Was it Hallmark or KLUV that created Pastor Appreciation Month? Or was it an unappreciated pastor that somehow sneakily launched this national campaign?

I received an anonymous letter of gratitude in the mail yesterday. It was typewritten and not signed, and yet it was encouraging. Usually when I get those, their tone is the opposite. October rings in pumpkin spice latte, the first cool breezes of fall and over the last few years a month to express gratitude to pastors. I’ve written about Pastor Appreciation month before here and here. One year I was blessed when Kiera Cass (just your friendly neighborhood New York Times best-selling author) made a video for our church for Pastor Appreciation Month.

As a pastor, of course, I’m grateful for the nudge and highlight. I am extremely thankful for my church family who are wonderful about expressing appreciation in a variety of ways throughout the year. It doesn’t come naturally to most churches, unfortunately.

Our May staff retreat. We set the timer on an iPhone, and I was racing to get in picture, slipped and fell down the hill and just barely managed to get in this picture. This somewhat explains the poses. But otherwise, it’s a good capture of our staff. Love them!

Early in my time at Northstar, I led a re-purposing of what some would consider a “Personnel Committee” to become the “Staff Support Team.” They take up the functions of HR when needed, but mainly their described role is to ensure that our staff is loved, encouraged and supported.

I am uncomfortable with the idea of the pastor being singled out for appreciation. I serve alongside of an amazing team of leaders on our church staff, and so I have always encouraged our church to love on and allow “Pastor Appreciation Month” to really be “Staff Appreciation Month.”

It makes me sad to hear of pastors and leaders who are not EVER recognized or actively appreciated in their churches. I know of several. So many ministers (myself and our church staff included) are just never able to “leave their jobs.” Our calling follows us home, into the weekends, into our phones through texts and calls. We are not free to take Sundays off and go away for weekends. While our church members decreasingly consider “regular attendance” to be weekly and now consider regularity to be twice a month, church staff must graciously accept that gathering as believers is not the priority it used to be for most.

As I think about ways that I and others would like to be appreciated, here are some radical thoughts for churches to consider:

  1. Prayer. Your church staff deserves your lavish outpouring of prayer. Divide up your church staff and send them a note, committing to pray for them daily every day of October and then committing to pray for them weekly throughout the year.
  2. Pay off. You may not realize it, but the vast majority of church staff are underpaid. Few have full benefits (if any). Pay off their homes, cars, medical or credit card debt. Most struggle to get by, and not having a house payment would be such a deep, lasting ministry to them (and to your church) as it frees them up from worry and enables them to serve without financial stress. I’m obviously not counseling you to enable a financially irresponsible minister, and I wouldn’t recommend paying off Stephen Furtick’s house.
  3. Days off. Find out when your staff takes their days off and make sure that is public to the church family in some way so that they are not responding to texts/emails (or as much as can be helped, getting them) on their days off. Make sure they take a “day off.” Remember, Sunday is a full day for them.
  4. Write. Write them notes, emails, cards, and texts. Put into words how they encourage you, challenge you and reflect Jesus to you.
  5. Read. Read about Pastor Appreciation month and find out what other churches are doing. Seek to understand your church staff’s roles and responsibilities and the spiritual, social, financial, and physical weight such a calling entails. One helpful article is entitled What Your Pastor Won’t Tell You (But Wishes You Knew) About Pastor Appreciation Month.
  6. Talk about your staff behind their backs. 😉 I obviously don’t mean gossip, but talk them up! Brag about them to one another. Make sneaky, fun, life-giving, creative plans to actively encourage them with others. Whether it’s your small group, Sunday School class, or simply a group of friends within your church, come together to bless them together.
  7. Find out what your church does for your church staff. Work towards prioritizing excellent benefits. While you may never be able to pay your staff what you want or what they’re worth, you can provide benefits and other intangibles to ensure longevity. It benefits no one to have a revolving door with your church staff because they can’t afford to continue serving you.
  8. Pursue an intimate relationship with Jesus and make Him known. The very most encouraging thing you can do for your church staff (because they want it for you so badly) is for you to enjoy your relationship with Jesus Christ. When they hear stories of you living for the glory and fame of God in your daily life, they see that their leadership and service is encouraging you and glorifying Him, and that makes all the difference.

In the end, it’s not hard – at all – to encourage your church staff. At the same time, it’s not hard at all to discourage them. Perhaps the most discouraging moment is when Pastor Church Staff Appreciation Month becomes just that.. a special occasion for encouragement that is not repeated throughout the year. I’m supremely grateful that my church is consistent and generous in their thoughtful, loving support, and I’m praying that your church will go overboard this next year in lavishing love upon your servant leaders.

Feature graphic adapted from Northridge Church, Haines City, FL

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