This post is cloned from the Living Leadership blog for which I wrote it - I'm hoping that by posting here it might reach more people who aren't pastors.
This Sunday is Clergy Appreciation Day—9 October. It’s also known as Pastor Appreciation Day. The cynical among you are probably saying, “What next?! Another excuse for greeting card companies to cash in?” Well, whatever you think of designating a special date for it, clergy or pastor appreciation can hardly be a bad idea. So, let me ask you some questions.
• Do you appreciate your minister?
• Would your minister know that you appreciate them? Or . . .
• If you are a minister, do you feel appreciated?
In our experience in Living Leadership, leaders are often chronically under-encouraged. I suspect that also runs true for many church members. Recently, someone suggested to me that many younger preachers only have one way of applying the Bible. The point of every sermon seems to be, “you need to try harder and do better”. That may well be a legitimate application to draw from some Bible passages, but I don’t think we can say it’s the point of every portion of Scripture. Nor is it true that we don’t need other messages, including that precious thing we call “encouragement”.
A little appreciation goes a long way.
It’s a familiar saying, isn’t it? And I’m confident that you know how true it is in your own life.
Psychological research backs it up. Studies published in March 2022 found that an attitude gratitude can reduce our tendency to objectify others. The researchers defined objectification as, “treating others merely as things or tools while denying their personhood”. Sadly, this tendency to treat people as a means to an end can creep into ministry, as I have blogged previously. To guard against it, these studies say, we should cultivate gratitude. By showing appreciation, we become people who are less likely to objectify others.
So, ministers, encourage your people, when you’re preaching and in pastoral encounters. If you’re a church member, don’t forget to encourage your minister. It’s so important to let them know they are appreciated.
It seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? So what seems to be the problem? Why do ministers feel unappreciated?
Critical comments stick more easily and for longer than positive feedback. This is especially true when we feel overworked and tired.
Cultural communication styles can sometimes cause harm. We can be overly reserved or pitifully superficial. Banter can be fun, but it can also bring people down if we are never sincere.
Church members often underestimate the amount of time and effort that leaders pour into their job. Some make a superficial judgement based simply on what they see.
We find it easier to praise people to others rather than to their face. Sadly, the praise sometimes never reaches the one praised. In other words, the encouragement never reaches the ears that need to hear it.
Some church members fear that praising a pastor might breed pride or complacency. They erroneously believe that encouragement will negatively affect their humility and dampen their motivation. This simply isn’t true.
Some church members hold unjustified beliefs and unbiblical ideas. For example, they believe that “it’s my minister’s job to keep my spiritual fervour”. Or, “if a pastor is doing the job well, the church will inevitably grow”. When things aren’t going well, resentment grows towards the minister.
Finally, there is old-fashioned jealousy, rivalry and competitiveness.
If you’re a church member, I wonder if any of these apply to you.
It’s worth saying at this point that I’m not saying that all ministers need to be drenched in unconditional positive affirmation at all times. I’m also not arguing that when ministers behave badly, they shouldn’t be disciplined. Of course they should.
Ministers need godly support and encouragement. They need wise counsellors who can both admonish and encourage. They need to hear the truth spoken in love. That means we shouldn’t tell ministers their sermons are wonderful when they aren’t. It means we should provide honest, loving feedback. If their hearts are in the right place, they will appreciate it.
That caveat established, let me suggest three ways to show appreciation for your leader.
DON’T JUST THANK THEM FOR WHAT THEY DO. APPRECIATE WHO THEY ARE.
Encouraging feedback often focuses on what a leader does rather than on who they are. I scanned the internet for advice on how to show appreciation on “Clergy Appreciation Day.” It was discouraging, to say the least. “You are the best pastor ever” is both ridiculous and unhelpful. “We appreciate your messages every Sunday” is slightly better, but still falls short. It focuses exclusively on what the minister does. Instead, the most meaningful feedback should focus on the leader’s character. If you see Christ-like qualities in them—compassion, gentleness, wisdom, faithfulness, humility—let them know. And be specific. “I truly appreciate how thoughtful and kind you were last week, when you called after my mother died. Thank you.” That would warm any leaders’ heart. Yes, it’s an action, but the focus is on the leader’s character that produced the action.
DON’T JUST THANK THEM, THANK GOD. APPRECIATE GOD’S WORK IN THEM.
In our culture, it is generally deemed polite to thank people for what they do for us. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but what about an additional dimension? St. Paul often showed his appreciation for others by offering thanksgiving to God for their service. Leaders love to see their church members growing, so when they hear a person say “I thank God for who he has made you and how you use the gifts he has given you,” that goes a long way. It keeps the focus on God and his glory.
DON’T JUST SAY IT, SHOW IT. APPRECIATE YOUR LEADER IN TANGIBLE WAYS
Words are powerful. But so are actions.
Appreciative words bless the soul. Actions bless the body. Words can sometimes lack sincerity and they are easily offered. Actions require some effort. So, if you’re a church member, sending a card shows you care. Offering to baby-sit or sending a retail voucher—anonymously is best—are things that touch a leader’s heart. Confectionary may not be good for the teeth, but most leaders enjoy a little sugar!
Two final suggestions.
PASTORAL REFRESHMENT CONFERENCES
Why not pay for your minister to attend one of Living Leadership's annual Pastoral Refreshment Conferences? They are spaces designed to encourage and fortify your leader(s). Spouses are encouraged to come too. If the price is too high for you, why not club together with others, or ask your church to provide the funds?
LEADERSHIP COMMITMENTS SCHEME
Consider signing up to Living Leadership's Leadership Commitments Scheme. It includes a Code of Best Practice in Caring for Leaders. By subscribing to the Scheme, you show your commitment to work towards appreciative working conditions for your ministers. In addition, the church gets access to a range of toolkits that help embed that culture, including one for ministry reviews.
October 9. Clergy Appreciation Day. Pastor Appreciation Day.
Whether you’re a minister or a church member, may I encourage you today by leaving you with some advice from the Apostle Paul.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thess. 5.11
The Lord bless you as you serve him today.
1. Insert the title used in your community for those who provide spiritual leadership.
2. If you’re a minister, and you feel brave, you’re welcome to forward this post to your church members. Just blame me if they don’t like it!