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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Pastor Appreciation
October 20, 2011

 [Please permit me temporarily to set aside my present mantle as pastor to presbytery, in order to say what is on my heart this week.]

One of my treasured mementos is a certificate from one of my congregations declaring “We Love our Pastor!” Of course, being from a Presbyterian congregation, it was duly signed, decently and in good order, by all the proper authorities: the Chair of Presbyterian Women (the most important signee, hands down!), the Sunday School Superintendent, and the Clerk of Session. They didn’t need to put their sentiment in writing, but because they did, their affirmation has continued to encourage me for many years.

Hallmark wouldn’t exist were it not for our instinct to preserve in writing sentiments that otherwise might pass our lips only to be quickly forgotten. Sometimes we even find courage to speak our hearts in writing in ways we hesitate to venture orally. There’s a whole genre of greeting cards that plays on that theme: “I may not say it often, but I really do love you.”

When was the last time we told our pastors that we love them and appreciate all they do for us? I can testify that such affirmations go a mighty long way toward motivating pastors to excel in their ministry. But perhaps the best encouragement comes not from words, but from actions that support the pastor.

There’s a wonderful story early in the Exodus of Moses facing a major pastoral challenge. He’s just led his people into phase two of their new sanctuary campaign (campaign slogan: “Let My people go, so they can worship Me”). But hardly have they begun moving forward with the program and his church falls into the throes of conflict. Opposing forces threaten to bring the church down, but Moses finds that as long as he keeps his hands lifted in prayer, his congregation continues to thrive. When his hands droop, things quickly deteriorate for the whole church. Two of his elders come alongside him to hold up his hands, and because they do so, he’s able to see the crisis through to victory. (Okay, I admit this isn’t an EXACT translation of Exodus 17:8-13, but it gets to the basic point of the story).

Moses is able to lead his congregation through its crisis because his key leaders do all they can to support him. If they had just watched from the sidelines as he struggled, Israel would have been destroyed. Moses was able to be an effective pastor precisely because his people stepped up to support him when he was struggling.

Pastoral ministry is one of the most rewarding vocations on the planet -- and also one of the most demanding. Many good pastors have left ministry because the stress of their work became unbearable. When pastors receive words and actions of support, it may well save their ministry – that itself is reason enough to offer them intentional appreciation. But even more may be at stake. Supporting Moses meant not only that Moses was able to hang in there, but that his congregation was spared from disaster.

A number of years ago an interdenominational group designated October “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I don’t know why they picked October, but I have discovered that it is one of the most pressure-packed seasons for pastors. New fall programs have just begun, stewardship efforts are in high gear, demands of Advent and Christmas loom large, and October has an unusually high number of conferences. There also seems to be a spike around this time of people needing special pastoral care -- maybe it’s related to upcoming holidays, or to the days getting shorter and weather getting colder. So I can’t think of a better time of the year than right now for us to step up and offer our pastors an extra measure of thanks and renewed efforts of support. For their sakes, for our congregations’ sakes, and especially for Christ’s sake, let us do all that we can to encourage those whom He has given to serve as shepherds to His flock.

Grateful for all our pastors,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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