A Tale of Two Charges
We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
“Thank God October is almost over,” I thought, staring out the clear plate glass double doors located just outside my office door. The big Baptist church was directly across the street, and for a month I had watched the banner they had stretched in front of their church wave at me. Taunting me. It had steadily driven me more and more insane as the days went on. Why? Because it said this:
We Love Our Pastor’s: Happy Pastor Appreciation Month!
Many of you understand the first source of my mania: poor grammar. Every time that sign caught my eye, I had this internal dialogue with myself: “You love your Pastor’s what? His sermon? His robe? His car? His wife? Learn the difference between possessive and plural, for God’s sake!”
And then I just stood there, day after day, wishing that there was a banner in front of our church too. And by the end of the month, I would have even found poor grammar pleasing. After all, that banner flew right across the street from the church where I was a pastor, in the same eyeshot of my people as it was for me, and no one in the entire congregation of hundreds of people so much as told me thank you that entire month.
I don’t do this job for the appreciation, I would tell myself. I do this job to serve Jesus. It does not matter if the people love me. It does not matter if the people appreciate me. None of that matters. Whether they do or not, I still serve them with love. I still do their funerals. I still pray by their bedsides. I still take their calls in the middle of the night. I still miss my child’s band performances for their stupid monthly meetings. I still miss Granny’s 80th birthday party because I have to preach (also, family, help me out here and don’t schedule family parties 3 hours away for noon on Sundays, but I digress). I don’t do this for the appreciation.
But still… the appreciation helps.
I had a mentor advise me to start an encouragement file. He told me to put any nice cards that I received in there. Or to print out nice emails. Put them in a file and pull them out when you need to remember that you are making a difference. Sometimes those cards and emails come at the exact right time. But sometimes they don’t and then you have to take matters into your own hands.
And so yeah, there was that banner, flying for a month across the street. It was the first I had ever heard of Pastor Appreciation Month, so I thought for a bit it was something that particular church cooked up. Maybe that’s what some of my people thought too. Except Google exists. And Facebook exists. So that delusion didn’t last long. So I went one long month, no cards or emails, but with my encouragement file on my desk instead of tucked away. It was hard. I know I shouldn’t care about such things, but when it is waving in your face, it is a little hard to ignore.
I also decided that month, maybe related and maybe not, that it was time to leave that church.
Years later I was serving another couple of churches, and a group of us were looking up all those silly holidays (like National Ice Cream Day) looking for ways to connect the Gospel to our world. One of them, scrolling through the list, said, “Hey, did you know October is Pastor Appreciation Month?”
“I do.” I didn’t look up from my own list.
“Do we do anything for that?” he followed.
“That’s up to you all,” I answered.
“Have your other churches done things for you that month? Like, what are some things we could do?”
And then I just vomited it out. I told the story of that awful October. I confessed that I know I don’t do this job for the appreciation, but that stupid banner had just grated on my soul. I know I need to work on that, but I also know I am human and not perfect and we all have our things we need to work on that we don’t always succeed in handling. And then, to answer his question, I said, “Honestly, it doesn’t take much. Really just a nice email goes a long way.”
Then we moved on to our task at hand. It was July, after all, and so no need to make plans for October in that moment.
But they made plans anyway. And they didn’t wait until deep in the month to celebrate. It was the second Sunday in October when I made my way back to the church for worship (I had a two-point charge and the worship schedule involved starting at one church, going to the other church, and returning to the initial church for the third service of the day) that I was caught at the door, and told to get ready to run. They had made a big banner for me to crash through, high school football player style, to come into the Fellowship Hall. Once in the Fellowship Hall, not only were there cards and gifts and cake, but they were hosting an all soup potluck, because they know soup is my favorite genre of food. Also, the folks from the other church made their way over to join us so we could all be together. And then they handed me a painting of a tree, and the leaves were the fingerprints of the people I served, and the base of the tree had the footprints of the baby I had recently baptized.
All I needed was an email. They did it up so much better.
The passage above is the greeting Paul sends to the Thessalonians. Paul was at one time their pastor, and he is encouraging them in the work that was before them. That is what pastors do. It is one of the ways we are called to love our people. But it is also so nice when the people feel called to love us too. Working for Christ is not always easy. There is a great deal of joy in it, but also a fair amount of struggle. Let’s all make it easier on each other, and take the time to encourage each other’s walks along the way. We are, after all, one body, and if one of us struggles, we all do. And if one of us knows joy, we all know that too.