Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Pastor Appreciation Month Matters

So October is, in addition to being the month of Halloween, Columbus Day, the World Series, and my mom’s sixtieth birthday (don’t remind her of it), also officially—somehow—“Pastor Appreciation Month.”

To the untrained eye, having a “Pastor Appreciation Month” understandably may sound a whole lot like having, say, “National Clean Out Your Fridge Day” (November 15, in case you were wondering) or “National Erectile Dysfunction Awareness Day” (May 3) or “Constipation Awareness Month” (December…and I could go on and on in this vein.  Seriously, there are some awesome ones out there).

But I would gently suggest to you that we pastors need our own month at least as much as your plugged-up bowels do.  Because Pastor Appreciation Month really does matter.  And it matters for reasons that go far beyond us being an emotionally needy bunch of God geeks in constant need of validation in a world that increasingly sees us as either irrelevant or mean-spirited when in reality we try so hard to be neither.

It matters because your pastor will never have the peace of mind that a 40-hour-a-week, 9-to-5, punch-the-clock gig brings.  The phone could always ring, with someone on the other side whose loved one has just died.  That phone does not know the meaning of terms like “days off” or “family dinners” or “overtime.” But we answer it anyways, because our love for, and our calling to, God and you is so strong.

It matters because in spite of the demands on our time (see above), we still deal with people who somehow still think that we only work one hour a week, or who ask why we get “all that vacation time” when we go off to a conference to improve our ministry skills.

It matters because despite the many, many thoughtful, loving, and amazing comments we receive from the angels in the church who provide us with loving, caring, feedback and compliments, it is one the outlier comment—the nasty remark said on the way out the door, or the passive-aggressive jab in an email or Facebook post—that we lose sleep over at night.

It matters because we not only tithe to the church (my point of view being that it would be mighty hypocritical for me to ask the church to make a financial sacrifice that I myself am unwilling to make), but we also will also sometimes pay out of our own pocket for work-related expenses, necessities around the church, and food for strangers who show up at the church door.  We do this because we know the church is always struggling to meet its budget, and we do this even though our own salary and benefits are, oftentimes, inadequate.

It matters because even as we genuinely rejoice with the welcoming of new members, we also agonize and ache inside over the members who have drifted away for one reason or another, and wonder where we may have gone wrong. 

(If you’ll allow me a brief aside here: Fellow pastors who follow my blog, if you read that last one and said to yourselves, “I don’t think like that, I know that people leaving my congregation isn’t my fault,” I KNOW you’re full of crap.  Seeing someone whose hands you held as they joined the church, whose dinner table you’ve sat at and broken bread over, whose kids you’ve played with…to see them drift away hurts.  Even if you know in your head it isn’t personal, in your heart, you still sometimes wonder why.) 

It matters because the burnout of our clergy is a real thing.  Literally thousands of pastors leave the ministry every month for varying reasons—with many of them swearing never to return.

It matters because even though we ultimately work for God, middle management (in the form of denominations, regional/conference/diocesan ministers, church boards, elders, etc.) has the hiring and firing powers over us, and roughly 1 in 4 of us have been fired or pressured to resign from a church, sometimes wrongfully.  Just about every pastor has a colleague or friend who we know was forced out of a position unjustly…and we wonder if that will ever happen to us one day.

It matters because much like waiting tables or teaching in a classroom, ministry entails having a people who have never done what you do and who have no training in what you do still think that they can do it better than you and end up saddling you with expectations that are impossible for you to meet.

It matters because you have a parish pastor to call your own and we, ultimately, do not.  Doctors can still have primary physicians, and lawyers can still have attorneys-of-record.  But pastors?  We usually do not have someone who we can call our pastor.

It matters because a pastor’s devout faith does not automatically inoculate them from self-doubt.  Pastors are still often their own worst critics.  I know I am mine.

And it matters because even with the boundaries pastors put up to try to keep at least part of their personal lives separate from their ministries, we still cannot help but love you and love God 24/7. It is in our DNA to love.  Your pastor probably loves you as a brother or sister in Christ more than you know.  And if I am your pastor…yes, I absolutely love you in Christ more than I can ever begin to say.  This is still such an amazing job I have.

Yours in Christ,

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