This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As doctrinal truths about the nature of salvation were rediscovered, so to speak, so were doctrines about the church and its governance. As the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers became more clearly understood, clergy roles were redefined. Some churches were now led not by “Fathers” but instead by Christian brothers who were given the task of shepherding their congregations.
Today’s pastors, too, are tasked with this momentous responsibility. While this work is greatly rewarding, it is often grueling and draining. Congregants must not forget that their encourager needs encouragement himself.
In an effort to address this need, many evangelical churches make a special effort in October to recognize their pastors, to thank them for their work, and to show their appreciation in various ways. This practice is beneficial both for the pastor, who is reminded of his congregation’s care, and for the congregation, who acknowledges and give thanks for the ministry of their pastor.
Churches would also do well to remember and recognize the contribution of their pastors’ families, especially of their wives if they are married, during this month. After all, pastors’ families are also usually deeply involved with church ministry. At the very least, they share their fathers and husbands with the congregation.
Though I myself am a pastor’s daughter, I certainly don’t intend for this article to be a self-serving “notice me” piece. I live on my own now and am, for the first time in my life, a member of a church of which my father is not the pastor. Furthermore, I was very blessed with the congregation of Central Free Will Baptist Church in Norton, Virginia, where my dad has pastored for nearly twenty-three years now. I’ll share with you some of the practical ways that they showed and still show love to my sisters, my parents, and me.
I’ve learned that pastor appreciation involves so much more than a nice gift, card, or after-church reception, though all of these are kind and encouraging. Oftentimes, our words and our deeds do far more to show our pastors and their families our love and appreciation for their following the Lord’s call on their lives.
First, one of the best things we congregants can do for our pastors and their families is to pray for them. My local church is currently engaged in the Fanning the Flame church revitalization program. Over and over again, we’re reminded to pray for our leaders, especially our pastors. In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote, “I urge that supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high position that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2:1-2).
To this end, Christians should pray for the personal spiritual health of their pastors so that these men can best lead those whom the Lord has placed under their pastoral care. We should also ask for God to give them wisdom both as they make decisions and as they explain the Word to their churches. In addition, we ought to petition the Lord to give them strength as they labor in their pastoral tasks. Finally, we need to pray that our pastors are protected from Satan’s attacks; they’re likely to be his prime targets since they have such an important responsibility.
Not only should we pray for our pastors, we should also ask the Lord for these things for our pastors’ families. They, too, have important roles in the life of the church and have the special burden of being good examples to the congregation as outlined in the Pastoral Epistles. We should ask the Lord to help them fulfill these roles and to let them be aware of his help and presence.
Furthermore, we ought to let our pastors and their families know that we’re praying for them. Few things are more encouraging than knowing that someone is faithfully interceding for you. This simple acknowledgement will do far more to show our concern and care than will all the gifts in the world.
Along with this, we should verbally encourage our pastors in their work is another important duty. Your pastor needs to know that you appreciate the labor he does for the Lord and for your church. Often, pastoring can be discouraging, especially when ministry requires pastors to help others in hard situations or when it seems that their efforts are bearing no fruit. Therefore, the verbal encouragement of congregants can do much to remedy the discouragement that comes with ministry.
It is important that we thank our pastors for their work, acknowledge the time they dedicate to the ministry, and notice their extra effort. The knowledge that their congregations appreciate them can certainly help your pastors stave off discouragement.
Also, don’t forget to appreciate your pastor’s family through verbal affirmation either. As stated earlier, they are often very involved in the church’s ministry or are dealing with certain congregational expectations that can be very draining. Let them know that you’re grateful for them as well.
Fewer things are more discouraging to pastors than lack of congregational faithfulness. Sometimes, church members are good at saying the right things, but they don’t always follow through. Other, pastors notice the lack of faithful church attendance among some congregants, who instead prioritize sports or work over faithfully gathering with the body of Christ in worship. Therefore, we can show our appreciation and love for our pastor by being faithful members who regularly participate in services and church events, though our primary motivation should be obedience to Christ.
Furthermore, there are times when your pastor feels the weight of church responsibilities lies only on his shoulders. Perhaps he feels that no one will complete the tasks of the church, if he doesn’t. In his book Sticky Church, Larry Osborne describes what he calls “the Holy Man Myth” as the idea that the pastor is somehow most closely linked to God and that work from anyone else will somehow be less effective. If this is the predominant mentality in your church, then your pastor is set up for a burn out.
Therefore, instead of being mere spectators and consumers at church, we should seek ways to serve the Lord in our local congregation. We can help our pastors in the ministry through our own unique gifts. We can ask if there are particular ways in which we can help them. Knowing that he and his family are not solely responsible for the work of the church, that there are faithful members upon whom they can call to help, can tangibly exhort the pastor.
Displaying genuine care is also very important in encouraging your pastor and his family. My mother recently described to me her latest experience at a feet washing service that illustrates this point well. As usual, the picture of mutual submission that comes with feet washing was quite powerful. However, my mom said that the service was even sweeter since she knew that the women gathered together in that room practicing Christ’s command to serve one another would honestly do just that. They often do things that show they are thinking about my parents and working to take care of their needs. They do the same for other members of the congregation.
I am so thankful for Central Free Will Baptist Church. As the pastor’s oldest daughter, I never felt unduly pressured by them to live up to unreasonable expectations. Instead, all I felt was their love and care. Their obedience to the Lord, their faithful service, and their kind and open hearts were (and still are) encouraging. I look to their examples as I am learning to do the same for my pastors and their families now I am on my own.
As church congregants, the foremost reason we should do these things is out of obedience to Christ and His commands. When we honor our pastors and their families, we aren’t merely being kind because it is October; we are fulfilling His instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves. This encourages our pastors as they are guiding us in obedience, and they rejoice in the fruits of the Spirit being borne out in the lives of their people.
Paul wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). This month, let us honor the legacy the Reformation has bequeathed to us in the shepherding pastor. Let us aim to show our pastors and their families that we love them and appreciate the work they do for the Lord. Finally, let us pray for them, verbally encourage them, be faithful members of Christ’s body, and show them genuine care.
 All Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version (esv).
 Larry Osborne, Sticky Church (Grand Rapid, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008), 49-50.