Kris BarnettKristopher Barnett, Ministry Tools

For many folks, October means colored leaves, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, cool weather, football games, and the World Series.  Those of us who serve in ministry have another special affinity for the month of October; it is Pastor Appreciation Month.  Don’t ask me who made this determination but I have a hunch that greeting card companies and Christian bookstores joined forces.  Regardless of the origin, most pastors greatly appreciate pastor appreciation month.

During pastor appreciation month, many churches affirm the ministry of their ministers.  Some churches send the pastor affirming cards, which is a welcome relief from the anonymous letters that pastors occasionally receive.  Others give gifts for pastor appreciation month.  I once received a gas grill from a church I pastored.  Other churches express appreciation in creative ways.  I heard about a church where families in the congregation signed up to provide dinner for the ministers and their families.  After everyone signed up the ministerial staff received a meal each day of the month.  If your love language is eating, feel free to anonymously forward the previous sentences to the personnel committee at your church!

Of course, not all churches excel at affirmation.  In fact, some churches do a pretty pathetic job.  These churches are like the husband who came to marriage counseling with his wife.  When the wife announced that her husband had not told her he loved her since their wedding day twenty-five years earlier, the husband replied, “I told her I loved her the day we got married and I’ll let her know if my feelings ever change.”  The church assumes that the minister feels appreciated.  They assume the minister knows of the congregation’s affections.  Of course, assumed appreciation discourages more than it encourages.

Calvin Miller wrote of this in his excellent memoirs, Life is Mostly Edges.  Upon leaving the pastorate for a teaching position, Miller and his wife received cards from their congregation.   Tired from the trip, he planned to wait to read the cards, but his wife decided to open one.  I’ll let him describe what happened:

A fifty dollar bill dropped out!

We were both stunned.

‘Read me another one,’ I said.

She did, and a second fifty dollar bill fell out!

This was my idea of a box of thank you notes!

We stayed up in the wee hours of the morning.  There was in excess of ten thousand dollars in the box of notes.  This utterly took me by surprise.  I had no idea they were taking up a ‘love offering’ for me.

‘I guess they loved us more than we thought they did.  Will somebody please tell me why God’s people, who surfeit under a mighty surge of God’s grace, have so much trouble telling other people they are loved?’ Barb wondered….

‘All that time they loved us,’ she said, ‘they just never let on….I wonder how many preachers resign their churches because nobody ever let on,’ she said.

I wondered too.  I wondered all through the night.

I wondered all the next day.

These seventeen years later, I still wake up at midnight wondering.[1]

Perhaps you serve at a church that does not “let on” that they love you.    Perhaps another October has passed without the slightest overtone of appreciation.  Like a child with no Christmas presents on December 25th you can’t help but wonder why they do not “let on” that they love you.  If you resemble these remarks, please accept these timely reminders:

  • Appreciate the affirmers. While the church as a whole might flounder in the area of appreciation, you can likely think of individuals who consistently pour affirmation into your life.  They might be a part of your family, other staff members or even ministers who serve at other churches.  Thank God for these individuals and thank them for being a blessing in your life.
  • Assume the best.  Not everyone excels at appreciation.  Some never “let on” that they like you because they do not know how.  Remember, that this might reflect more on their capacity for encouragement than their affection for you.  Don’t mistake silence for animosity.
  • Model affirmation.  Paul instructs Timothy to rebuke and reprove the church, but he also instructs him to exhort or encourage the church as well (1 Tim 4:2).  Sometimes our ministries major on rebuke to such a great extent that our people never hear encouragement.  How often do you encourage your congregation?  Make sure that your ministry cultivates encouragement.
  • Remember your Audience.  In the church growth movement the term target audience refers to the individuals a ministry aims to reach.  This terminology causes us to forget that we serve an audience of one.  Even if we do not receive another card, meal, or pat on the back in this world, our ministries are not in vain.  We do not serve for the approval and applause of men.  We serve to hear the ultimate affirmation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

[1] Calvin Miller, Life is Mostly Edges: A Memoir (Thomas Nelson, Nashville: 2008), 289-290.