Pastor appreciation month is approaching. This concept started back in the 1990’s by Focus on the Family, largely because of all the pastor “burn-out” stories that were accumulating. Having been a pastor myself for six years, I can attest to the fact that being a pastor is can be one of the most emotionally draining calling. As a result, I have become much more sensitive to what pastors go through emotionally (and behind the scenes), than what I was aware of before. (In fact I’m pretty sure I was one who caused emotional drain for pastors unfortunately).
What I am referring to however, might surprise you. It’s not the weekly preaching and teaching of God’s Word that leads to pastor burnout or takes the real toll on pastors. Most pastors would in fact agree that that is the highlight of their week! It’s also not even visitations or praying for the sick, or counseling those who come with need and issues. It’s not even so much dealing with funerals or the tragedies that occur. These aspects of pastoral ministry do take an emotional toll to be sure. But they are not really what lead to pastors burning out and not feeling appreciated.
It’s all that happens in between, often behind the scenes, that is the most emotionally taxing.
What really drains pastors emotionally are the continual negative e-mails, threatening phone calls, false-accusations, personal agenda’s, church-gossip, constant criticism and opposition from within; usually over personality differences, preaching style, petty disagreements or offenses that lead to division and people leaving the church; and/or the arguing and complaining over non-essential issues and non-biblical matters. It is the unnecessary church drama/selfishness that has nothing to do with it’s real purpose or mission.
It can also be the gnawing feeling of not being good enough, comparisons to other preachers or churches, or unrealistic expectations placed on pastors and their families, by congregants (or sometimes themselves). Most church issues are not over real issues like false teaching or sin, but personality differences, personal preferences or agenda’s and opinions. This is a major contributor to pastoral burnout.
The above paragraph is not to over-analyze or critique whether that’s true for your pastor or not. Granted, different pastors have different personalities and temperaments, are in different seasons and have different outlooks. But having been a pastor, and relating to other pastors around the world on that level, the number who struggle with discouragement, (often revolving around these issues) is quite high. The real point is this: be kind to your pastor.
The word kind means something far more than “being nice.” The word used for “kind” in the Bible and in the Greek language is a word that means “to show oneself useful.” There are far too many “nice” people in churches who are actually anything but “kind.” Real kindness means that you look for ways to meet real needs in others lives.
One of the greatest needs and ways to show kindness to your pastor is to find any and every way to encourage them instead of pointing out their mistakes, grumbling about non essentials or aspects of their style or personality you don’t like. (Sin and false teaching is an entirely different matter. See verse at end of this post on how sin is to be dealt with).
The point is this: pastors need more people to be a “Barnabas” to them. I challenge you to determine that you are going to be a “Barnabas” to your pastor and his family. Barnabas was the nickname given to a man in the early church that means “son of encouragement.” He was recognized by others as one who was always coming alongside of, and finding every way, to encourage others. There are too many “discouragers” and discouragements that pastors face. Be a Barnabas instead.
Support your pastor(s) in every way possible. (This also isn’t to say you have to agree with every position or decision or can’t voice a differing thought in situations). But it is to say they are there to shepherd you and lead the church in the ways they believe God is calling them. Support them in that vision so long as it is Biblical. Differentiate between personal preferences verse Biblical truth. Be there for them. Uphold them in prayer. Show up to serve instead of just to be served. Free them up from tasks that do not revolve around preaching, teaching and prayer.
The pastor is not “hired” to do all the work for the church. It’s actually the opposite. Their role as a leader and shepherd is to see people maturing in the faith and equipped for “every good work.” This can be a big source of pastoral burnout; a congregation that won’t grow up spiritually and “servantly;” that only keeps pews warm, while expecting the pastor to do all the “ministry.” That’s not the model laid out in Scripture however (see Ephesians 4).
Another very important way is to tell them how their ministry or messages impacted your life. (Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” –Galatians 6:6). Most pastors spend hours preparing sermons, but then wonder if their messages really made or make any difference in people’s lives. Often they only hear criticism or vague comments like “good message.” Be specific in what God spoke to your heart or did in your life through a message. Don’t worry about giving them a “big head”; most sincere pastors I know are already too hard on themselves and insecure behind the scenes, no matter what confidence they might exude publicly. They need to know that God is using them and that the church is growing in their faith and as disciples obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And please don’t feel it is your God’ given duty or assignment to correct their grammar! The last thing a pastor wants to hear after preaching his heart out is correction from the grammar police. The message that sends is that you missed the whole point of the message. You were more concerned with how they said it, then what they felt God was trying to speak to your heart or into your life, from His word. Be gracious. A pastor hasn’t been called to be a “professional” but an obedient servant to God’s call on their life and His Word.
Pastors also simply need time to rest, be personally refreshed and renewed. In my opinion, I believe pastors should be allowed, with understanding, to take Sabbaticals every so often, sometimes even for a month or summer or even year, without feeling like their “job” is on the line. They need their congregation to support them and understand them and pray for them.
Another way a church can show appreciation to their pastor is by blessing them with gift cards out to eat with their family or joining together to send them on a vacation with expenses paid. Or maybe you own a second home. Offer access to that home for free to the pastor and his family. Rally together to also invest in a pastors marriage and family. Bless them with a weekend away for a marriage retreat or seminar or family time. Most pastors and their families are not living the high life. They make many sacrifices to serve you. Many are actually very under-paid. Be intentional in finding ways to bless them and their family. These gestures can go a very, very long way. There were people at the church I pastored who would do this for us from time to time and it was such an encouragement and blessing.
In fact, find ways to serve and encourage not just the pastor, but the pastors wife too. Often they are overlooked, judged unfairly with undo expectations, and face their own battles that they may feel unable to share as openly as others in the congregation for fear of judgment. Plus they have to live with the “pastor!” They have to deal with their husband’s discouragement and others comments about them that are often not complimentary. They see him with his guard down and the toll some of these things take on him. They hear or see how they are mistreated but expected to not react or be hurt. These things affect the whole family, including the kids.
If you are another woman in the church, treat the pastors wife out to eat, not to gossip, but to bless and encourage. Open up your home, instead of always expecting the pastors family to open up their home. Be the church to their family too and recognize they have the same basic human needs and feelings as anyone else.
In short, pastors (and their families) need to be appreciated and honored, not just once a month, but continually and consistently. The Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, in fact commands it. Therefore, it is actually not merely sin against a pastor, but sin against Jesus Himself, the Great Shepherd, who gave the church pastors and leaders, not for our wants and desires, but for the maturity and growth of the church into Christ-likeness (see Ephesians 4).
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. -1 Timothy 5:17-21