Why and How We Can Appreciate Pastors
Approximately 4,000 new churches are planted in the United States annually while 6,000 to 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. [i] This means around 100-200 churches will close this week.[ii]
Additionally, an estimated 1,300 pastors are fired by their congregations every month, and another 1,200 quit due to stress and burnout.[iii] News headlines tell of tragic pastoral failures, scandals, defections from the faith, and even suicide. Healthy churches are guided by healthy leaders. If the church fails, many vital causes in our society will falter and the future of our families will be at risk.
An estimated 1,300 pastors are fired by their congregations every month, and another 1,200 quit due to stress and burnout.
October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Sadly, this designation is rarely recognized and when honored, can be shallow and inadequate. Yet, many Americans would agree that the spiritual vibrancy or decline of any society is directly connected to the strength and impact of the churches in our communities. We know the strength of churches is directly connected to the effectiveness and well-being of pastors.
October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Sadly, this designation is rarely recognized and when honored, can be shallow and inadequate.
A Matter of Obedience
Bible-believing Christians are clearly directed to honor and support church leaders:
“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Clergy appreciation month is an important opportunity for churchgoers to understand the unique challenges faced by congregational leaders. It is also a moment to embrace the practical commitments we can make to encourage and strengthen local clergy.
Five Professional Hazards
People in the pew seldom understand the unique challenges faced by clergy. Five that seem most common:
Fatigue from unrealistic demands – The unpredictable and impractical burdens placed on pastors can quickly drain a leader of his emotional stamina. He is supposed to visit all the sick, counsel all the troubled, fix countless dysfunctional marriages, and attend a variety of community functions. All the while, he is expected to lead the staff, work with the board, raise all the money, organize various committees, preach stellar sermons, and spend extraordinary amounts of time in prayer. Oh yes, and lead the perfect family all the while.
Feelings of inadequacy fueled by comparison – A century ago the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation. Today every pastor is measured against the “best of the best” that are heard on radio, watched on television, or revered because of a best-selling book. Pastors can be defeated by all the raving reviews of the mega-church down the street. Those who serve smaller churches often battle feelings of inferiority, especially when church members openly elevate the famous celebrities with massive platforms on social media.
A century ago the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation. Today every pastor is measured against the “best of the best” that are heard on radio, watched on television, or revered because of a best-selling book.
Family pressures from the “glass bowl” effect – Unlike many professions, church leaders fulfill their duties in the context of an ever-watching, tight-knit community. The personal lifestyle, marriage, and children of pastors are always in close-up view and under scrutiny by less-than-gracious church members who thoughtlessly critique family members. This can lead to hurt and resentment within the clergy family as they try their best to do life together as imperfect people.
The personal lifestyle, marriage, and children of pastors are always in close-up view and under scrutiny by less-than-gracious church members who thoughtlessly critique family members.
Frustration from a job never finished – Because clergy are called to serve the multifaceted needs of people, the job is never finished. There is always another sermon to preach, more souls to counsel, additional hospital visits to make and the never-ending need to conduct a wedding or funeral. All these duties can certainly be rewarding but, unlike other project-focused jobs, there is no real finish line.
Financial under-resourcing compared to other professions – According to payscale.com, the average pastor’s salary is $48,828 while the average pastor accrues $60,000 of debt for their seminary education. For many pastors, the paltry pay can require a bi-vocational lifestyle to make ends meet. Financial pressures can be stressful and debilitating to many who seek to serve the church.
Four Practical Commitments
As I interact with thousands of pastors from many denominational streams each year, I sense their great need for support from congregants. Here are some timely recommendations to honor church leaders, not just in October, but throughout the year.
Faithful Prayer – In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was very open about his need for prayer (Romans 15:3-33, Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Prayer undergirds church leaders with grace and strength for the never-ending tasks of their calling. I used to tell our people that prayer was a win-win. I needed the prayer and they needed the practice. Besides, it is difficult to be a critic and an intercessor at the same time. Pray for your pastor. He will be blessed and you will be changed.
It is difficult to be a critic and an intercessor at the same time. Pray for your pastor. He will be blessed and you will be changed.
Dependable Service – Every church member can and should be a minister within and beyond the church. As individuals utilize their unique gifts to serve within and beyond the congregation this alleviates the burden on pastors, allowing them to focus on more strategic priorities that facilitate health and direction for the church.
As individuals utilize their unique gifts to serve within and beyond the congregation this alleviates the burden on pastors, allowing them to focus on more strategic priorities that facilitate health and direction for the church.
Practical Encouragement – Many church members are more than eager to express their opinions about the ministry. Negative input typically outweighs the positive. A note of gratitude, positive feedback on a sermon, and appreciation for the sacrifices made by clergy go a long way.
Multifaceted Generosity – Certainly every member should faithfully and sacrificially support the financial needs of the church. Beyond this, an occasional gift card, tickets to a local event, or support for a special get-away, even an extra week of vacation, can provide a much-needed break from the grind for the pastor and the ministry family.
Let’s not miss this opportunity to support our pastors. The health of the church and the spiritual strength of future generations may depend on it.
Copyright © 2019 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] The 2010 Church Consulting Future Trends Report, https://www.willmancini.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/01/FT_Executive_Summary.pdf
[iii] Ibid. The 2010 Church Consulting Future Trends Report