Churches suffer when the people fail to honor their leaders.
Members of Churches are clearly commanded to show appreciation for their pastors. But is it helpful to set aside a special month for pastor appreciation? Could it (in some cases) do more harm than good?
What does Scripture teach?
Scripture makes a clear connection between congregational response to leaders and how it affects a leader’s work. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
The health of many congregations would improve if church members took more seriously these words from the apostle Paul, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
I often talk with other pastors and can tell you that they battle discouragement in their work. Clergy burnout is a serious problem that a pastor’s appreciation month will not correct. Of course, this doesn’t mean that an annual reminder to appreciate pastors is a bad idea. But what happens when people don’t take it seriously — or as seriously as a pastor thinks they should? Does this set up an opportunity for pastors to arbitrarily measure appreciation or to wrongly focus on being appreciated?
I pastor a large church and I receive very few cards or expressions of appreciation in relation to pastor’s appreciation month. Does this mean I am not appreciated? I choose not to see it that way. We choose not to promote the occasion and I refuse to measure appreciation by what happens during one month. Furthermore, too much focus on being appreciated can be a dangerous trap. It’s easy for all of us to feel unappreciated and we must not allow a desire to be appreciated to be an idol.
Traps in pastoral appreciation
Some pastors are given many gifts and cards during pastor’s appreciation month. These Churches often put a greater emphasis on the occasion. Then when other pastors (whose churches don’t do much for pastors appreciation month), hear about all the appreciation shown to their colleagues, they become tempted to feel unappreciated. I realize this scenario cannot be blamed on an effort to encourage pastor appreciation with a special month, but we must be aware of the traps that could be associated with it. It’s easy to feel like you are taken for granted in pastoral work. And this possibility only increases with the length of one’s tenor because of the old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
I appreciate encouragement and my work would be a bit harder without it. Yet if a leader depends too much on being appreciated and encouraged, he will risk compromise in his leadership. The many hours pastors pour into individuals are unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible expression of appreciation. Sometimes this is true because people feel you are supposed to be there for them or they think you’re being paid to help them. Others are so consumed with their own problems that they fail to show appropriate appreciation to those who help them. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (see: Luke 17:11-17).
So churches need to be taught to appreciate their leaders (see: Galatians 6:6; I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and leaders must not allow the idol of appreciation to rule their hearts. But leaders must guard their hearts when thinking about appreciation. Leaders who rely too much on appreciation or approval ratings will be tempted to abrogate their roles when needed most. Stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. Grow in your identity and security in Christ before entering the arena of leadership.
As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. But leadership in the footsteps of Jesus will always involve mixed response. Effective leaders need a tough hide and a tender heart. If your hide is too tough or your heart too tender, you’ll get hurt and possibly compromise your calling (see: Colossians 3:23; I Corinthians 10:31).
Scriptures to protect you from misguided perspective
- “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
- “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
- “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).
- “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…. so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).