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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Truly Powerful Appreciation
October 18, 2018

Though it was started less than thirty years ago, “Pastor Appreciation Day” has quickly become a staple observance in many churches. It follows a week after “World Communion Sunday,” on the second Sunday of October, which has been also designated “Pastor Appreciation Month.”

Being a pastor is an “odd and wondrous calling,” according to the title of a fine memoir by pastors Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver. Sociologist Peter Drucker considered congregational pastoral leadership to be one of the four most difficult professions in the United States, along with college/university president, president of the United States, and hospital CEO. Three of Pittsburgh Presbytery’s minister members are currently presidents of seminaries (one of them, Scott Sunquist, was just last week named the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), and another of our minister members is the president of the entire Association of Theological Schools. These stalwart souls face a double-whammy challenge! I have occasionally been asked whether I would consider applying for a seminary presidency, and I have run fast in the opposite direction. In my humble opinion, nobody in their right mind would opt for such a challenge, unless God called them to it. Perhaps the same should be said for all pastoral ministry.

Back when I was wondering whether the Lord was calling me to be a pastor, I was given sage advice by one of my professors: “Don’t become a pastor unless it is absolutely impossible for you to avoid it.” Why? Because it is a challenging, difficult, trying, sometimes excruciating vocation. Unless we are certain that God has called us to this work, my professor said, we will collapse under its weight.

Really?? The reason Drucker thinks it is so difficult a vocation is because of the sheer breadth of roles the pastor is expected to play. Scholar. Counselor. Community organizer. Administrator. Supervisor. Communicator. Referee. Talent scout. Civic leader. Prophetic public voice. Teacher. Comforter. Challenger. Healer. Emergency responder. Spiritual leader. Peacemaker. Agitator. Friend. Saint. Exemplary parent/spouse. And the list goes on. Who among us could live up to such expectations?

I was privileged last Sunday to join the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of one of our pastors in his current call. The day was filled with much joy and thanksgiving, testifying that this “odd and wondrous calling” can be among the most fulfilling of all vocations. That has been my personal experience, for sure. Yet as delightful and joyous as this vocation may be, each of us pastors needs all the ongoing encouragement we can get. Not just on the second Sunday of October.

Every now and then, when I speak to an issue that is prominent in the news, readership of this letter soars. It happened again with last week’s letter, as I addressed the supreme court nomination process. But most of the time, the number of readers is modest, and after doing this every week for the past nine years I sometimes wonder whether it is worth continuing, as it involves several hours of work each week. Then I receive a much-needed letter of appreciative response from one of you, dear readers, and my commitment to the task is re-energized. For those of you who write me such notes, I am profoundly grateful.

I remember well an incident from my childhood as a pastor’s kid. We were having a “testimony time” one Sunday evening, and a church member rose to complain about something in the life of the church (which she did frequently). This time she got right to the core issue – was the pastor at fault for the church’s woes? No, she opined; “We could do a lot worse than the Sorges.” Talk about damning with faint praise! My parents were able to laugh it off, considering the source. Bless them for their resilience. But beneath that lies the important point that how we express our appreciation matters.

The two best expressions of appreciation that I know of are (1) to offer explicit thanks, and (2) to assure our regular support in prayer. At the pastor’s twentieth-anniversary banquet last Sunday, the congregation presented him a hand-painted plaque referencing Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God every time I think of you.” It was perfect – clear thanks for his ministry, and assurance of continuing prayers for him.

Like Paul, can we commit to practice thanksgiving and prayer support for our pastors often, and not just one Sunday or one month a year? It will gladden them and make them better pastors, a win/win for all!

Grateful for all our pastors,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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