Only one month?
Seriously, this month is Pastor Appreciation Month. And church members all over the country are … well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing.
Ever since the Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy and urged honor “for those who labor in preaching and teaching,” church members have looked for ways to say thank you to their pastors.
A quick Google search revealed that it was actually Focus on the Family in 1994 that set the whole Pastor Appreciation Month thing in motion. That organization claimed it was appropriate to honor pastors “and their families” all year long, but they decided to set aside one month each year for “a special tangible tribute.”
I don’t think that the “tangible tribute” was ever specified, but I certainly have ideas, in case you’re looking for some.
When I was serving a church in New Jersey a long, long time ago, one of my close clergy friends was the pastor of the black Baptist church in town. Our friendship was an eye-opener to me. I had grown up in a culture that thought its pastors should be poor. A sack of potatoes left at the back door was about the only “tangible tribute” church members might imagine – and that was often in lieu of salary.
My pastor-friend Ron might have received the occasional sack of potatoes, but he received a great deal more. He drove a large Lincoln, he wore a dazzling Rolex watch, and he always seemed to have on a shiny, new suit. He told me that every year on the anniversary of his ordination his congregation would buy him a new suit – and a new dress for his wife.
I was driving an old, rusting Toyota at the time, so I mentioned all of this to my elders one night at a Session meeting, but nothing ever came of it. I came to realize that in some African American churches members want their pastor to look good, to have everything the members themselves aspire to. When he looked good, they looked good.
At the Presbyterian Church across town, I was expected to make do with what I had and be grateful for it. And I was. Most of the time.
What I’ve learned – over the last 32 years of ordained ministry – is that my work is appreciated a great deal more often than the work of most of my members. Along the way, churches have celebrated my marriage, the births of my children, the publication of my books, the beginnings and endings of my pastorates, and many other special times in my life. Beyond that I regularly receive touching and heart-felt notes from church members about sermons I preach and other things I do.
As I say, I am probably remembered more times and in more thoughtful ways than most of the members of my church. I am aware that many businesses do not recognize their employees – and hardly remember to say good-bye when they leave.
So, the truth is, I feel blessed. And some days I feel blessed beyond measure. If you come to my office I’ll show you a ceramic bowl on my shelf which contains all of the thank-you notes I’ve received in the last three years.
My bowl runneth over.