Dick Lincoln once said, "Church at its best is as good as it gets, and church at its worst is as bad as it gets." No one understands this reality more than pastors and their families.
Every October I consider writing a post about Pastor Appreciation Month. However, being a pastor, it seems awkward. John MacArthur said it well when teaching his church about honoring pastor-elders, "I feel a little bit awkward up here telling you that you need to honor elders of which I am one. Obviously I could be accused of a conflict of interests and I could also be accused of having a self-serving motive. So I want to put in an immediate disclaimer on any of those things. I'm trying to teach you the Word of God."
I will bite the bullet this year and write a post with the hope of eventually providing encouragement to some man of God out there serving his church. Hopefully, persons from other congregations will read it and the article will spur them on toward love and good deeds toward their pastors.
Worthy of Double Honor
Through the years we have tried to teach our children to honor certain people. We have explained that to honor someone means "to treat them special." The Webster Dictionary defines honor as "high estimation, respect, consideration."
One of those persons I believe deserving honor are pastors of congregations. Michael Miller shares great insights in his article The Importance of Honoring Your Minister.
Jesus said in John 13:20, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives [or welcomes] whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
There is some correlation between the way we treat those who represent the gospel and the Word of God with their daily jobs and the way that we treat Jesus. They handle the Word of God and teach it to your family weekly. They pray for you regularly, talking to Jesus on your behalf. Treat them with honor. In some way, if you love your pastor you are loving Jesus. If you beat up your pastor, you are beating up Jesus.
The Bible says that the pastor-elders are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). John MacArthur explains from this verse, "Paul here is saying then that you are to make sure that one who is over you in the Lord, who feeds you and leads you, is honored. An elder is to receive honor, that is respect and remuneration as fitting and necessary. That forms a true estimate of his worth in a tangible way."
MacArthur shares more from God's Word on the subject of honor as he explains 1 Timothy 5:17 in his sermon The Sheep's Responsibility:
"So, there's kind of a flow here. Elders are worthy of honor. Elders are worthy of honor with remuneration...hard working excellent elders are worthy of double honor. Hard working and excellent elders who major in preaching and teaching are particularly worthy of respect and remuneration. So every faithful shepherd is to be appreciated, respected, admired, honored and supported.
The first thing that the congregation is to give to the leaders, the elders, pastors, is respect that incorporates care in remuneration...to support them, to double honor them, being generous, not just a bare minimum so they have to scrape by, but showing great generosity and respect and admiration to them knowing they will be good stewards of what you give them.
What is the congregation's responsibility? Respect, admiration, honor, appreciation. Secondly, and this builds right on that, esteem your shepherds, esteem them. He says down in verse 13, "And that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work."
Paul exhorted believers to show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
A godly pastor with good character who teaches the Word of God and leads the church is worthy of your honor.
Pastors are Struggling
Pastors deal with realities probably only shared by politicians. The critics can seem endless. People find fault if a pastor takes more than two Sundays off a year, if the church pays for him to go on a retreat, or if he doesn't "meet their needs." People often don't treat pastors like they are real people, and it takes an emotional and psychological toll on the pastor and his wife.
Many times people he thought were his friends pull away emotionally when things get tough.
Much has been said and written in recent years about the current negative state of affairs for many pastors. The statistics are staggering:
In August of 2010, the New York Times ran an article about pastors. Included in the article was the following: "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."
In my own denomination's state convention, leaders have become alarmed by the suicide rate of pastors in our state.
Pastors leaving the ministry share that their top two reasons for leaving are (1) they are tired of dealing with unrealistic expectations of people, and (2) it is difficult for them to provide financially for their families.
I have heard through the years of more than one CEO of companies who became pastors. When asked which was harder, they always say pastoring. And the reason given is the same. In a business you have employees. In a church, you work with volunteers and have to deal with their emotional expectations.
Why Pastors Quit, shares on his blog Expastors, "Although there were many aspects of serving in full-time ministry that I appreciated, there were more things that happened along the way that made a negative impact on both myself and my family. It took many years of forgiving myself and others and getting plugged in to a healthy church before I really began to heal from the hurt."
I once heard Pastor Jack Hayford say to a group of pastors, There's not a pastor in America who doesn't wake up at least one Monday a month and say to himself, "I've got to find something else to do with my life." No, his statement should not be taken literally, but it does raise the point that most pastors struggle periodically to stay on the altar. They became pastors because of a sense of calling, and they have to keep that sense of calling before them.
My first year of full-time ministry, I met a salesman for Olan Mills. He shared with me that he was an ex-pastor and that his family got tired of living in what pastors call "the fish bowl." I remember thinking, "How sad," and not understanding what he meant. A decade and a half later I understand.
My mother, a pastor's daughter, told me years ago, I don't think anyone really understands what pastors and their families go through unless you have been one or been the child of one.
Because of these realities, pastors need your encouragement.
Pastors Need Encouragement
The word "encourage" simply means to fill with courage. When you encourage someone, you do or speak something into their life that fills them with courage.
Your pastor needs your encouragement. He may not admit it. He may not ask for it. But he needs the encouragement you can give him.
He has received the anonymous letter that scalded him. His wife has been criticized for any number of things. He has heard "why didn't you visit me?" - a title of a chapter in one of Thom Rainer's early books on church growth. He has been rejected by those who told him that he did not meet their expectations. And he has looked at his wife and children and thought, "I am sorry to put you through this. I should have been a banker." Yes, he needs your encouragement.
I grew up in a church that regularly honored and recognized their staff members. I recall various Sundays each year when staff members would be called up on the platform, recognized for a specific number of years of service, and given gifts of appreciation. I grew up hearing the story of how the young church plant that became Edwards Road Baptist Church, my home church, took up a love offering for their first pastor. When they called him to come be their pastor, they wanted to give money to him and his family to help make a down payment on a house in Greenville. That small congregation in the 1960's gave him $10,000. They had a great spirit of honoring the man of God.
The first church my wife and I served full-time worked at recognizing us in the fall. Every year they secretly took up love offerings for my family for Pastor Appreciation Month and again in December. Each year between the two offerings, they gave us between $4000-$5000. For a young, newly-married couple, that was a great tangible blessing. I remember our paying a car off with one of those love offerings.
I still have letters of thanksgiving and appreciation in my filing cabinet given to me years ago by church members. Some church members gifted artistically have given me pieces of original art they drew for me, which brings me joy. A few church members through the years faithfully sent my family gift cards to restaurants each year during PAM.
One year during October a church member realized that the windows in our house were all old and cracking. She called around to members of the church, asking for pledges to purchase windows. They soon surprised us and hired a man to replace every window in the house with new insulated windows. We felt loved by their tangible gift, and we remembered that gift many times as we looked out our new windows.
One church we served, though a good church in many ways, did a poor job of honoring their pastor publicly. I served as the associate pastor and did not expect recognition. However, it saddened me each year when October rolled around and the church did nothing to honor the senior pastor. He loved the church and worked hard to serve them. All of the years I worked for that church, the church recognized him publicly three times - and I initiated each of those recognitions for him.
The first time I asked the chairman of the finance team to meet me for lunch. I knew that the pastor wanted to take a cruise to Alaska, and I challenged the man to have the church take up an offering to make that happen, which they did. The second time was when the pastor was about to have his 25th anniversary at the church. The business administrator and I discussed the matter and knew that if we did not make it happen, no one was going to do anything publicly to honor him. So, we got the staff together and threw him a church-wide anniversary party that we planned from top to bottom. My wife drove to Haywood Mall to pick up the anniversary present that we picked out for the church to give him. And thirdly, on his 60th birthday, I emailed the leaders of the Personnel Team and Leadership Team and told them, The church needs to do something special for him this week.
Why did I initiate those three things? Because he deserved to be honored - and to be honored tangibly. Because it pleases the Lord to honor the pastor. Because it is good to show gratitude to the man responsible for leading the church - even if you don't agree with him all of the time. Because it encourages the pastor, and he needs encouragement.
Why don't some people think of honoring their pastor(s)? I think for some it is simply a casual attitude that takes the pastor for granted. They may not see the pastor as a gift that Jesus has given that local church (Eph. 4:7-12). How do we treat the gifts that Jesus gives us? Many people are ignorant of the stress and sacrifices that go along with the call into vocational ministry. They have the attitude, "He chose to do this for his life. Why should I help him out when no one helped me out?" Other people do not view the office of pastor as a professional position deserving respect, one that he spent years of schooling and money preparing to do. Instead, they see it as a work-for-hire one. I have sat in the local restaurant and heard it said, "We hired him, and we can fire him."
The apostle Paul, on the other hand, wrote about pastors, Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor [should be respected and paid well - New Living; should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium - Holman Christian Standard] , especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,”[a] and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (New King James Version)
One pastoral counselor recently wrote that pastors are going through a dry season in our country. Instead of working in opposition, church leaders, congregants, and pastors need to build bridges toward each other in love, respect, and unity.
What Can I Do?
Consider writing or emailing your pastor an encouraging note. Remember that hand-written ones tend to show more thought than emails. Pray for your pastor and his family regularly. One year on my birthday, a good friend told me that he decided to fast and pray the entire day in honor of my birthday, interceding on my behalf. Ask God to show you a specific, tangible way to show love to a pastor or church staff member in your life.
Years ago, Focus on the Family began encouraging churches to recognize their pastors in special ways during the month of October. Focus on the Family's website for pastors offers some great helps in planning ways to appreciate your pastor(s) during the month of October. Check it out here. They also offer a Guide to Clergy Appreciation Month.
And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
I will set this article to run all month at the top of the list in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month.