(reprinted with permission from Mennonite World Review)
I was called to a pastor role in my 20s. I threw my young energy into the life of the congregation. I wasn’t paid for full-time work. But that didn’t keep needs from arising at all hours of the day and night.
I worked other jobs. I went to grad school. What our young team lacked in experience we made up for in passion, care and long hours. Truth be told, I am not sure I have ever worked so hard and so long as those six years at Carpenter Park Mennonite Church in Davidsville, Pa. Now, in my conference-level role, there are rarely emergency calls at midnight or odd times.
Pastoring congregations in Anabaptist settings is not for the faint-hearted. Because of our understanding of the shared priesthood of all believers, we’re quick to share opinions and responses. To pastor and preach is to put your thoughts and actions to the test for public commentary on a weekly basis. Communities share feedback about the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, our haircuts and weight gain or loss.
But there are privileges in pastoral work. The schedule is often flexible. We get glimpses into people’s hopes and dreams, intimate moments of life’s critical passings. We carry the goodness and the best of community.
There are pitfalls. Demanding schedules disrupt family life and rhythm. Salaries are often unsustainable without second jobs. The cultural conflict that rips through our congregations often puts pastors on defense. It can be lonely and exhausting.
At the same tine, recent research indicates the pastoral role’s significance is on decline. There’s an erosion of trust due to abuses of the role and changes in our sociopolitical reality. The work of making those abuses public is essential for clergy to have any respect, but it can further erode trust. The humanity and fallibility of clergy can become all too real.
With all of that on the table, how might we appreciate pastors? Each pastor is his or her own person. But as I listen to pastors who feel close to burnout, sustainable salaries and expectations help. Acts of appreciation that go above and beyond expectation underscore value. Cutting back on criticism and heightening words of honest encouragement matter.
Let’s allow pastors to live into their role, to speak the words they feel the Spirit has given them, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Treat pastors as people with valid training and experience who can’t be debunked by a Google search or something we read on Facebook.
Let’s share honestly with pastors in our life struggles and experiences. This has been some of the most holy work for me. It requires pastors to settle ourselves enough to listen to the wildness of the soul — and depends on church members to be brave enough to bring forth more than “Good sermon, pastor.”
Whether or not your congregation marks this month, I hope we can extend appreciation for pastors. When we can’t figure out the right words or actions, there’s chocolate, coffee, plants, beef jerky, simple expressions to acknowledge the hard work.
Taking care of pastors extends the Good News, because leadership longevity contributes to the growth of faith communities.
Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.