing all and offending none, yet boldly honest and truthful.
He is often expected to take care of administration, balance the budget, keep teachers in the classrooms and tissue in the bathrooms, visit the sick, pray with the families, cut the grass, chaperon the trips, visit the visitors, admonish the wayward, schedule the entertainment, patch the roof, lift up the fallen, drive the bus, shovel the snow, deal with the backslider, knock on doors, party with the teens, heal the broken-hearted, counsel the couples, baptize, marry, and bury, and put out hundreds of small “fires” before they engulf and split the church.
And on top of all that, he is expected to read your mind, know how you feel, be everywhere at once, and know where he needs to be without being told.
Your pastor needs many things, but not hollow appreciation. Such tokenism can be as fleeting and phony as the smile or handshake you give him at the door (just before you “roast” him during Sunday dinner).
Your pastor needs more than appreciation ... much more! He needs your prayer, your support, your attendance, your trust, your confidence, your protection, your loyalty, and your love. He needs you to understand that he is a human being with flaws and failings just like yours. He needs you to know that his first and highest calling is to preach and teach the Word of God honestly, objectively, and purposefully. Although he probably will not refuse, he wants you to know that he is not your errand boy, not your taxi cab driver, not your auto mechanic, not your baby sitter, not your plumber, not your roofer, and not your financier. Nor should his wife be expected to be the perfect homemaker, perfect mother, party planner, group leader, hostess, or fashion model.
The man that God has placed in your church is your pastor and your minister to teach and guide you so that you might take up the weapons of Spiritual warfare yourself and stand in the fight. His primary job is “growing you up.” He is preparing you for battle.
Do you want to show your appreciation? Money is nice, but that won’t do it. Material things are useful, but neither will that do. And believe me, a Clergy Appreciation Day certainly isn’t the way. The best thing you can do for your pastor is to become a mature Spiritual Christian yourself. If you want to show him how much you love him, join him in his work. Take part of the load he bears. Get involved with the ministry and let your pastor get back to his books, his study, his teaching, his preaching, and his prayer. Let him be the preacher and teacher God called him to be. And let him see you, the church member, join in the work. Be part of his problem solving team rather than the problem to be solved. Be the person he can rely on to take care of a matter of business, go to someone’s aid, or to settle a dispute. Instead of a token pat on the back and a decorated cake for the job he is doing, grab your Bible and tell him you’ll go with him to the front lines.
The incident on the Dorchester is really about preachers on a sinking ship. Not much has changed. Tell your pastor you’ll stand with him, ready to fight the good fight, keep the faith, so that both of you can finish the course.
Norman Olson, Pastor