October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I actually thought about putting this post on our church blog but then thought that might appear a little too self-serving! Anyway, I’ve been thinking about several verses related to how I should serve as a pastor in ministry this week.

Paul writes:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith (2Cor 1:24)

The author of Hebrews writes:

Obey your leadres and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (13:17).

The goal of the pastor is to serve his people with joy for the sake of their joy in Jesus. Unfortunately, ministry isn’t always a very joyful place for many pastors. Ministry in the local church can be downright difficult. Many (more than we care to know) become so disheartened that they actually leave the ministry. Consider this letter cited by A.T. Robertson in The Glory of Ministry:

My dear Jim: I am through. Yesterday I handed in my resignation, to take effect at once, and this morning I began to work for the __________ Land Company. I shall not return to the pastorate. I think I can see into your heart as you read these words and behold not a little disappointment, if not disgust. I don’t blame you at all. I’m somewhat disgusted with myself. Do you recall the days in the seminary when we talked of the future and painted pictures of what we were to do for the kingdom of God? We saw the boundless need for an unselfish Christian service, and longed to be out among men doing our part toward the world’s redemption. I shall never forget that last talk on the night before our graduation. You were to go to the foreign field and I to the First Church of ________. We had brave dreams of usefulness, and you have realized them. As I look back across twenty-five years I can see some lives that I have helped, and some things which I have been permitted to do that are worthwhile; but sitting here tonight, I am more than half convinced that God never intended me to be a minister. If He did, I am not big enough or brave enough to pay the price. Even if it leads you to write me down as a coward, I’m going to tell you why I’ve quit…

In these years I have found not a few earnest, unselfish, consecrated Christians. I do not believe that I am specially morbid or unfair in my estimate. So far as I know my own heart, I am not bitter. But through all these years a conviction has been growing within me that the average church member cares precious little about the kingdom of God and its advancement, or the welfare of his fellow men. He is a Christian in order that he might save his soul from hell, and for no other reason. He does as little as he can, lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without even lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance. Never have I know more than a small minority of any church which I have served to be really interested in and unselfishly devoted to God’s work. It took my whole time to pull and push and urge and persuade reluctant members of my church to undertake a little something for their fellow men. They took a covenant to be faithful in attendance upon the services of the church, and not one out of ten ever thought of attending prayer meeting. A large percentage seldom attended chruch in the morning and a pitifully small number in the evening. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Christ.

I am tired; tired of being the only one in the church from whom real sacrifice is expected; tired of straining and tugging to get Christian people to live like Christians; tired of planning work for my people and then being compelled to do it myself or see it left undone; tired of dodging my creditors when I would need not to if I had what is due me; tired of the affrighting visions of penniless old age. I am not leaving Christ. I love Him. I shall still try to serve Him.

Judge me leniently, old friend. I can’t bear to lose your friendship.

Yours as of old, William.

Does this letter accurately portray that all pastors are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated? No. I am certain that isn’t the case in every church. But it is the case in many. There exists in the Western church a professional expectation that pastors are called to do the work of ministry while the saints in the pews are called to fund the work of the ministry. But this isn’t biblical. Pastors are called to labor with joy for the advancement of the gospel in the hearts of those who are being saved. This advancement means that the sons and daughters of God are meant to be equipped for the work of ministry by their pastors.

Would “William” have left the ministry if the sheep in his flock caught a vision for laboring in the fields for the sake of Jesus? Would “William” have left ministry had he seen even an average amount of passionate interest in prayer and other spiritual disciplines? And maybe there was always interest in the hearts of the people that William served. Perhaps the sheep simply failed to let their shepherd know how thankful they were for his tender care over their souls.

Listen, the goal of PAM should be to make your pastor an ego-maniac. Don’t flatter him to the point of idolatry. But do take the time to give thanks to God for him and then tell your pastor why you are thankful to God for the way that he cares for your soul. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Send an email. Go out to lunch. Have his family over for dinner. Take him to play golf. Invite him to the football game. Give him $1,000,000 (okay, I kidding about that last one – sorta). But whatever you do, remember that your pastor will give an account to God for your soul. Pray that he would serve you with joy, and then serve his joy by submitting yourself gladly to his leadership. I think you’ll find yourself amazed at what God might be pleased to do among a people living for the joy of one another.