Over the past thirty years, many churches in the United States have identified October as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” and of course it is appropriate that we should give thanks to God for those men He calls and sends to care for us with His Word – and to give thanks to our pastors, as well, for their faithful ministry of the Gospel in the Name and stead of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, too, for us who are called and ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry, it is appropriate that we should give thanks for that privilege – and for our own past and present pastors in Christ Jesus.
This year, in connection with the Set Apart to Serve initiative, which aims at encouraging the members of our congregations to consider preparing for professional service in the Church, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has broadened the focus of appreciation to include, not only our pastors, but all of our church workers, both professionals and volunteers. To be sure, we do not want to flatten out the many and various callings and stations of God’s people, nor to lose the distinctive character and significance of the pastoral office, in particular, which is fundamental to the life of the Church in the preaching and administration of the Holy Gospel. But the goal is to honor and give thanks for all the different ways that our Lord cares for His Church through the work of His own dear people. And the truth is that our commissioned workers, our teachers and school administrators, our deaconesses and directors of Christian education, and many others, along with countless volunteers throughout our congregations, are a tremendous blessing.
The Church really shouldn’t need a special day, week, or month to do what ought to be a given all year long. It is only right that we should regularly express and show appreciation for those who have given their lives to serve and support the life and work of the Body of Christ. But it also doesn’t hurt to do something special on occasion, and October is as good a time as any.
More broadly speaking, in addition to providing for our pastors and other church workers and the needs of their families – not only adequately, but generously – I urge congregations to encourage and support their pastors and other workers in taking time for themselves and their families, in spending time with colleagues for the sake of mutual conversation, and in availing themselves of opportunities for continuing education and professional growth. And I would ask our pastors to encourage and support one another, as well as the other workers of our congregations, along these same lines. Continuing education can take a wide variety of forms, from seminars and conferences to intensives and actual degree programs, but there is such value and benefit in maintaining our academic chops and increasing our knowledge and skills, along with the encouragement to be found in sharing those experiences with colleagues and peers.
As I’ve said in the past, what pastors most appreciate – all year long – is that the people entrusted to their pastoral care hear and heed the Word of the Lord and receive the gifts Christ freely gives. And I daresay that anyone who has dedicated his or her life to serving the Lord’s Church and His people desires, above all else, that His Word be taught in Its truth and purity, and that we as His children live in harmony with It. With that in mind, the best way to express your appreciation, encouragement, and support for your pastors and other church workers is simply to be in church, to hear and receive the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, and to pray and give thanks to the Lord. Not as a “favor” to our pastors and other workers, but to the praise of the glorious grace of God.