By Shawn McMullen
Since 1994, when Clergy Appreciation Month was first introduced by Focus on the Family, churches across the country have designated a Sunday in October to honor those who serve them in vocational ministry.
The apostle Paul knew the value of honoring and supporting those who preach and teach the gospel. He wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). He urged the church in Thessalonica to “Acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13).
As a minister of the gospel, I know what a little encouragement from the flock can mean. As I’ve met with church leaders across the country, I’ve become increasingly aware of this deep need in the lives of vocational Christian servants—and of how seldom many of them receive it from their congregations.
We can’t overlook the contributions of those who work other jobs and volunteer in the local church. Where would we be without dedicated elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and children’s ministry workers?
Still, the minister’s work is unique among servants in the church. Most church volunteers who work other jobs are at liberty to travel as much as they wish on weekends and holidays—to visit other churches or simply stay home when they’re not feeling quite up to attending a Sunday service. When they’re fatigued or begin to feel burned out, they simply resign from committees and ministry teams, trusting others to carry on in their absence. Many attend meetings and cast votes knowing they can leave the details to someone else. Even when they make tough and unpopular decisions, they can find ways to separate themselves from the church environment by spending more time with family, taking trips, or focusing on their jobs.
It’s not that easy for vocational ministers. Even when they attempt to live balanced lives tending to their flock, their family, and their own well being, many find it difficult to separate life outside the church from ministry within the church—due largely to the personal investments they’ve made in the lives of those they love, serve, and lead. They don’t make hard decisions without thinking about the people their decisions affect. They’re concerned for the growth of the church, but also for those within it who sometimes feel marginalized or overlooked in the process.
And although they know better, many allow the status of the church to affect their self-esteem.
If your church is like most, you have your share of hard working, sacrificial servants—and you need to honor them. But this month, I hope you’ll find a special way to honor the vocational ministers among you.
It’s the least we can do.