October is Pastor Appreciation Month, which I normally forget until someone surprises me with an expression of appreciation. Of course, pastoring is not the only occupation with a designated time to express gratitude. A quick Google search reveals when you can celebrate Trucker Appreciation Month, National Doctor's Day, Administrative Professionals Day, and Sword Swallowers' Day. Yes.... even Sword Swallowers have their own day for their hard (and sharp-edged!) work.
From flowers to phone calls to greeting cards, the simplest gestures over the years have reminded me how good it feels to hear the words, "thank you for doing what you do." Across our various vocations, I would guess most of us appreciate being appreciated.
When someone reminded me last week that it was Pastor Appreciation Month, I got to thinking about how we live out our gratitude for one another. We say "thank you" and offer gifts. We affirm each other with our words. But what if we tried throughout the year to engage in practices that help one another do our jobs well?
I began reflecting on ways that my congregants over the years have made me feel appreciated as a pastor. I narrowed some of those stories and experiences down to five easy suggestions that I hope will help churches practice appreciation for their pastor's work.
1. Let worship be the pastor's focus on Sundays, especially before the service begins.
Preaching and leading in worship require an enormous amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. I learned early in ministry that I was likely to forget any church business mentioned to me on Sunday mornings simply because my focus was on the Word. One morning, a church member came to me and began talking about a leak in the building. Mid-sentence, he stopped and said, "Wait.... I don't need to talk to you about this right now. When can I call you this week?" To observe the sabbath is to cease from work, and ceasing from talking about work on Sunday mornings is incredibly helpful to me.
2. Offer to say the blessing.
In my early days of ministry, I wrote on my Facebook page's job description, "I drink a lot of coffee and bless a lot of meals." Unfortunately, I believed that I had to show up and bless every meal at the church. I loved sharing lunches with my late friend, Clinton, partly because he always said the blessing and gave me a break! With time, I learned how to ask laity to offer the blessing at church events. When someone offers to pray, as Clinton did, it feels so good to receive in a profession where we are constantly giving.
3. Write it down.
"You're too young to have to write things down," an elderly parishioner once said as I walked around with pen and paper in my pocket. I told him that age had nothing to do with my writing things down. Important information often reaches pastors in drive-by moments. Someone pops in the office and calls out the date of an upcoming surgery. In the hand-shaking line after church, someone asks for prayer for a relative. While I try to write things down, I always breathe a sigh of relief when people write down the information for me--either with pen and paper or over email. It takes more effort than simply telling me, but that effort makes following through much easier.
4. Talk about fun stuff.
Social events are wonderful opportunities to visit with church members and get to know them better. These are the most fun--and most sincere--experiences for me when we engage in conversation about anything other than church. Topics can include movies, family, music, sports, hobbies... anything that is a break from church business. Pastors do serious work, but we can't take ourselves too seriously. Instead of talking about the hymn choices for Sunday, ask me about the time I turned down the chance to be in a George Clooney movie.
5. Ask, "What can we do for each other?"
Over the past two weeks, since my dog and I were attacked by a pit bull, I have heard the question, "What can I do for you?" from concerned parishioners often. This question is at the heart of Pastor Appreciation Month: being present and available, extending help and support. As we engage in these practices of appreciation, the question becomes, "what can we do for each other?"
Whatever our vocations or callings, may we be sensitive to each other's needs. May we seek to express gratitude for each other in action as well as words. May we rejoice in the Lord, who calls and equips us to support each other as the body of Christ.
all good things to each of you,