Joe gripped my hand tightly for several seconds longer than normal, forcing me to slow down and connect. He spoke quietly, with great fervor. “Pastor Lemon, I just want you to know that Donna and me—we pray for you every day.”*

Joe was basically a taciturn man, practical and frugal with words. I was his pastor for five years. Once or twice a year he would assure me of his daily intercession on my behalf. These sincere reminders were certainly welcome. I also found them calming, fortifying me with a great sense that God is always in charge of my life and ministry.

Joe and I did not see alike on every issue. Sometimes it was a simple difference on how to interpret a Bible text. Other times it involved something difficult, like a church building project. But through it all he was praying for me! Looking back years later, this is what I remember of Joe.

I’m wondering . . . what would happen if we all stopped our tongues the moment a critical thought toward our pastor came to mind? Or if we stopped our tongues from gossip and instead praised God for the pastor? What if we lifted him or her up for Spirit-filled power? Maybe if we just said “thanks.” What would happen?

It is impossible to sincerely pray for people, praise them or thank them—and then trash them.

Pastors are often teased for only working an hour a week—Sabbath morning, when they are most visible. But a good Sabbath morning experience, including message, music and prayer, never results from mere happenstance. An effective sermon requires 15 to 30 hours of preparation. Often, the anguished pastor prays for the Spirit’s words to both convict and comfort, elicit repentance and rest, reverence and rejoicing. All this is easier for pastors when they can look at their congregation and see the “Joes” out there who are faithfully praying for them.

Growing up a preacher’s kid and then serving for 35 years in pastoral and conference leadership, I know what happens between Sabbaths in your pastor’s life. He or she will visit in the hospital, likely prepare a midweek message, give a number of Bible studies, work with members through their personal or marital struggles, plan for various projects that range from evangelism to the church school to lay training and much more.

Pastors usually shun earthly celebrity. However, I think we should see them as modern heroes. Here is my own testimony: A pastor my wife called dropped everything to visit my mother in the emergency room after my father died unexpectedly. A pastor prayed for my wife when, as a little girl, she was minutes from death through a blood disorder. It was a church leader fulfilling the pastoral role who prayed for my son as he faced delicate surgery near his brain. And my current pastor regularly nourishes my soul Sabbath mornings.

Pastors are targets of the enemy, much like military officers. Destroy the leader and you weaken the army. Most pastors are stretched among several churches, and those not stretched by miles are challenged in other ways that pastors must endure. No wonder that the instructor of a two-day workshop I took in 2008 said unequivocally, “Pastoral ministry in the 21st century is documented to be the second most difficult profession in America. Number one is closely related—church planting.”

During last October’s Pastoral Appreciation Month, many Mid-America churches and districts provided gifts of gratitude to their pastors and families. That is wonderful, and I know that pastors appreciated it more than the church will ever know or slightly imagine. And even more wonderful is when, along with the gifts, pastors know that their members are praying for them.

Are your prayers lifted to the throne of grace regularly on your pastor’s behalf?

Would to God that all of Mid-America’s churches could be filled with saints praying for their pastors! What an impact this would have on our world.

*Names changed for confidentiality