While writing this article in recognition of Pastoral Appreciation Month, I had to ask myself a few questions. Should I express appreciation to our fine pastors serving the churches across the Mid-America Union Conference? Or should I perhaps address the members whom they serve, admonishing them to be supportive and appreciative? There is, however, no doubt in my mind that I should at the very least praise God for these individuals who have stepped up and out in the selfless service of pastoral ministry. After all, Christ has called and given them to bless His Church through their dedicated lives and meaningful roles in spiritual work. Certainly, those who have responded to the urgent call of this late hour and are serving churches across the Iowa-Missouri Conference, Mid-America Union Conference, North American Division and the world field have blessed us all in many ways.
Today Christ has given His people, the Church, a work to do. That mission is expressed in the clear directive of Christ’s command in the gospel commission given in Matt. 28:19, 20 and Mark 16:15: “Go into the world and make disciples… Preach the Gospel to all the world.”
After the apostle Paul says that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” he emphatically states, “how then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Rom. 10: 13-15.
Of course, inherit in this great commission is the urgent need to preach with our hands and heart in lives of service, grace and ministry to a dark and fallen world where lost souls are victims of sin’s insidious impact on society as a whole and personal lives, resulting in pain and tragedy. Not to mention unfathomable toll of eternal loss.
To this work of personal ministry, of administering healing and love, God has called pastors to go and share the good news of salvation and transformation by grace through faith as they heed the call of Christ. Like Isaiah of old, the gospel minister responds in a specific manner saying, “Here am I, send me.” Not unlike the days when the Lord spoke to His servant and prophet, individual men and women are called to a specific role in ministry as pastors to lead others and to serve the body of Christ.
Perhaps even more specifically, like Christ the Chief Shepherd who calls and equips them, they are fulfilling the role of under shepherds and following in His footsteps. At the beginning of His ministry for our lost planet Christ spoke the words written by the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” Luke 4:18-19.
In a similar manner as in Christ’s life, these words of Scripture are fulfilled in our day in the lives of dedicated pastors who serve and sacrifice for the cause of Christ.
With these thoughts in mind, I would say that there is no higher calling than to the pastoral role of servant leader, gospel worker, biblical preacher and shepherd of the flock.
Today many things have changed regarding the perspective of society and the challenges faced in pastoral ministry. But the pastor’s role remains virtually unchanged even if expectations and challenges have increased. There is no doubt that the landscape has become more diverse and the task more daunting. People’s expectations are limitless and their demands are futile and frustrating. Some pastors live lives of subtle loneliness and seeming obscurity. Most are generally under the scrutiny of the public and their congregations. The proverbial “glass house” is certainly an accurate portrayal of the lives and expectations pastors routinely experience.
Respect for those who serve in this role has diminished as a result of scandals and moral failure. Pastors have become casualties. They are not exempt from frail humanity. The challenge is amplified by the demands on family and health when the role calls for long hours and marginal salaries. There is the breakdown of the family resulting in the moral and social degeneration of society and culture. Christianity has not accomplished the goal of transforming society and halting the inroads of secularism and social morass. Pastors today have to serve and lead in the midst of a quagmire of negative sentiment toward authority as a result of political incompetency and duplicity.
For the most part, our pastors are champions of the faith and truth we love. They have carried great burdens and spiritual responsibilities with remarkable accountability and effectiveness. They should be encouraged and appreciated for their efforts and faithfulness to God and those they serve. We must never allow the failures or misdeeds of a few fallen and disgraced persons to taint us with cynicism and faultfinding, resulting in a less than supportive spirit.
Nevertheless, God is faithful as He has called and equipped His servants to go forward with increased faith and power for a finished work. A vital effort is taking place through faithful men and women who have accepted this bold challenge.
Some pastors work 60, 70, or even 80 hours a week and serve congregations that clamor for still more and more attention. Few people realize that an effective pastor creates an increased demand for his/her time, so that they are at it early in the morning and late at night. There is always the personal challenge to fit God into their own schedules. My guess is that the greatest challenge for pastors today is to maintain a heart yielded to God. There is the great challenge to not become so involved in the administration, visitation, and other tasks of the work of the Lord that they fail to spend quality time knowing the Lord of their lives and work. Perhaps this is a plea to give support to our pastors by taking up the work God has called us to individually as elders, lay leaders and members. The best way I believe we can show appreciation to those who serve us is to serve with them.
Sometimes when I call to speak with a pastor I might act as a needy parishioner and say in a disguised voice, “Pasto, I have a raccoon in my chimney. Could you come and take care of him for me?” Of course I’m just kidding. But I do this in an effort to acknowledge the myriad of requests and expectations that some church members have unwittingly placed on pastors. After all, “pastors only have to work one day per week” is the false conception often entertained or embraced by some of our members.
And I can tell you that pastors have an awful lot of raccoons that they have found it necessary to deal with in their years of service. Many of which we should be grateful for and many of which they should be relieved. They should pass the deacon responsibilities back to where they once belonged. Elders and other local leaders can make the pastor’s role more effective and rewarding by sharing in these extracurricular activities.
Here in the Iowa-Missouri Conference we have asked our pastors not to work over 50 hours per week no matter how many churches they serve. We have found that if they work more 50 hours per week on a consistent basis their personal health, marriage, family and ultimately their ministry will suffer drastically and burnout or worse will occur. Pastoral spouses and their families need the support of the congregations they serve to maintain a healthy balance in life and work that is both realistic and nurturing in order to provide the most positive and productive experience.
So, it is time to show our appreciation to the pastors in our field. Let’s do so by giving of ourselves in reasonable service and commitment. Let’s go forward together. God has called and gifted pastors for their life work of gospel ministry. He has gifted and blessed us with their commitment. Let’s do the same for them and the Lord who has called us all to Him in this important time of history and the Church.
Robert Wagley is ministerial and evangelism director for the Iowa-Missouri Conference.