It's Really Not "Too Much"

For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward (1 Timothy 5:18).

At the end of the worship service this past Sabbath just as the benediction was about to be pronounced, my church clerk interrupted and said, "Wait! Wait! There's one more announcement!" As a person who is inclined toward order and structure, I was caught off guard. Many said afterward that they wished someone had photographed the look of surprise on my face.

My clerk, being a person of even more careful and thoughtful preparation than I, had not actually forgotten to make an announcement. This was intentional. Her little “Wait! Wait!” was a signal to several members who were prepared to honor me with brief one-sentence affirmations, each beginning with a letter of my surname in honor of my birthday. Wow!

The people I pastor took the time to recognize a major milestone in my life and to show appreciation for me as their shepherd. It’s hard for me to convey to you just how meaningful that was!

On the heels of this act of kindness to me, I want to seize this opportunity to give some unsolicited counsel to all the members of congregations who are willing to hear. You are not my member, but please give me a hearing. What I'm about to tell you is what your pastor wishes he could tell you. Your pastor can’t say it. She or he can't because it would seem self-serving. But I can. And I want to because of the blessing I just received.

I promise you: your pastor didn't put me up to this. But I did I tag them on purpose. It is my hope that you will read this post because you went to her or his Facebook page.

And to my pastoral colleagues, I am neither expecting you to chime in nor to cheer me on. I want to talk directly to your members. Here we go:

There is an unstated but seemingly understood philosophy within our denominational context that resists showing "too much" appreciation to the pastor. This post is not going to try and get underneath the reasons why things are this way. I could speculate, but that isn't the focus of this particular post.

I am not trying to offend when I label this unstated philosophy the product of a "spirit of stinginess." This spirit of stinginess runs all throughout our denomination. And you can see it when local church leaders complain about giving honorariums to preachers who have come and preached a powerful word that has resulted in repentance, conversion and revival.

Don’t turn me off yet. Give me a chance to make my case. Think about it: when the preacher delivers that powerful message, the church reaps the benefits of transformed hearts and minds.

The mindset of the unchurched person changes, and they join the church. When an individual joins the church, that means that the local church will -- for the rest of that member's time as a part of that particular congregation! – enjoy increased local giving. Every time a new person joins the church and learns that stewardship is a part of discipleship, the local church’s income increases.

In other words, that new member who responded to the appeal of the guest preacher, will eventually more than pay the honorarium of the preacher who brought them into the church! Being stingy doesn't make sense, does it?

Or consider the renewed heart and mind of that lackadaisical member when the Holy Spirit uses the same powerful sermon of the guest preacher to bring him back into the fold. The member who was (prior to the sermon) infrequent, inconsistent in returning tithe and offering, and inactive in his service to the church, begins to re-engage and support the church both through his effort, influence and means. He too will eventually more than pay the honorarium of the preacher who encouraged him to return to his "first love" experience. I'm telling you, being stingy just doesn't make good sense, even from a strictly economic point of view! To say nothing of the Scriptures that admonish us, "Don't muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn."

I'm building a case for financial appreciation for the pastor against the backdrop of a culture of "un-appreciation." The pastor, in too many of our churches, is expected in one instance to put on an apron and serve the people. But reciprocity is all too often absent in congregations where this expectation is held. Why do I say that? Because when sister-pastor or brother-pastor has finished greeting the members, finished meeting the guests, finished listening to and praying with people regarding all their problems, no table is reserved for her or him when entering the fellowship hall to break bread with the church family. It's almost like some members want to tell the pastor, "You ain't nobody special! Get in line like everybody else!"

But the pastor is not like everybody else! Yes, she or he is human like everybody else, but the office of pastor demands of her or him what it does not demand of any other person who will be seated in the church's dining hall.

What do I mean? Well, for starters, the pastor cannot stay home when he doesn't feel like going to church. Nor can the pastor sit with her or his family every Sabbath. Neither can the Pastor resign halfway through the term he agreed to serve because he's discouraged by the “lack of participation and support from the church.” The pastor can't take the month of December off from returning a faithful tithe and offering to buy Christmas gifts for his children. No, the pastor is NOT like everyone else.

No one else is expected to show up when your loved one is in the hospital from a stroke. No one else is expected to be one of the first people to show up or call when a family member dies. The pastor is not like everyone else. When you set your wedding date, you expect the pastor to change his schedule to accommodate your special day.

One pastor recounted to me his experience where the church was throwing a fundraiser. It was a ticketed event. If you did not pre-purchase a ticket, you were expected to pay at the door. The pastor was scheduled to be on the program. But when he arrived at the door with his family, the person taking the money would not allow him entrance without him "paying up" like everybody else. The pastor expressed dismay at being placed in a lose-lose situation. If he had not shown up, the members would have grumbled that he was not being supportive of their fundraiser. But then he was expected to pay for entrance into a program that he would never have chosen either for his own entertainment or relaxation.

I know that nobody put a gun to your pastor's head to go into the ministry. I know that he or she willingly responded to the call of God to serve the church. But I'm trying to frame this for you and help you understand that it is a continual sacrifice to serve as a pastor. And my larger point is that it will not hurt you to show appreciation.

This past Sunday in Maryland there was a farewell and appreciation dinner for the retiring president of the Allegheny East conference. Dr. Gina Brown and Dr. Marcus Harris did a spoof of Elder Cheatham. Dr. Marcus Harris acted as if he were a charismatic, James-Brown-styled, cape-wearing Charles Cheatham. There was an extended imaginary dialogue between Dr. Gina Brown, the interviewer, and Dr. Harris who was play-acting as a "Bishop Cheatham." At one point "Bishop Cheatham" said, "I’ve got plaques from China and Bangladesh. I don’t need another plaque. Just give me some cold, hard cash!"

I know that resonated as preachers all over the room laughed at that line. And it is so true! Don’t get me wrong, plaques are nice. But you can’t spend a plaque on a new couch. You can’t pay for your car repair with a plaque. The mortgage company doesn’t accept plaques when you’re trying to pay off your mortgage early.

I heard the story of a minister who had preached his heart out at a weeklong revival and the congregation gave him a set of golf clubs. Let me tell you something: 99 out of 100 preachers I know will tell you that they would prefer the cash than a set of golf clubs! Those who play already have a set! Those who don't play have less of a need for golf clubs than to bring some cash to his wife who has been at home alone all week with the kids.

Now, before you think we preachers are money-hungry hucksters of the Gospel, let me give you a little more context. Pastors spend a lot of money in ministry. (A lot like good teachers spend a lot of their own money on their classrooms.) I would guess that pastors in my denomination spend more per capita than pastors in other denominations in advancing the mission because of the way our church's finances are structured. If your pastor has a vision for something and the local church budget will not accommodate it, she or he will often pull from her or his personal finances in order to make it happen.

My preacher-pastor friends and I have paid musicians, footed the bills for Churchpond and Praizevision, under written evangelistic materials, purchased plane tickets, paid for their own professional development, donated projectors, screens, and other equipment, and the list goes on. Why? Because we believe in what we do. Because our treasure is where our heart is. All I am saying to you is that if you give a financial blessing to your pastor, you are not going to make him or her rich. Trust me, she or he has been investing a lot of her or his personal money into the ministry. And it's just a nice thing when people acknowledge that and want to bless you back.

Your pastor makes a sacrifice to lead your congregation. And I want to suggest that it's not too much to set a little aside to share something with them on special days: the pastor’s birthday, pastoral appreciation month (October), Christmas, and the anniversary of the time she or he came to serve your congregation. (Take note of that. Don’t let it pass without acknowledging it. The church becomes a second spouse to the pastor. Pastors are emotionally tied in with their congregations. Anniversaries shouldn’t pass without special recognition.)

Dear Church Member, pastors are human beings. And human beings like to be appreciated. If someone told you that appreciation is worship, they were wrong. It is not. Your pastor knows that God alone is to be worshiped, but trust me when I say, it never hurt anybody to say "thank you."

Let me offer you one last perspective. I can almost guarantee you that your pastor lost money when he came to serve your church. If his wife was employed, they lost some income due to the move. The cost of moving is a significant financial hit for every pastoral family that I know. Conferences have policies that only allow them to pay the mortgage of the pastor's last home and the new home for a few months. We all know that houses don’t always sell as soon as they are put on the market. Often houses don't sell before the conference policy cuts off that mortgage assistance. Paying two mortgages gets really tough really quickly! There are fees associated with getting cars registered, licenses changed over, there are furniture items that only worked in your last home that won't work in your new home. Take, for example, your curtains. They are made to measure. In some ways, the pastoral family is starting all over.

Please hear my heart. If you and your fellow members drop a few thousand dollars on your pastor, you have not hurt anybody. You can collectively do it and by doing so, affirm the person who watches over your soul.

How do you pull something like this off? Well, I am glad you asked! Get together with some other people who have the spirit of liberality and form a pastoral appreciation committee. Your plan could be something as simple as asking each member for $10. If a family of four gives $10 a member, that's only $40 for that family. Of course, some can do more.

Plan ahead. You can't ask people for this at the last minute and expect full participation. But if you were to ask members to give $10 three or four times a year, you would be a tremendous blessing to your pastor and her or his family. And that really doesn't hurt! It helps!

From what I know about the pastors with whom I fellowship, it would be greatly appreciated.

I know I am greatly appreciative of the love shown to me and my family this past Sabbath. I felt that I should seize the opportunity to both testify and encourage you to “love on your undershepherd.” She couldn't say it. He couldn't say it, but trust me, it's a good thing. And it’s really not “too much.”


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