Those not entrenched in Christian culture don’t know that the month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month.
It’s during this time that churches around the country often lavish praise, thanksgiving and honor on their pastors for being faithful preachers, patient listeners and gentle counselors.
Pastors have one of the hardest, most thankless jobs on the planet. Pastors are often expected to be theologians, small business gurus, advertising executives, social justice advocates and brilliant communicators. In fact, a large percentage of pastors are discouraged and depressed because of this mounting pressure. So my heart is warmed when I hear of churches and members showing special appreciation to their pastors and reminding them of their value and important role in their lives. This is a kind and generous practice.
In contrast, my heart is grieved when I see pastors treated as hirelings whose continued employment is solely predicated on church growth or keeping the powerbase happy. Pastors swim in precarious waters and rarely do we hear the words “pastor” and “appreciation” in the same sentence. In short, Pastor Appreciation Month serves a purpose and appears to be here to stay.
And while I myself am a pastor (and do get discouraged and lonely and angry sometimes), I still believe Pastor Appreciation Month must die. Here are a few reasons why:
Church cultures must change.
If you want to best serve and appreciate your pastor, don’t host a church fellowship meal in his honor. A dinner of fried chicken and homemade potato salad is not what she needs. Let me be the lone pastor who tells you the truth: Your pastor doesn’t want a potluck! That doesn’t make him feel appreciated. It only makes you feel validated.
If you want to appreciate your pastor, change the church culture: Give him ample vacation time with his family. Make sure your church gives her a living wage. Create opportunity for healthy peer relationships. Don’t “over-meeting” him. Give her a book budget. Get him help. Send her to conferences.
These are just a few cultural shifts that will communicate to your pastor that he is valued. Gift cards and one month of atta-boys are fine, but what will truly serve her is not a month of honor, but a culture of honor. I can speak to this with some authority because I happen to serve in a church that does all of the above fairly well.
A month of encouragement is not what pastors need.
Sure, send your pastor on a cruise or give them a few gift cards in October. Take them to lunch and babysit their kids. All of the above would make him/her feel loved and certainly appreciated. This article isn’t about withholding praise and honor from those who shepherd you—just the opposite!
This is a challenge to not limit your appreciation to a single month. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
In other words, love them well all year round. Pastors have a unique and painful opportunity to be invited into the disasters of people’s lives—funerals, hospice bedsides, broken marriages and relapsing addictions. Most pastors are honored to be included in the most sacred and painful moments of people’s lives. But it takes its toll. So ditch October and make appreciation a year-round exercise.
I just think it’s dumb.
That’s right. I said it. Pastor Appreciation Month is dumb! This is only a personal preference—don’t judge me or send me mean emails. For clarity, I like being appreciated. I like gift cards and movie tickets and whatever people have given me to say, “Thank you.” I smile and give them a big hug. Who doesn’t want to be loved? But when pastors become pastors they know what they are signing up for.
We embrace a gospel role in which we model what it means not to live for the praise of others; what it looks like to lay down our own agenda and rights; what it means to bear in our bodies the marks of Christ. The real reason I think Pastor Appreciation Month is dumb is because our role and gifting as pastors is a definitively public one. And with that role comes a fair amount of criticism—but also a fair amount of praise. I don’t know many professions that receive more praise than pastors.
Let’s kill Pastor Appreciation Month and rename it Single Mom Month or Nursery Worker Month. That seems a better fit, don’t you think?
serves as lead pastor for Vineyard Community Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of We're All Heroes In Our Own Story (Crosslink, 2016).