The past few weeks have been harrowing for many people in our country. Along the eastern and southern coasts, some of the most devastating hurricanes in our lifetimes have dominated the news. In the western and northwest states, horrific wildfires have been destroying property at record rates. So many of those directly affected can only think numbly of survival and recovery. Meanwhile, it seems that so many others throughout the nation still fume over anything and everything with hatred and vitriol like we haven’t seen for some time. The world around us is a mess. It certainly is a difficult time to be a pastor. But, then, maybe it always has been.
As you know, for over 30 years, I was a senior pastor of three churches. Then, for some 20 years, I was a “pastor to pastors,” nationally focusing on the families of pastors. While I still continue to do so in a more limited way (largely through my website at www.hblondon.org), I am also again serving as pastor of a wonderful medium-sized church. I don’t think being a pastor has ever been very easy. At times (most of the time, actually), I was able to find joy and fulfillment in my calling. Some other times were quite difficult.
Everyone on this earth needs encouragement, affirmation, and appreciation. One of my most significant accomplishments during my years leading the Pastoral Ministries department at Focus on the Family was the re-emphasis to congregations that it was very important to regularly let their pastoral staffs and families know they were loved, noticed, recognized, appreciated, and valued by the people they served. We called it Clergy Appreciation Month, and due to the high visibility of Focus on the Family, we were able to influence others in many related industries to join in the effort to urge Christians everywhere to give tangible expressions of gratitude and indebtedness to their pastors at least once a year.
Now, when it came to pastors, it was sometimes a challenge to formulate that message. It was hard enough for some of those who had been called to humble ministry to even receive the honest expressions of acceptance and approval from their people. Eventually, we implored this audience (you, my colleagues) to first recognize and thank their own families for their sacrifices and support, and to second communicate in some tangible way their encouragement and gratitude to fellow ministers, including those with whom they served on staff, those in the neighborhood, those around the country, and those across the world.
Since October is still traditionally celebrated as Clergy Appreciation Month (or Pastor Appreciation Month, as many are more comfortable calling it), it is appropriate for me to remind you that we ministers need to support and appreciate each other. Who better than a colleague to understand our challenges and stresses? Who better than another ministry family to relate to the pressures our loved ones encounter? Who better to appreciate the battles required for guiding a congregation than someone else who faces them? Who better to realize what is at stake than one who shares the same calling?
Any time is a wonderful time for you and your family to tell a comrade in the faith how grateful you are for his or her commitment to carrying the message entrusted to us by our Lord. Even better during Clergy Appreciation Month. By simply making a phone call or sending a note of affirmation, you might encourage another minister on your staff or in your community. Better yet, get together face-to-face.
We are all on the same team, playing for the same coach, and engaged in a titanic struggle with evil. We will not win the battle alone, but only as we join our hearts and talents in a mighty show of mutual faith and admiration for each other. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Let me share a personal experience. I was walking through the airport in Denver years ago and I heard my name paged. At first, I didn’t respond, but when I heard it again, I dialed the operator. I was instructed to go to the information desk in Concourse B for a message. The attendant there handed me an envelope with my name on it. When I opened the enclosed card, the words “I prayed for you today” were in bold type at the top. The handwritten message that followed the printed one also blessed me: “Thank you for your ministry to pastors all over the nation. May God bless you richly this day! Thank you for letting God work through you.” It was not signed, but what an impact it had!
I was on my way to a very challenging ministry assignment and believe the Lord knew I needed someone to say to me, “It’s going to be okay … Just be yourself.”
As I reflected on that situation, I thought, “How creative of someone to take the time to encourage me and to do it anonymously.” And then I thought, “When was the last time I walked into someone’s life unannounced … just to say thanks?”
There are so many of your colleagues who could use a note or a call this very day — something that lets them know they are not alone. How about taking a few moments to encourage someone?
“But we ought always to thank God for you” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).