If You Really Want to Make Your Pastor’s Day

Barry HowardHere’s a timely post from my friend Barry Howard, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.

Last week, as more and more cards and notes appeared in my inbox, in my mailbox, and on my desk, all thanking me for serving as their minister, I began to wonder if someone had announced my retirement without my knowledge, or if I looked a little discouraged and folks were just trying to lift my spirits. In my momentary amnesia, I had forgotten that October is promoted by many as Pastor Appreciation Month.

Through the years I have been blessed to “feel” appreciated by the core membership of the congregations I have served. But I’m pretty sure that is not the universal experience of pastors. I am told by my counselor friends that many clergy are highly discouraged and often teeter on the brink of depression.

I readily acknowledge that there are a few slackers among us, as there are in every career field, but most of the pastors I know work hard and feel a deep sense of responsibility for their flock. Because the multiple roles within the pastoral vocation uniquely initiate a minister into almost every conceivable life situation (as well as a few inconceivable ones), a pastor’s work from one day to the next can fluctuate between affirmation and discouragement.

Although the biblical job description of a pastor portrays one who is called to “nurture, lead, and guide,” in our culture of hyper-mobility and competing loyalties, ministry can seem more like “herding cats” than “shepherding sheep.”

What is the best way to show appreciation to your pastor? Included in the stack of cards I have received, there is a Starbucks gift card, pictures drawn by a children’s Sunday School class, and hand-written notes thanking me for “that time when” I was there when grandpa passed away, when junior got married, or when the baby was born. Through the years I have been the recipient of all kinds of tokens of appreciation, including jars of homemade jam, home-canned pickles, home-cooked cakes and pies, fresh baked bread, or garden-picked vegetables.

While I can’t speak for every pastor, here is what makes me feel the most appreciated: Faithful participation in the life of the church. For me, nothing can be quite as emotionally deflating as working hard all week, then getting to church on Sunday to discover that a high percentage of my flock is at the beach, on the boat, in the mountains, on the golf course, at the soccer game, or just sleeping in. And nothing can be quite as encouraging as working hard all week, and getting to church to see a faithful congregation of believers who have gathered to worship God.

Early in my ministry, I suppose I took it for granted that church members would be fairly faithful, especially in worship and Bible study. Now, even among historically devoted church members, participation in the life of the church is too often determined by convenience than by conviction and commitment.

This is Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor will appreciate your cards and notes, and jams and jellies. But if you really want your pastor to feel appreciated, be an active and faithful participant in your spiritual community. When I witness someone get connected and engaged in the synergy of God’s mission through the church, as a pastor, that makes my day.

KOH2RVA: Day 265

Maruca and ClemmonsOne of the surprises of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been a friendship and partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. It started when Melissa Ansley Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood, chose the Cooper School as her KOH2RVA “project.” She began to volunteer at the school, and as she did she began to see the potential for a Kingdom-bringing partnership between the school and First Baptist Church. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and “infected” a number of people at First Baptist including Mary Hiteman, Director of Weekday Early Education, and Joyce Clemmons, leader of the church’s Generosity Team. It was Joyce’s idea to provide gifts and prizes for the school’s “Spring Bash” a few weeks ago, and to spoil the teachers with extravagant gift baskets during Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s her report:

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK AT AJCES

The Cooper School enjoyed a marvelous lunchtime experience on May 8th as ten teachers were presented with mementos of that special week set aside for teachers everywhere.

The lunchroom was a beehive of eating, talking, and speeches. Head of School Mike Maruca introduced visitors from First Baptist Church who presented lavish baskets overflowing with gifts for each of the ten teachers. Joyce Clemmons, Generosity Team leader, asked the students to join her in rousing applause for the role each teacher plays in their everyday lives. She encouraged the students to continue to pursue an education and set goals for the future. Those two things will assist each student in having a high school diploma, an opportunity to attend college, and a bright future ahead of them.

Teacher AppreciationRichie Hilbert’s Bible Study group was represented by Nell Coffman. A majority of that group generously donated items to fill the bright yellow, red, lime-green, and blue baskets. Generosity Team members Joyce Clemmons and Chuck Dean added their gifts. A colored picture of each teacher was attached to the gift.
Items included Flying Squirrels tickets, Car Pool car washes, McBucks from McDonalds, and gender specific items for the school desk and at home.

Thank you teachers at AJCES for all you do. Thank you Bible Study group for your generosity. Thank you Nell Coffman for the delightful framed plaque—”A Teacher’s ABCs”—which can be displayed on the teacher’s desk.

It was a fun lunch time and George, Sr. fed us well. Thank you, George!!

I don’t think the teachers at the Cooper School are always so generously appreciated. I think it was Joyce’s intention to overwhelm them with appreciation. I think she succeeded.

I’m grateful for the way heaven has come to earth through this partnership, and I want to thank Melissa, Mary, and Joyce, for the way they keep it coming.  Who would have guessed that a big Baptist church on Monument Avenue and a little Episcopal school in the East End would form such a beautiful friendship?

It sounds like something Jesus himself might have dreamed up.

KOH2RVA: Day 241

domestic violenceYesterday morning I had the fun of going to Glen Lea Elementary School with the church staff and surprising the teachers with a show of appreciation. We knocked on the doors of the classrooms and when the teacher opened the door we would burst in, say “Surprise!” and then tell the class we were from First Baptist Church where we had been trying to be good to Glen Lea all year long, but on that day, especially, we wanted to be good to their teachers. And then we presented each teacher with a rose, a huge Hershey bar, and a poem of appreciation. Each presentation took about two minutes, the teachers seemed grateful, and for the staff, as I said, it was fun.

But yesterday afternoon I went to police headquarters for the monthly faith leaders’ meeting, and that was no fun at all. I learned that in some of the same neighborhoods where those bright, beautiful children from Glen Lea live, there is an ongoing epidemic of domestic violence.

The place was packed, and Chief Ray Tarasovic began by saying, “The house is full today because we’re on a mission. We have some folks here who are in the business of saving lives.”

He said that when it comes to domestic violence we always know who did it. It’s not a stranger; it’s someone who lives in your own home. And so he asked us as faith leaders to “preach about it, pray about it, identify it, and refer it.”

Sergeant Carol Adams talked about her own efforts to rescue a Nigerian woman from abuse. Her husband had been keeping her locked up in a house on the south side of Richmond with the windows boarded up so she couldn’t see out or get out. He threatened and abused her almost daily. Carol talked about her efforts to get that woman out of that situation, including taking a day off from work to drive her to New York where she had family. Carol’s passion was evident; I got the feeling she knew exactly what she was talking about when it came to domestic abuse.

But Chief Tarasovic wanted to make sure that we knew, as well. He told us that simple assault involves slaps, kicks, punches, and threats. Aggravated assault is when a weapon is used or serious injury results. He said that so far this year there have been 39 instances of aggravated assault in Richmond.

I thought about the difference between what we had done that morning—surprising school teachers with flowers and chocolate—and the kind of surprises some people face in their own homes, when someone who has promised to love them turns against them in anger, even violence. I said a silent prayer for those 39 people who had been victims of aggravated assault, and for the hundreds more who have been slapped, kicked, punched, or threatened in their own homes.

Sergeant Adams said, “A lot of these situations never get reported because people are too ashamed to talk about them. But we ought to be able to talk about them. We ought to be able to talk about them in church,” she added. “If it happened in the first family (referring to the story of Cain and Abel), we shouldn’t be surprised that it happens in ours, too.”

No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and dismiss it, either. We should do everything in our power to stop it. And if we know of a situation where domestic violence is going on we should report it to the police.

We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, on this year-long, every-member mission trip. Yesterday I was reminded that there are some places in Richmond that are much more like hell.