As the grandparents of two 2-year-olds, my wife and I now find ourselves doing what many grandparents do—whatever the grandkids want. So, when we serve them ice cream, or give them a new toy, or play the same game or read the same book a hundred times in a row, we often hear one of their parents ask them this familiar question: “What do you say?”
Of course, “thank you” is the polite response they’re trying to coach into their offspring. They want it to become natural, even heartfelt. Because sometimes, unless we’re reminded both to be grateful and to express it, we can take people or the things they give us for granted.
I’m confident that was the origin of Pastor Appreciation Month. Like parents and grandparents, our pastors and church staff love, serve, give, sacrifice, and repeat week in and week out. Ironically, their very consistency and faithfulness may lull us into presumption—until October reminds us to be thankful by asking, “What do you say?”
This year especially, we should remember that many pastors are weary and discouraged. Even if the pandemic is largely behind us, it has taken a heavy toll on most churches, and left many shepherds with doubts about their own effectiveness, or the future, or even their calling. The outward pressures of a declining culture and a down economy, and the inner stresses of hurting church families weigh heavy. To keep from growing weary in well doing, pastors need to hear from us that they are appreciated.
Whatever tangible gifts you or your church may be considering, let me strongly recommend that this year you write your pastor a longer than usual and very specific note of appreciation. More than just a phrase or a sentence at the bottom of a greeting card, write him a personal letter. But what do you say?
First, take a few minutes to list the specific character qualities, ministry skills, and acts of service that you have observed and value in your pastor. Then use that list as an outline and add to it personal examples of when he has blessed you or your family. Tell him how much those times have meant to you, and that you love him, and that you’re so grateful to God that he is your pastor.
I was recently talking with a pastor who was facing some serious challenges in his church and had hit a pretty low point. To try and help him regain a longer-term perspective, I simply started listing, from my somewhat distant point of view, the things I saw him doing right, and the significant impact he had made both in his church and in his community over the years I had known him.
A couple of days later he texted: “Thank you for being my friend. No one ever talks to me how you talked to me Friday.…Those might have been the most meaningful words anyone has ever spoken to me. It meant more to me than you realize.”
My words of encouragement to this pastor were simply true, specific, personal, and heartfelt. The thought that no one in his life is talking to him that way broke my heart. It also reminded me how powerful even simple expressions of appreciation can be. Yet they are evidently all too rare, perhaps especially with our pastors.
It may take most of us 30 minutes or so to sit down and write a truly heartfelt, personal note of appreciation to our pastor this month. But it may very well mean more to him than we will ever realize. So what do you say?
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.