October is generally recognized as Pastor Appreciation Month. At least, that’s the impression I got while visiting the local Christian book store. They seemed to be capitalizing on a lot of “I love my pastor” junk marked at premium prices. (Smart shoppers will stock up in November for next year!) Don’t misunderstand me. Pastors love that kind of thing. A pecan pie left on his desk or a new coffee mug filled with candies will always remind your minister that you are thinking of him. However, I want to suggest three oft-overlooked ways you can and should encourage your pastor in October and beyond.
Allow your pastor to be real. Give your pastor the gift of allowing him to be himself. Your pastor does not live some mystically charmed life without challenges and temptations. He struggles with doubts and stress and finances and relationships – just like you do. Only he lives with these struggles and the burden of being all things to everyone in the congregation. One group wants him to lighten up and be more approachable. Another group wants him to grow up and be more serious. Both groups can’t have it their way.
Consider allowing your shepherd to be who he is – who God made him to be. Enjoy him for his own idiosyncrasies. If his humor is quirky, laugh and stop rolling your eyes. If his style is more bookish, buy him an Amazon gift card and appreciate the intellect God has given him. Whether your pastor is extroverted or introverted, educated or earthy, organized or scattered, he is your pastor. God sovereignly placed that man in your life and in your church to aid in the process of your sanctification. Create a culture of love where your pastor is accepted as God made him. The next time you hear someone say, “I wish our pastor was more ______ (you fill in the blank),” tell them that you are personally glad that your pastor is who he is.
By the way, if you do create a culture where your pastor is allowed to step off the pedestal and be a real person, you will discover some wonderful byproducts. You may actually get to have a real relationship with him. I’m talking about a relationship beyond the cordialities of Sunday worship. I frequently sit at ball games with folks from my congregation. They let me yell at referees and shout obnoxiously loud encouragements at the players. And we have the best time in the world doing it together!
Another surprising benefit of allowing your pastor to be real is that you free him up to empathize with you. Only when pastors feel the freedom to walk in transparency can they share with you how your struggle has also been a chapter in their journey. Common struggles bond us together, and, in a misery-loves-company sort of way, powerfully encourage us. Your pastor will never be transparent with you if he feels threatened or insecure.
Show up. We live in an era where faithful church members may attend church 60% of the time. More than ever before, alternate Sunday activities overcrowd a family’s calendar. Recreational activities, youth sports, and work obligations limit church participation. Despite the impact this has on your own personal spiritual journey, limited church participation affects pastors.
Pastors don’t write sermons or design worship services in a bubble; our relationships with our congregation impact how we think and plan. I can remember numerous occasions where I have written sermons that I knew would help a church member deal with an issue in their life only to notice their spot empty on Sunday. Imagine making a gourmet meal for someone you love. You carefully plan, sparing no expense. Only when it is time to serve the meal, they are unexpectedly absent. How would that make you feel?
Your pastor, if he is a good one, does what he does for God’s glory. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t gratified when he sees God working in your heart. Your faithful attendance and participation in church life gives him increased opportunities to observe God’s grace in you. Few things will encourage your pastor more than observing your sanctification!
Do ministry with him. Pastoring can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet. This fact is especially true in churches without a plurality of elders. In churches where pastors operate solo, they usually are tasked with doing more than is humanly possible. In my own church – a healthy church with biblical eldership and shared ministry – I never leave work with everything crossed off my To-Do list. Pastors in more toxic environments are often so overwhelmed that they don’t even bother to make a list!
Nothing will invigorate your pastor more than seeing you coming alongside him and doing ministry with him or in his stead. Ask what hospital visits you can make for the church. (And if someone besides your pastor comes to see you in the hospital, accept it as loving ministry from your church. Don’t selfishly complain that your pastor didn’t come.) Volunteer to check on absentee members. If you see facility issues, address them – without brining them before your already over-worked pastor.
Churches that create a shared ministry will almost always have a more vibrant pulpit ministry. When you share the load of ministry, you create hours in the week that your pastor can use to study and pray. Trust me here – nothing will make your church come to life more than regular Gospel-saturated, prayed-over, Holy Spirit-inspired preaching! Most pastors are not trying to deliver bad sermons. They are simply doing the best they can to meet the demands of ministry and sermon preparation is shunted to the side.
It’s Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor needs to be appreciated. Buy him the coffee mug or the restaurant gift certificate. Those things are deeply appreciated. But go further this year. Consider creating a culture in your church where your pastor can be himself, show up faithfully for church, and do ministry with your pastor. I guarantee that these three things will hit the mark of encouraging your pastor!