October 10, 2012 Tony Morgan

The Dark Side of Pastor Appreciation Month

I always blame Hallmark for the “holidays” that nobody ever heard of that suddenly pop up on the radar. I’m sure it’s just a vast right-wing conspiracy to sell more greeting cards.

“Pastor Appreciation Month” probably wasn’t a Hallmark invention, but it sometimes it feels a lot like Grandparents Day or Sweetest Day or many of those other invented holidays where the prospective gift-receiver is left wondering, “If people don’t recognize me, do they really love me?”

I appreciate pastors. I really do. Many of my best friends are pastors. My brother’s a pastor. I was a pastor. You don’t have to convince me that pastors have a challenging role with unique stresses and rewards.

Having worked with hundreds of pastors across the country, though, I know you. I know your tendencies. I know your vulnerabilities.

With that, here are some things to consider…

  • You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you are expecting appreciation. When we our surprised by someone’s kind word or gesture, it has a bigger impact. When it’s expected, you’ll never know if it’s genuine and it’s unlikely it’ll ever meet your expectations.
  • You think you have a tough job, but there are people in your congregation that have tougher circumstances. You are not unique. If you ever get to a place where you think your circumstances are far more difficult than anyone else’s, that’s a sure sign that you need to see a counselor.
  • You may be pushing people away who don’t have appreciation months. There are factory workers, administrative assistants, CEOs, food service workers, homemakers, insurance salespeople and many other professions that don’t get entire months to be appreciated. Don’t alienate the people you are trying to reach by expecting appreciation that they will never see.
  • If your church appreciates you, I sure hope you’re effectively appreciating them. Remember, God designed honor to go both ways. What are your strategies and systems to make sure the people in your church are honored in the same way you feel honored every October?
  • When we spotlight the role of the pastor, it downplays the role of God’s people doing the work of God.Lifting up the role of the pastor can be a dangerous thing if it deviates the church from embracing the priesthood of the believers. We need to be careful that we don’t embrace a practice that reinforces poor doctrine.

For all the pastors out there who are reading this, know that I do appreciate you. Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your teaching. Thank you for helping hurting people. Thank you for loving people enough that you don’t want to leave them where they are.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (15)

  1. Excellent thought, Tony! I especially appreciate your final point. Eph. 4:11-12 is very clear who is actually supposed to be doing the ministry… and who should get the credit! (hint: It’s not pastors!)

  2. Tony, normally I love your stuff, but this time, well, it seems like you’ve probably spent almost all of your ministry life in and around large and megachurches. In those types of churches, the pastor is often placed on a pedestal and revered. But smaller church pastors, especially in older, traditional churches, frequently live in a world where 11 months of the year are Pastor Depreciation Months. The board runs the church and views their task as keeping the pastor in line. The congregation is always ready to bring in the next guy who will visit the sick and talk on Sunday Morning (but not talk too long). These guys are starving for someone to honor them. And if it takes Hallmark-style guilt to get it done, I’m okay with that. (For the record, I pastor an above-average-sized contemporary church where I feel loved. But I’ve been in the other place and have friends and family members who live there.)

  3. Scott Savage

    I understand what you’re saying Steve. My dad has pastored a small to average size church for 30 years this fall. I know that moments of appreciation (during October or not) have come at opportune times and been a boon to his spirit. But I appreciate what you wrote, Tony, especially in light of other posts re: the shadow side of the “honor” culture in some churches and your work to build churches that are driven by empowered and equipped volunteers not simply paid staff. I thought you struck a good balance here. There is a great need for appreciation and encouragement for everyone in the church, but there is no place for entitlement.

  4. Too often youth pastors are overlooked altogether, or given a much smaller token of the gift/honor as well. Not that that has ever happened to me … hahahah

  5. Great post, Tony. Especially identified with the last three points. When we start appreciating the school crossing guards who pray for each child that passes, and the waitresses who see each lousy tipper as a person Jesus loves, it will be a big step for the kingdom. I’d be willing to buy cards for that holiday. In fact, maybe we should.

  6. Dan Smith

    Tony, I couldn’t agree more. We have worked hard at disolving the lines between clergy and laity at my church. My job is to make disciples…. and the church’s job is to make disciples. And the church is, well, the people… all of us. So, I am to equip people for disciple making. We have pretty much eliminated “pastor appreciation month”. I prefer appreciating others anyway than being appreciated by others. ;-)

  7. As a former pastor in a small church, Pastor Appreciation Days felt like another Hall mark scheme. it was more meaningful to have a genuine thank you than to put it upfront with a gift certificate. Also what is it that i am missing that some of this smacks of us all APPRECIATING one another…how about those who are far from God…who need to be loved…Is the church really all about us? Just saying.

  8. Eric Goodman

    Tony, you are exactly correct. If you are expecting appreciation you are probably going to be disappointed. I have pastored small churches of 100 to 150 and in each of them someone tried to instigate the “appreciation box” it always failed miserably! It was more depressing checking the “box” and finding it empty. I would much rather be appreciated by my people following me, encouraging me when I preached a sermon that was less than perfect, caring for my wife and kids, and just giving faithfully to the ministry so we continue on with our ministry…that’s the kind of appreciation I need.

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