Okay, so some years ago, a former pastor decided to designate October as “Pastor Appreciation Month.” He got the word to the churches and a number of churches jumped on the bandwagon. So in many churches during October pastors are honored for their service. They receive cards of appreciation and gifts from the congregation. It’s a nice gesture, but I’ve never been very comfortable with it. It just seems a little self-serving for pastors to tell their congregations that it’s “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good thing to show appreciation to your pastor. But I’m partial to the more uninvited spontaneous acts of appreciation over the course of the year rather than some orchestrated “get out the appreciation” campaign. To each his own.
So can I turn the tables a little bit and declare October as “Congregation Appreciation Month”? We pastors can be quick to complain about our congregations. What if we decided to express our appreciation instead. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God." How about we pastors show appreciation instead?
You need to know that this is easier for me than for some pastors I know. God has blessed me with good churches to serve. Some pastors serve churches with demanding people. Not me. I’ve been blessed to serve churches with demanding challenges and opportunities and open doors that God placed before us. That’s a good thing, a faith-building thing—and so much better than churches that squabble over little things and find any excuse to take pot shots at their pastors. God has spared me from such congregations, so my view Is skewed. And could I suggest that these “difficult” churches skip the Pastor Appreciation Month and just give their pastor the month off from their bickering and their sniping and their griping? He or she would appreciate that a lot more than a nice card.
But I digress—back to “Congregation Appreciation Month.” I’ve been working in the church since the summer of 1975. Here’s a tip of the hat of appreciation to all the churches I’ve had the privilege to serve.
Thank you, First Baptist Church, Branson, MO, for allowing me to do campground ministry and assist the staff in the summers of ’75, ’76, and ’77. This is where I cut my teeth in ministry, learned about the inner workings of the church, and the discipline of every Sunday preaching. Your people loved me well.
Thank you, First Baptist, Fayetteville, AR, for giving me my first opportunity to serve on the regular staff of a church. You called me to be your Youth and University Minister. You were my college church and became my first staff church. You loved me well and taught me much.
Thank you, First Baptist, Lee’s Summit, MO. You called me as Associate Pastor and Youth Minister while I was a seminary student. You gave me my first taste of hospital and funeral ministry. You even allowed me to preach every Sunday morning after the pastor had resigned. You believed in me and gave me the kind of challenges that snowballed my growth as a minister of the gospel. You loved us well.
Thank you, First Baptist, Greenwood, MO. Though I was only 25 years old, you gave me my first opportunity as a senior pastor. You loved me and trusted me and followed me into some God-sized things—building programs and fund-raising and calling staff. You taught me how to be a pastor. You helped us raise our kids. You were family to us for almost fourteen years.
And thank you, First Baptist, Hot Springs, AR. I had a hard time leaving Greenwood to come to you, but it sure appears that God has been in it. You have loved and trusted me, and you followed my lead as we’ve tried to do new and bold things across the years. You forgive my screw-ups. You have prayed for my family and stood by us in some hard times. You have given me opportunities to grow in my pastoral identity and skills. You have watched me age from that 38 year old father of two teenagers into the 56 year old grandfather of five that I am now. Listening to the same preacher for more than 17 years seems a little much for God to ask anyone to do, but you hang in there with me and even stay awake through most of my sermons. You pay me far more than I’m worth. And you allow Dayna and me to be who and what God called us to be rather than trying to force us into some mold of what a pastor and wife should be and do. I don’t know how many times one of you has said to me, “We just don’t show our appreciation enough for you and what you do.” So let me say now what I say every time I hear that: “Yes you do. I’ve never felt more appreciated and loved in my life.” Here’s the way things really are: I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you. So I’m telling you now.
I declare October to be “Congregation Appreciation Month.” And I want the congregation of which I’m a part to know how much I appreciate them. Thank you, First Baptist Church of Hot Springs, Arkansas! No pastor on the earth has a better post of service.