When October rolls around I start daydreaming about fall. The kids start talking about Halloween, and I start checking details on pumpkin patches and corn mazes. October also means something else: Pastor Appreciation Month.
I’m kind of over it. It’s not that I don’t like seeing my husband appreciated–who doesn’t? But I just don’t have any expectations about Pastor Appreciation Month anymore. Admittedly, some of that is just personality. I’m not big on any Hallmark holidays. Take Valentine’s Day, for example. This is our conversation every year:
Husband: So, what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?
Me: I don’t know. What do you want to do?
Husband: Well, I’m supposed to do something to show you I love you. How about chocolate?
Me: The problem with that is that I’ll eat it. How about a nap?
I know my husband loves me. He shows me that he honors, respects and loves me daily. Having a day when flower, jewelry, and gift stores all spend millions of advertising dollars to convince us to buy things we don’t need to show our love doesn’t do anything for me. We celebrate our marriage everyday. Valentine’s Day is just another day on the calendar.
I feel that way about Pastor Appreciation Month. I know our church appreciates us. It’s not unusual for someone to slip my husband a twenty on the way out the door and tell him to buy us lunch somewhere. They’ve given him permission to take care of himself–something we’re vigilant about since our experience with burnout and depression. Every once in a while someone calls and tells us to make plans for Friday night because they’re coming to watch the kids for us. One time a church member asked us if we had any room in our freezer. When we told him we did, he filled it with a quarter side of beef. It’s not that we haven’t had a few bumps along the way, but I know that we’re in a church where our family is appreciated and loved. Having a designated appreciation month just isn’t that important to me when we’re in a church that lives it all year long.
At the same time, I know there are some pastors and pastor’s wives out there who feel wounded every October. I think it’s like this: when you have a good marriage, if your husband forgets your anniversary it’s something you laugh about. (After you make him suffer, of course). But if you’re experiencing stress and already feeling unappreciated and neglected, a forgotten anniversary is just one more brick on the load of hurt you’re carrying. Pastor Appreciation Month seems to be the same way.
So, what’s a girl to do? Here are a few suggestions:
If you’re a pastor or a pastor’s wife:
- Have realistic expectations. Quick: When’s Administrative Professional’s Day? Boss’s Day? Grandparents Day? The only reason I ever remember to do something for our church secretaries on Administrative Professional’s Day is that it’s helpfully printed on my calendar. Pastor’s Appreciation Month doesn’t show up on any calendars. In fact, unless they happen to be a pastor or spot a display at the Christian bookstore, I don’t think most people even know it is Pastor Appreciation Month. My guess is that most of the time it’s that people either don’t know or are just so busy that they don’t think about doing anything for their pastor in October. It’s not intentional neglect.
- Be careful about taking up offense. I believe that offense is one of Satan’s greatest strategies in poisoning relationships in the body of Christ. There are genuinely mean people in some of our churches. I understand that. But bitterness is dangerous, a canker that eats away at our souls. Don’t let it take root. Often, we need to be more like a duck than a cat. When you throw water at a cat he looks offended and stalks off. When you throw water at a duck he looks surprised and keeps waddling along. Sometimes we just need to keep waddling.
- Let Christ heal your wounds. Again, there are mean people and toxic churches, and I know too many pastors and pastor’s wives that have been beaten up by their congregations. If that’s you, I can imagine that you’re in that place where Pastor’s Appreciation Month just feels like one more brick. I’m sorry. But please, know that God is big enough to heal your hurt. Jesus understands betrayal and rejection. He knows what it feels like to be forgotten and alone. Anne Graham Lotz’s Wounded by God’s People: Discovering How God’s Love Heals Our Hearts and Stephen Mansfield’s Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People are two helpful resources to help you walk through your journey of healing.
If you’re a church member:
- Practice good pastor care. 40% of pastors and 47% of pastoral spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations. And 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. Pastoral ministry is a great blessing, but it also comes with unique stresses. Take care of your pastor by encouraging him to prioritize his family, take days off, and giving him adequate vacation time.
- Show your appreciation year round. Little spontaneous gifts can be incredibly meaningful. Bake a cake, drop off a meal, or send him and his wife out on a date without the kids. Give him a bookstore gift certificate so he can add to his preaching library.
- Pray. Supporting your pastor through prayer is both important and powerful. Pray for him to have wisdom and discernment. Pray for him to walk in integrity and holiness. Pray that he will have the courage and boldness to preach the gospel. Pray for peace and unity in your congregation, for a shared vision of who God is calling your congregation to be.
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