I first learned that October was Pastor Appreciation Month when some parishioners gave me a basket of beautiful, yellow mums, with a sign in the soil that said “WELCOME.” I was grateful for their thoughtful, kind expression—but also confused by the “Welcome” because I’d been their pastor for a few years already.
Regardless, I “welcomed” their tangible appreciation. I’ve tried to keep track—and have often written about— particular words of encouragement or surprise gifts that have expressed gratitude for the work I love. When we experience appreciation, we can’t help but express appreciation for one another’s beloved work.
Last year, in thinking about Pastor Appreciation Month, I offered “Five Easy Ways to Appreciate Your Pastor,” based on my own experience, but I tried to offer those expressions across occupations, too. This year, as I’ve counted blessings and reflected, I offer a different way of showing appreciation: changing some phrases pastors often hear.
You only work one day a week (wink, wink).
Much of pastoral work involves serious matters, so we preachers need to laugh as much as possible. Most every time someone has said this to me, it has been in the spirit of fun. I thought twice about it, though, when a youth came up to me and asked what I did during the week. After I explained some of my pastoral duties, she said, “Why does my dad say you only work one day a week if you work …everyday?”
Sometimes joking doesn’t translate as well as we think, especially across generations. I hope that younger generations will continue to hear and answer calls to ministry, which requires us to think about how we speak of ministry.
Try this instead: If you’re wanting to make your pastor laugh, tell them a funny story you read or witnessed. No wink necessary.
2. You’re too pretty/handsome/cute to be a pastor.
I think this is supposed to be a compliment, but it’s never made sense to me. Can physical appearance be a detriment to pastoring? People have said this to me, but I’ve heard it said to many others, too. I even saw a lady lightly slap a male pastor on the face as she grinned and said he was too cute to be a preacher. Once again, most of the intentions are good, but it’s not particularly funny or helpful.
Try this instead: Offer all people genuine compliments not only about appearances but about their gifts in action. Or maybe try, “You look nice.” And end the sentence there.
3. You’re on the clock (tap the wristwatch, wink, wink).
This is one of my all-time favorites. Nothing will make me drag out a sermon more than if someone tells me I am on a time schedule, whether joking or not! Now, if your pastor is preaching for hours on end and not making any sense, show appreciation by taking him/her out to coffee and ask what’s going on. The Bible tells us there’s a season for everything, and even the best sermon needs to end at some point!
As for tapping on the wrist, if you want to get a point across about time, tap your cell phone, not the wristwatch. That’s many people’s timepiece of choice nowadays. And can we retire winking?
Try this instead: Share stories that you would enjoy hearing in a sermon. Make suggestions of worship series that would hold your attention. Again, if you are trying to make the pastor chuckle, recommend a funny movie or book.
4. Why don’t you preach/teach/lead/etc. the way <Insert name of past minister> did?
Since The United Methodist Church has an itinerant system, we’ve had to develop ways to deal healthily with transition in leadership. Ministers have learned to speak positively of predecessors and successors in congregations, to offer gratitude for them, and to recognize that there is grief involved in change. Celebrating past leadership is a good thing, but it need not be the refrain. Comparisons easily move us from the present and into the past.
Try this instead: Ask why the current pastor leads/preaches/teaches a certain way. Inquire about his/her vision for the church. For every memory shared of past leadership, include a question of curiosity about future leadership.
5. You don’t remember me, do you?
No, I don’t.
Guilty as charged: I may have forgotten that I met you. I’m guessing this is true across occupations because we’re all by nature unable to remember everyone. When you meet one person in a crowd after a funeral, but then run into them on a Saturday morning at the gas station, the mental dots may not connect as quickly as we’d like. Here is an example, like #4, where a question would work much better as a statement, and the awkwardness stays minimal.
Try this instead: I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at _____. Everybody wants to be remembered, but sometimes all of us need help in the remembering.
Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, but let’s also take seriously how we speak to each other. Our deep appreciation for one another shines best when we communicate clearly with each other.
No winks needed. Wristwatch optional.
all good things to each of you,
P.S. Here is an example of some great phrases to try with your pastor. My young friend, Wyatt, made these for me a few years ago. I am guessing he was around 6 years old at the time, but he is an expert in the art of appreciation. Also, I think the artwork on the left is of me and my dog. Be like Wyatt.