As October is winding down and the seasons are shifting, Pastor Appreciation Month is coming to a close for the American church in particular (and some others as well). There are many ways that churches have shown their appreciation for their pastors over the past month. Gift cards, thank-you notes, flowers, and social media posts are all significant ways that faith communities fill the buckets of the people who pour into them year round.
I have had the privilege of pastoring two incredible churches who have shown their appreciation for our family in some pretty creative ways over the years—like toys for our dog child before we had a human child, or detailing my husband’s beloved truck, and sending the kind of encouraging notes that I keep in a special file. These days, I live in a country where Pastor Appreciation Month isn’t such a commercialized thing. There’s probably not one themed notecard available in the whole country, yet our church is doing a great job caring for us. These past several months in particular have been filled with pastor appreciation that I am incredibly grateful for. They’re saying “I love you,” in ways they may not even realize.
Here’s how my church says “I love you.”
They show up. They show up for church and church-related events. If we’re really honest, showing up to events matters to pastors. But showing up takes other important forms as well. They show up for each other when they are having car problems, need a ride, or could use some meals after surgery. They show up when there are mums to greet and babies to cuddle at our playgroup or when there are a hundred new chairs that need unloading, unwrapping, and set up on a random Tuesday morning. They show up to care for one another and for the guest preacher when I’m on vacation. Showing up says, “We’re in this together. We’re a team. What we’re doing here matters.”
They celebrate. Earlier this year, my birthday fell on a Sunday. One of our members surprised me by bringing a birthday cake to church. Unfortunately, I was really sick that day and didn’t get to go to church—one of the few times that has ever happened in my life. Our church sang “Happy Birthday” anyway and sent me the video and the leftover cake. I loved that. But they don’t just celebrate me; they also celebrate each other. Babies, 90th birthdays, graduations, visas granted, kids’ accomplishments, a great vacation—you name it. I feel celebrated when my church members celebrate one another.
They give. As a pastor, I genuinely feel appreciated when people give. I don’t mean when they give to or for I mean when they give to the mission. I am keenly aware that one of the most challenging things for Western cultures is to part with the hard-earned money on which our culture places so many demands. Yet one of the ways I feel most appreciated is when my faith community gives generously as they are able. Generous giving is what enables us to fulfill the mission to which God has called us. Sometimes generous giving means we are able be good stewards of our building, and we can lighten the load of a single mum. Other times it means we can welcome new refugees or immigrants to our community and feed perpetually hungry teenagers at our youth group. It all matters. The financial generosity of God’s people helps facilitate the work of God in the world. My church says, “I love you. Your leadership and the work we are doing has value” when they give generously to participate in that work.
They see a need and meet it. Few things encourage my spirit more than when someone says, “I see that there’s a need, and I have an idea about how I can help meet that need.” Those words are music to my ears. My church is excellent at singing this tune. Whether it’s weeding the gardens, giving volunteer leadership to the youth group, or spending days off visiting elderly people, the way members of the body are attentive to needs and actively problem-solve on their own accord is a love song.
They journey with us. Earlier this year, our family transparently invited our church family to join us as we journeyed through a difficult season. We didn’t know what the outcome would be. We just knew we needed community. They came alongside us in the best possible way. They offered hugs. They showed up. They asked for updates. They were a safe place to share. And they prayed with and for us. It was an “I love you” wrapped up in a hug and a prayer.
Pastors’ love languages vary from one to the next like any diverse group of people. The special recognition of Pastor Appreciation Month is certainly important, but these ways of saying “I love you” extend far beyond the month of October. No amount of Starbucks gift cards can replace the week-in-week-out ways a faith community communicates their love and appreciation for their pastor.