Is it helpful to set aside a special month for pastor appreciation? October is the month designated “Clergy Appreciation Month.” But what are the possible downsides to such an occasion?
Church members are clearly taught in Scripture to show appreciation for their pastors. And I have no doubt that the health of many congregations would improve if church members took more seriously the call to, “…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).
There’s a clear connection between congregational response to leaders and how it affects the life of a congregation and 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).
Pastors often battle discouragement in their work. Clergy burnout is a serious problem and we know that a pastor’s appreciation month will not correct it. 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? Is this a set up for pastors to wrongly measure appreciation or to focus too much on being appreciated?
I pastor a large church yet 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 don’t promote the emphasis and I don’t think it’s wise to measure appreciation by what happens during one month. Too much focus on being appreciated is a dangerous trap for anyone. It’s easy to feel unappreciated but a desire for appreciation can become an idol that controls you in harmful ways.
Some pastors are given many gifts and cards during pastor’s appreciation month. These Churches tend to put a greater emphasis on the occasion. But when other pastors (whose churches don’t do much for them), hear about the way others experience appreciation, they’re easily tempted to feel unappreciated. I realize this cannot be blamed on an effort to encourage pastor appreciation with a special month. Yet we must be aware of the traps associated with it. It’s all too common to feel as if you’re taken for granted as a pastor.
We all value and need 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. The many hours pastors pour into individuals are unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible 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 gratitude. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (Luke 17:11-17).
Churches should be taught to appreciate their leaders and leaders must not allow a desire for appreciation to rule their hearts. Leaders who rely too much on being appreciated or on approval ratings will likely abrogate their roles when needed most. I recommend that you stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself.
As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. 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).