The concept of clergy appreciation started with the Apostle Paul as he was establishing the first Christian churches, according to Focus on the Family’s ThrivingPastor.com. Since then, pastors have been recognized and honored at various times of the year by different denominations and individual churches.
Focus on the Family began emphasizing Pastor Appreciation Month in the early 1990s, reminding congregations to honor their clergy staffs and families throughout the year, but suggesting a special tribute during October. For churches that wanted a one-time celebration, they also chose its second Sunday as Pastor Appreciation Day.
Congregations honor their pastors in many ways, with everything from notes of encouragement to vacations. Search the Internet for ideas and you’ll find poems, songs, skits, cash offerings, restaurant gift cards and any number of other suggestions for expressing your appreciation to your pastor, church staff and their families.
Interestingly, you’ll also find some alarming statistics about pastor burnout – tabloid-like proclamations that hundreds of them are leaving the ministry every month, they’re in unhappy marriages, they feel unprepared to lead their churches, they want to quit their jobs, etc.
According to Christianity Today blogger Ed Stetzer, these stories of pastor breakdown also started with Focus on Family. But “started” is a very important word in that sentence, because they originated from a telephone survey done in 1992, and over the past 23 years they’ve been turned into an often misquoted urban legend.
Stetzer’s recent Q&A with Jerry Frear, who helped start the pastor recognition observances when he led a Focus on the Family ministry that served pastors, is fascinating and educational. He points out that the methodology used to collect the data wouldn’t be acceptable today, and that changes in the profession have alleviated some of the problems ministers faced more than two decades ago.
“The biggest thing is that the ones that are quoted most often are incredibly old,” Frear told Stetzer. “People need to be careful about quoting old numbers.”
People have kept the numbers alive despite other calls for them to stop. Their intentions may be good – that’s why you’ll find them intertwined with search results about pastor appreciation — but it’s comforting to know that some of those alarming statistics we see are longer true, and that perhaps they never were. More importantly, we shouldn’t let them detract from the true purpose of Pastor Appreciation Month — to honor clergy and staff with encouragement and thanks for all of the good they do for your church, community and family.