Pressure Points (September)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q: I currently serve on our district’s ministerial health committee.  We are in the planning stages of trying to remind congregations to appreciate their church workers on a consistent basis.  [Because] many church workers become burned out as they continually extend care for others, we would like to see congregations extend care back to the workers through appreciation.  What kinds of ways can churches show their appreciation for their church workers, especially during times like the “Pastor Appreciation Month” in October?

Q: The other day I was at a pastor friend’s house. … I asked his wife who I could call to remind them of Pastor Appreciation Month.  She told me, “You can’t; he will be really mad.  He doesn’t want credit; he wants everyone to focus on Jesus.”  I was kind of taken back.  I guess sometimes we are our [own] worst enemies.  I am almost to the point of asking pastors to let the church appreciate you for the sake of your next pastor.  I do believe that for the sake of ministry, we need to let our churches celebrate us, even if we do not like it.  Hopefully, we are celebrating them while we are ministering.

A: Begun in the early 1990s by Focus on the Family, “Clergy Appreciation Month” (or some version of it) has gained traction.  Several good resources are available that provide specific suggestions for observing this celebration. Among these are:

Since none of these resources are LCMS, readers will likely find content with which they disagree.  Nonetheless, the materials provide great responses to the first question above, concerning ways churches can, indeed, show appreciation.

Here are a few more suggestions about “appreciation”:

  • Expand the celebration from “clergy” or “pastor” appreciation to include all church workers.  While different vocations may be celebrated at different times during the year, a congregation will do well to develop a way that its members can voice an “I thank you” or “I appreciate you” to its entire staff.
  • Develop a parish-wide culture of appreciation where positive respect, gratitude, celebration, and encouragement are part of the DNA of the parish.  Voices are most often heard when there is a problem.  Rather, they should be heard even louder to celebrate good things.
  • Words and deeds of appreciation should not be reserved for a particular time of the year.  In a culture where members mutually appreciate each other — certainly their talents and their gifts — such positive encouragement happens on a day-to-day basis.
  • All of us can reflect on the ratio of our positive and negative comments to (or, unfortunately, about) people. We can all participate in developing a culture of appreciation by at least raising the ratio of our positive conversation to that of our more negative conversation. In repentance, we all can flee to the cross of Christ.
  • Understand, as in the second question above, that church workers are generally not in their vocation to receive applause.  But if the culture of the parish includes a culture of appreciation, it will be more natural for the pastor and other church workers to be part of it.
  • Remember the spouse and children of the church worker.  They are an integral part of the community and of the life of the worker.
  • Developing a culture of appreciation will actually help attend to the “spiritual dryness” questions raised in the previous two months’ “Pressure Points.”  We all grow as we are better understood and valued.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted Aug. 27, 2009

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