From what I’ve read on church signs and Facebook, October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I would think most pastors are like me in that we have little expectation that a month “proclaimed” to show appreciation to one’s pastor will result in much appreciation being expressed. It might sell more cards at the local Christian bookstore, but realistically, who pays attention to all the other “proclaimed” identities of various months. I Googled “months with special events” and got a long list on special months. October alone had 65 entries, including: Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month; National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; National Chili Month; National Go On a Field Trip Month; National Popcorn Poppin’ Month; Vegetarian Month; International Strategic Planning Month; and, Self Promotion Month!
Cynthia and I did receive a card from a former church member. It made us feel good to be thought of, and brought to mind warm remembrances of the person who sent it. But we know that appreciation happens (or doesn’t happen) as life is lived, not according to some arbitrary monthly calendar. For instance, I got my “Pastor Appreciation Month” recognition just the other night.
It had been one of those “full and frustrating” days. Because of sinus trouble and fitful sleep, I started the day by missing an early morning prayer meeting. Feeling bad about that, I rushed through the day trying to stay on top of my list of contacts to make and things to do. That evening I greeted people at one event at the church and then as I went into a nominations meeting, I remembered another “to do.”
A church member’s father had died and the visitation was that night, in a town about an hour’s drive away. I still didn’t feel the best and tried to convince myself it wasn’t worth the drive, even though I knew I couldn’t make the funeral the next day. But, determined to end the day better than I started it, I left the committee meeting early and got to the funeral home just at the announced closing time for the visitation. Cars were still in the parking lot, so I knew I could at least speak to the church member briefly.
As I stepped inside the front door I looked into a room full of family and friends and saw the church member speaking to someone. What happened next fulfilled all the hopes of a Pastor Appreciation Month. As she turned and saw me, her face lit up with delight (and maybe a little disbelief) as she proclaimed, “My preacher is here!” She immediately came to take my arm and lead me around the room introducing me to all her family members. She was genuinely appreciative of my presence.
I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that the real impact of my presence was not me, or my personality. As her “preacher” I fulfilled a representative role and my presence told her on a subconscious level that her church had not forgotten her, nor indeed had God forgotten her. Her appreciation for that “presence” created in me a feeling of gratitude – a thankfulness that ministry allows me to fulfill that role, and to be with people as a small expression of God’s own faithfulness.
Now, if you’re one of those who takes Pastor Appreciation Month to heart – keep sending those cards and notes and gift cards to your pastor. Such encouragements are powerful, and needed. Ministry is so relationship laden. People’s expectations are sometimes unrealistically high, and often conflicting, so that the weekly diet of every minister includes some disappointment or discouragement. But, as important as the notes are, every pastor will tell you – we don’t do it for the cards. We do it for the opportunity to “be there,” to participate in God’s message of love, and to experience with others the amazing assurance that comes from the awareness of God’s presence. Soli Deo Gloria!