I got a letter the other day. I almost didn’t bother opening it because it came from a large, international Christian organization and so I assumed that the letter was a begging letter, especially since it wasn’t actually addressed to me personally. Letters that come addressed to “Pastor” or even “Senior Pastor” tend to have a request for money somewhere in them. But I did open it and was a bit surprised that a return envelope didn’t fall out when I pulled the letter out.
The letter was a letter of thanks to me for being a pastor. The letter arrived in the middle of October which someone has decided is “Pastor Appreciation Month”, one of the many special days and weeks and months throughout the course of the year which I tend to ignore. But this letter from this large international organization was thanking me for my work as a pastor. I confess that the letter didn’t do a whole lot for me.
While it might have seemed like a good idea to someone at some point, it really didn’t make me feel appreciated because it really wasn’t addressed to me. The fact that it was a computer generated letter with a generic “Dear Pastor” salutation and talked about ministry in such vague, general terms didn’t help. Nor did the fact that I got two other copies of the same letter with others probably coming as the various congregations I pastor get around to passing along the mail they have collected since they last saw me.
I will take some of the blame for the lack of appreciation. Most of the mail I get from this organization is asking for money and I expect that this letter is part of a well thought out campaign to make me feel better about them than about all the other organizations that didn’t send me a letter. If I feel better about them, maybe I will send them money.
But generic appreciation really doesn’t do all that much for me. A letter from a huge organization which doesn’t know or care that I pastor several congregations, which doesn’t know the specifics of my ministry, which doesn’t know the particular stresses I deal with really doesn’t make me feel appreciated as a pastor.
I do feel appreciated as a pastor–but not because it is pastor appreciation month and not because some organization sends me an appreciation letter. I know that my ministry is important and helps people. Some of them actually tell me now and then. But I can also see and hear the appreciation in the way people respond to my ministry.
Ministry is demanding and doesn’t always provide a whole lot of tangible appreciation. A lot of the people I minister to are dealing with serious stuff that takes most of their focus. People struggling with death, people excited about their wedding, people dealing with life crises don’t always have the emotional space to tell me they appreciate what I am doing. Church members who take part in the weekly Bible Study and who listen to the sermon every week don’t often feel a need to tell me how much they appreciate what I taught and preached. When they do, that is great.
But when they don’t, which is more often the case, it isn’t the end of the world. I actually am pretty independent and can function without a lot of thanks and so on–a very helpful character trait for a pastor. I don’t do what I do to get expressions of appreciation. I do it because it is part of who God is helping me become. He had given me gifts and abilities and desires and following those is important to me. If people along the way thank me for it and let me know they appreciate it, that is great but I will be doing what I do anyway.
As for the multiple copies of an impersonal letter of generic appreciation, well, that didn’t do a whole lot for me. I tossed two of them unopened into the recycling and might do the same with any others that arrive, although maybe not. The letter did have one redeeming feature. It was a one page letter with nothing on the back, which means that it can also go in my scrap paper pile to be used as scratch pads or working paper for church meetings. I do appreciate that, a bit.
May the peace of God be with you.