By Will Graham, Cove Executive Director
People often compare me to my grandfather. They may say that I look a little like him, or that I sound like him. They ask if I study his preaching style to make my delivery similar to his.
Not many people, however, pick up on one similarity that has nothing to do with genetics. Before beginning our evangelistic ministries, both my grandfather and I served as pastors of local churches.
In the early 1940s, after graduating from Wheaton College, my grandfather became pastor of a church in nearby Western Springs, Ill. He preached whole-heartedly and watched his congregation grow, even as he understood it was temporary and felt a growing passion in his heart for evangelism.
Similarly, as I was finishing my studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., I was called to lead Wakefield Baptist Church, a church plant of Bay Leaf Baptist Church, where I had been a pastoral intern.
I must admit that I did not want to be a pastor. I committed my calling to God and told him, “Whatever You want me to be, whatever You want me to do for the Kingdom, I’ll do it. But please don’t make me a pastor!”
It’s not that I didn’t respect the pulpit and pastorate. Far from it! I have always had a great admiration for the saints who lead their flocks week in and week out.
But from my perspective, pastors were underappreciated and underpaid, serving long and thankless hours only to hear complaints because the message was too long or too short, the music was too contemporary or not contemporary enough. You get the picture.
Despite my misgivings, when Dr. Ron Rowe, a wonderful friend and mentor of mine, suggested I become an intern in his church, I listened to his counsel. He suggested that I may eventually end up working for my father at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) or Samaritan’s Purse, and that both organizations work closely with the local church. He thought that serving in a church would give me a good understanding and help me later in my ministry.
I became the reluctant pastor. And, my friends, I loved it! I loved almost everything about being a pastor; the congregation, the staff, the deacons and leadership teams, and opening up God’s Word every week to boldly proclaim His truths.
When the day came that I felt called to leave my church and help my father at the BGEA, I sat down at my desk and wept. Here I was in a calling I had done my best to avoid, and now I could hardly bring myself to leave. But when God tells you to go, you go.
Why am I sharing all this? It’s because October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and – as a former pastor – I want to encourage you to go out of your way in the coming weeks to encourage and uplift your pastor.
Have you ever considered how much your pastor gives, and the sacrifices that he and his family make? In many churches, the pastor is not just the preacher, but also the accountant, janitor, chaplain, librarian and counselor. He rejoices with young couples as they pledge their lives to each other, beams as he cradles an infant for dedication, and cries with families who have lost a loved one. He’s on-call 24/7/365.
Burn out is a real thing, and a real risk, when we go too long without rest. It’s no different for your pastor. He needs time to be alone in the Word, not just working on a sermon, but being filled with the Holy Spirit and the full counsel of God. He needs time away with just his wife and family to recharge and be rejuvenated for the sake of the ministry.
There are several things you can do to support and encourage your pastor this month:
- Pray. I’m sure most of you pray for your pastor. Thank you for doing that. If you aren’t making your pastor a focus in your prayer time, commit to do that this month. Tell your pastor that you’re praying for him.
- Say something. A word of affirmation and encouragement costs you nothing, but I guarantee it means so much more than you can imagine to your pastor. Tell him how much you appreciate him and his family.
- Break down the walls. Disagreements can arise that build up walls between people in the congregation, and between people and the pastor. I had to deal with it in my church, and my grandfather dealt with it in his church. Make Pastor Appreciation Month a time of reconciliation, where you put aside the differences and focus together on the Gospel.
- Provide an escape. If possible, show your pastor how much you appreciate him by surprising him and his family with a brief time of renewal. Perhaps you have a deacon in the church who can preach for a Sunday, or maybe you can offer an extra day off during the week along with a hotel stay in a nearby city that will allow him to get away to relax.
At the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, we’ve decided to make pastors a priority as well. We’ve developed Leadership Renewal Retreats which are three-day events specifically designed to refresh and rejuvenate pastors, encouraging them in their ongoing ministries. The program, lodging and meals are all free for qualified pastors and spouses. We hope that your church and pastor can take advantage of this great opportunity.
My friends, as a former pastor I can attest the great blessing it is to lead a congregation, but I can also stand here and say clearly that it isn’t easy. There are struggles. This month, show your pastor how much you appreciate him in whatever ways you can.
If you would like to be a blessing and give to the Leadership Renewal Retreat project, click here.