Pastor Appreciation Beyond the Local Church

 The Saturday Evening Post, September/October 1996 edition, recorded the origins of Pastor Appreciation month/day. 

“In 1992, layperson Jerry Frear, Jr., was brainstorming with church colleagues about how they might be of help to their minister when he glanced at a calendar and noticed that it was almost Groundhog Day. ‘I though, If they have a day for groundhogs, there ought to be a day for the 375,000 clergy people in America,’ Frear says.” So…for the last seven years the second Sunday in October has been set aside to show appreciation for our clergy. Are you planning something at your church? Let us know so we can share it with all of Springboard. “The reaction from pastors has been the greatest thing.” Frear says, “They are overwhelmed that their congregations actually do care about them.”

Pastors feeling uncared for?  It happens.  Pastors and their families live in fishbowls.  Most of the sacrifice a pastor makes for the church comes at the expense of his/her well being (and that of the family).  And the work load is not represented Sunday to Sunday.

Wise congregations practice appreciation, whether during October or year round.  Just as the pastor feeds the sheep, the sheep can feed and build within the pastor a healthy ego.  It’s not their job, but it is a by-product of a healthy church.

 FEEDING THE EGO:  why appreciation is so important

 There is an internal full view mirror we all peer deeply into.  We take stock quite often and what we choose to see defines our ego.  A healthy person knows his or her limitations and potentials.  The view of themselves (ego) is fed by our inner self and claims our unique identity.  It drives us when we feel resistance because at our core, we know who we are and what we are called to do.

 There is another way we view ourselves and that is through the eyes of others. 

 The job of pastor comes with constant criticism.  Appreciation balances out those words.  But the appreciation must be valid.  In other words, it must be true (not a sugar coated criticism) and the proof must be evident.  When the words or actions of appreciation come from someone the pastor cares for and respects, the appreciation is more likely to be applied to the view of self.  This is just the way humans are made.

Imagine a thank you card in your PO Box with just a name signed.  Then imagine a note with two paragraphs detailing your wise words in a difficult situation.  The note ends with an expression of your personal value by the author, who is a good friend.  Feel the difference?

 PRACTICING PASTOR APPRECTATION: currency well spent

 Churches that practice appreciation do so based on their currency.  They have many public venues to address the pastor in positive ways and they can raise funds, if needed, to gift the pastor. 

The hierarchy of any church structure has their currency too.  A wise use of that currency would result a lower burn out rate and those pastors that do leave the pastorate would be less likely to experience bitterness.

In my tradition, we have a bishop who oversees geographical districts.  Each district is headed by a superintendent.  The district superintendent (D.S.) oversees the pastors in his/her district.  Each year the pastor is expected to meet with the D.S. for a “consultation”.

Based on the office of D.S. alone, positive words of encouragement would bolster a struggling pastor.  But creative usefulness of some recognition tactics would reenergize depressed clergy.  Think about the difference these would make.

  1. Everyone has a gift.  Beyond the appointment, how do other pastors in the district know each other?  Highlight and recognize pastors who have received extra training.  For example, send a list out or keep a list on the district website of pastors who have doctorates.  Recognize them at pastor’s meetings from time to time.  Inquire of them if they would like to be available to help churches who need expertise in their doctorate area. When I was a pastor, I learned of an older clergy who had his D. Min in Wesley studies.  I asked him to lead a 3 week study on Charles Wesley and hymn history.  The choir loved me for that one!  The pastor, who had invested time and funds into his education, felt that his special gift was accepted.
  2.  Everyone still have a gift.  What did the pastors in the district do before they were pastors?  Find out!  If their gifts would match with the needs some district or conference board, invite them to join.  Push for those who are spiritual mature to offer help to something beyond the local church. My good friend was a journalist for years before seminary.  He is currently looking for journalism work.  Why not the conference offices?  I have a local pastor with doctoral work in public health.  He is not interested in serving on a conference level emergency response team.  But just the invitation communicates apprecation.
  3. The worst part about being an overseer of pastors is the complain line.  This email and phone connection is constantly burning.  I would suggest placing an insert in every bulletin in every church in the district once a year.  That insert would be a letter to the church encouraging them to write directly to the D.S. about the pastor.  The notes or emails must be positive.  Share the letters of encouragement at the pastor yearly consultation.  This will give pastors something to look forward to.  Do this every year and report numerically to the churches what response the D.S. received the previous year.
  4. Ask the pastors what the church(es) did for them during Pastor Appreciation Month.  Write or type a letter to the PPR chair to be read to the congregation.  In that letter, express the D.S. would express gratitude to the church and share a positive word about the pastor along with hopes for them in the future.  This is a positive way to impact the culture of the church.

Most of my thoughts revolve around highlighting gifts, finding useful exercises for those gifts in a setting beyond the local church, and creating a pattern for D.S./church and D.S./pastor relationships. 

 This is all low cost currency with TWO huge payoffs: 

building trust

impacting church and district culture

 Good leadership makes that investment. That investment communicates that extra effort is recognized and put to use.  Expertise is valued.  If I were a pastor, I’d want to be part of a district like that.

Other pondering prophets out there have any ideas????

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