Pastor appreciation: Heartfelt letters have impact

While pastors appreciate the marriage getaways and financial gifts that sometimes come their way during Pastor Appreciation Month, Dave Miller suggests there may be something even more important to consider.

"I think the best thing you can do if you really want to honor your pastor is to write him a letter," said Miller, who is president of the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference and pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa.

"Tell him how his ministry impacted your life. Don't just give him platitudes," Miller said.

"The letters that I've appreciated the most in my ministry haven't just been the ones that said, 'You're a great pastor. We love your sermons,' but have instead described how I helped them grow during my time as their pastor."

Many Southern Baptist churches, in honoring their pastors in October for Pastor Appreciation Month, do so in a variety of ways—from giving them gift cards to sending them on vacations to writing letters. For most pastors, it's a much-needed boost of encouragement.

A 2015 survey by LifeWay Research showed that while only 1 percent of pastors leave the ministry every year, many still have a challenging work environment. For example:

• 84 percent say they're on call 24 hours a day.

• 48 percent say the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.

• 53 percent are often concerned about their family's financial future.

Miller compared Pastor Appreciation Month to what an anniversary is for a marriage, while encouraging churches to express appreciation to pastors throughout the year.

"You should say what your wife means to you on a regular basis, but you often don't," Miller said. "So an anniversary is a reminder that you need to do that. It's not going to fix anything if the relationship is broken, but, like an anniversary, it can help remind you to say the things you should be saying on a regular basis."

Charleston Farber, as a small church pastor, said it's special when his work is remembered during October's Pastor Appreciation Month. He acknowledged it's sometimes tough to know whether anyone notices what he does as a pastor. A note of appreciation or a simple gift card has meant a great deal to him.

"It's nice to know the congregation appreciates what I do," said Farber, pastor of Center of Hope in Evansville, Ind. "I think pastors, particularly in smaller churches, tend to feel underappreciated and they are often carrying most of the load of the church. When the church does something for you during Pastor Appreciation Month, it's more than a thank you. You realize that they recognize all the work you put in."

Michael Thompson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Clinton, Tenn., noted that in recent years the congregation has recognized the entire pastoral staff and their families during the month. He said the church typically has provided some kind of financial gift for the pastors and has a special meal in their honor.

"It's really a sweet and wonderful gesture from the church family," Thompson said. "I think, for me, the greatest part about it is the inclusion of my wife and the other pastors and their wives in that special recognition. What's great about this, especially for the wives, is when you're in ministry, Satan will try to tell you that you are not appreciated. Then something like this comes along, and you really observe people with love in their hearts for you."

Thompson noted that at times, particularly when the family had kids in college, the gifts they received for Pastor Appreciation Month helped them buy Christmas gifts.

LifeWay Christian Resources facilitates opportunities throughout the year for churches to encourage local pastors by hosting Pastor Date Nights. The free date nights are open to all evangelical pastors, regardless of denomination. LifeWay provides food, $300 in resources per couple, promotional materials and registration. Host churches agree to accommodate at least 50 ministry couples and administer much of the logistics, such as child care for the evening. For more information, click here.

The North American Mission Board participates in a free Pastor Care Line through which pastors can talk to professional counselors every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. To access the line, powered by Focus on the Family, call 1-844-PASTOR1.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.

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