Does Your Pastor Feel the Love?

In case you haven’t heard, the second Sunday in October (the 11th this year), is designated as Clergy Appreciation Sunday. According to whom? That gets a little fuzzy, but no matter its origin, the date has made its way onto many churches’ yearly calendars. If you don’t have anything planned for the day, or you missed celebrating on the 11th, don’t worry; the entire month of October is Clergy Appreciation Month, so you still have time to say, “Thanks.”

If Their Spouses Could Talk

Ask their spouse what you can get their wife or husband for Clergy Appreciation Day/Month and they’ll wish they could tell you what not to get:

  • Another Bible scripture plaque
  • Another cross for their wall
  • Another inspirational figurine
  • And certainly not another Bible

If Clergy Had Their Say

Think less about tangible gifts and go instead for something like gift certificates to a nice restaurant, an offer to babysit so he/she can have a night out with their spouse, tickets to the symphony or a sporting event, etc. But clergy really want your:

  • Prayers
  • Respect of his/her time
  • Understanding that no one—including clergy—are perfect
  • Commitment to your church

I’m Just Saying

“I’m concerned that our churches may not be doing a great job of building a culture that shows and demonstrates gratitude on a regular basis if we only do it once a year,” says Luke Geraty, pastor of Trinity Christian Fellowship (Stanley, Wisconsin). “We should work hard to express gratitude regularly . . . and should really think long and hard about whether or not our practices as churches are implicitly undermining the very things we’re trying to encourage and build toward.”

It’s the emphasis on once-a-year gratitude, and the pretense created by a designated day or month, that Geraty finds troublesome.

“Eleven months of the year the music is too loud, sermon too long/short and so-and-so recently sat in their seat. But once October rolls around: ‘Pastor, we love you, and here’s a card and a gift basket,’” he writes in a post for Thinktheology.org.

He says people need to keep in mind that a pastor has a difficult job all year long and gratitude might look like a congregation that isn’t always complaining about something.

“I’m just saying that constantly complaining about the drum volume or color scheme of the bulletin might seem a little silly when your pastor has spent the last three days trying to help a couple work through a marriage crisis.”

Although the post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, he seriously takes issue with the idea of Clergy Appreciation Month for other reasons, too. He points to the fact that senior pastors don’t go it alone. “He or she has a team of people who are praying alongside of them and who are shouldering a burden that most church members are unaware of,” he explains.

Don’t get him wrong; Geraty appreciates appreciation. Really, he does. But he wonders if it could be demonstrated better.

“What if church members regularly dropped off cards telling their pastor that they were praying for them? Or what if church boards decided that they wanted to honor their pastor and send them and their spouse to a retreat that would feed their souls?” he asks. “I think it’s quite possible that we would have much healthier leaders, less identity challenges, and church cultures that would instinctively be more honoring to everyone more regularly.”

“At least that’s what I dream about.”

Preachers Won’t Talk

Want to know what makes a clergy member clam up? Just ask one about any unusual gifts they’ve received. After promising complete anonymity, a few ministers in Tennessee and one in Alabama finally—and cautiously—agreed to reveal examples of, let’s say, distinctive shows of appreciation.

“Yellow socks and a matching yellow tie,” says one pastor. “I was still single,” he chuckles, “and quite honestly, I think she might have been interested in changing my marital status!”

“It was a joke, really,” says another clergy member. “But because I was new to this particular church, a member gave me some stress-relieving tools. Turns out I needed them,” he smiles.

“A deer head,” a third pastor bluntly states. All tried-and-true journalistic interview techniques were employed in an effort to learn more . . . to no avail.

And winning the sweetest Clergy Appreciation gift category: a model of a ’57 Chevy Coupe given to an Alabama pastor. “She heard I wanted a ’57 Chevy’,” he grins. “Sits on my desk in my office to this day.”

What about you? How do you show clergy your appreciation? And how will you show them your appreciation?

Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.