It has come to my attention that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m sure I join many other pastors who would agree there should be a Ministry Appreciation Month as well. Pastoral ministry is not always easy and at times it is downright frustrating. But even with the ups and downs of serving in such office, pastoral ministry is always a joy. That is because pastors are not in ministry by themselves. The ministry of the Church of Christ is shared between pastor and people, shepherd and flock.
I remember the several pastors I have had throughout my life. There have been some very faithful pastors whom I’ve known as my spiritual shepherd and guide. To simply say they had an impact on my life would be understating their importance. My pastors are those who interpreted Holy Scripture in a way that I could understand the truth of the gospel. They preached sermons that helped me recognize those instances where I was faithful, but at the same time showed me just how much I depend on God’s mercy and grace in times when faithfulness escapes me. My pastors taught me about Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, using my spiritual gifts and how to love those whom it is difficult to love. Yes, they had an impact, but it goes much deeper than that.
My pastors are also the ones who equipped the lay members of my church to guide me in faith. They empowered lay persons to be teachers and mentors for me as I was advancing in my youth. The influence of my pastors was felt through the gentle touch of youth group leaders, youth choir directors and Sunday school teachers. Without my pastor’s involvement in their faith formation, the lay members of my congregation would not have been able to raise me as a child surrounded by the faithful witness of the saints. You see, pastoral ministry includes preparing lay people for ministry just as much as it includes ministering to them.
Sometimes I am saddened that society has allowed the world to invade so deeply into the lives of Christians. When I was a child, my life and the life of my family revolved around the Church. Many of my friends would say the same goes for them. We remember a time when Sunday was a time for worship, Sunday school and churchly activities. Wednesdays brought fellowship and Christian learning to the family as we gathered for meals and group activities at the church. The church was more than a place where we felt we had to go; it was a place where we wanted to be. I believe that is because there was an understanding of the mutual ministry between pastor and people and a longing to live in the relationship of shepherd and flock.
Today we have more of a consumer’s attitude toward church. The church is where we go to get a good feeling, to be refreshed and energized for the week ahead. We put a limit on the amount of time we are willing to give on Sunday morning. Families searching for a church evaluate one against another by the number and type of programs they offer. The dynamic is one of “What can I get from the Church” versus “What can I bring to the church.” Pastors are often the first to recognize this as it is played out among the people. Yet, even as they recognize it, the culture is one that is most difficult to overcome. In my particular instance, this is where I am most grateful and appreciative to the pastors I have had over the span of my life.
From these faithful shepherds I learned the importance of loving the flock. Each and every member of our congregation is unique in their life’s journey and calling. each church member brings experiences and gifts that enhance my ministry in ways they will never know. My pastors also taught me the importance of modeling a Christian behavior, in times when I am faithful and especially in times when faithfulness escapes me. For if I am not able to exhibit what it means to be a sinner redeemed through the blood of Christ, how can I expect others to follow? There is also one more lesson taught to me by my pastors, the lesson of perseverance.
In order to change the culture of consumerism in the Church, one must be willing to put in the time and effort. One must also be ready to spend several lonely hours each week ministering to the trickle of people who attend the Bible studies, fellowship groups and mentoring sessions. A pastor must also be ready for the eventual rejection by potential congregational leaders, teachers and mentors when making such requests. There is a reluctance to serve among those most capable and an over eagerness by others. In such cases, it is the pastor’s duty to persevere and to love each member while further equipping them for the sake of ministry in the gospel.
I’m grateful to those who have expressed their appreciation. Actually, folks in my congregation do a good job of making me feel appreciated. I am also very appreciative for the pastors I have had over the years. They all, in one way or another, have shaped me to be the pastor I am today. There will always be room for improvement. Even as I am a pastor, there will always be a pastor serving as my shepherd leading me to faithfulness. Thank you Father for the blessing of pastors. May we always recognize them as our shepherds along our journey of faith, as they lead us to follow the Good Shepherd who is Christ the Lord.
Photo: “Pastor Nuttly” A gift from my confirmation class of 2008.