Who’s had the most influence on your Christian development?
When I consider this question, I think of the people I was around as a young adult: the slightly older housemate who prompted me to be open to international work for the gospel (result: three years in Mongolia), the student ministry leaders who invited me to their church (result: leaving the charismatic movement). Or my family: parents who were new believers when I was born (result: always knowing Jesus),1 my quiet but thoughtful husband (result: showing God’s care as a meat-avoiding pacifist). Or Christian authors: John Piper (result: seeing that God is marvellous), Christopher Ash (result: coming to appreciate that singleness is valuable), Adrian Plass (result: realizing that God loves us even though we mess up).2
I don’t tend to think of my minister.
Which is sort of weird, when you think about it. I listen to this guy preach once or twice a month, depending on the roster. He heads up the team of leaders caring for us, doing the same work beside them. He makes the call on which ministries our church continues or puts on hold. He’s been in my life for years in various roles, from pastor to employer to missionary supporter. He’s sort of a big background deal.
I was introduced to ‘Pastor Appreciation Day’ while overseas. Let me tell you, it goes against the grain of Australian culture. I think most church leaders here would cringe if you recounted their virtues in front of their congregation—we are not a people who take compliments well, especially when they are formatted as a PowerPoint presentation. But it really did get me considering the impact that my past and present church leaders have on my life.
It can be easy to overlook the influence of our pastors when they aren’t the kind that speak at conferences or put out books or drive us totally insane. We aren’t debating their latest theological theories or singing the song they wrote or sharing their opinion column on Facebook. They might be the rather-removed guy up the front speaking en masse rather than the Bible study leader talking us through the personal implications of the same passage—and we always remember conversations more clearly when we get to have our say. Alternatively, we may come to know them so well, their strengths and their failings, that in our minds they become part of the furniture, ‘one of us’. And they are. But either way they are doing a pretty tough job that most of us can’t shoulder, being held accountable before God for the people they shepherd.
It probably also reflects just how overly casual we are about Sundays. We take frantic notes during conference talks using the provided booklets, putting them on the shelf at home and nodding to ourselves when they catch our eye about how good they were—but apart from a quick “what a good sermon” to each other over the snack after the service, it feels like our church’s gospel talks frequently go in one ear and out the other. We don’t turn up expecting anything that will radically change us.
But even if we can’t bring to mind exactly what was said six weeks ago, I promise you that cumulatively your regular preachers are wearing down paths through your brain. They are having an impact on you, unseen or not. What they teach you from one Bible passage provides you with context for other passages you read, influencing the way you understand the Bible as a whole. You will have spent more time on their favourite topics and books. Whoever they are listening to and reading ultimately affects what you come away from church with.
For these reasons and more, I hope that you are praying for them. I hope that you are partnering with them to care for the body of Christ in your church and for the communities you are a part of that need to hear about Jesus. I hope that you are being generous with your time when considering ministries, your finances when resourcing the church, and your heart when forgiving them. I hope you are looking out for their families. I hope that you are encouraging them by letting them know that you are thankful for their efforts to feed you solid gospel food.
Once you sit down and think, I suspect that the times your church leaders and their families have helped you take a step forward will come to mind. After a difficult time is over I tend to forget about it, but in writing this article I can recall several instances where my minister and his wife gave advice and assistance that set my family and me on much better paths.
Putting our appreciation into words, spoken or written, would benefit both our pastors and ourselves. Whatever day they are having, hearing that their work in Christ has made a long-term difference to you will be a boost to your leaders in their challenging work. And for you, reflecting on God’s mercy and generosity in giving them to you will help you realize and remember that God uses the mundane everyday to do the supernatural work of shaping us to be more like his Son.
I wouldn’t say I’m keen for the ceremony of Pastor Appreciation Day to catch on in Australia, but I am keen for more appreciation of pastors—from myself as much as anyone else—and more recognition that they are influencing the Christian growth of all in their church, week by week, person by person, to the glory of God even when unrecognized by man.
1. Probably I should think of them first. Sorry mum and dad.↩
2. Why yes, it was the early ‘90s.↩