By: Roger S. Oldham, Pastor Engagement Specialist, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board

Originally published in the Baptist & Reflector

According to the Hallmark Corporate website, October was established as Clergy Appreciation Month in 1992, with the second Sunday set as Clergy Appreciation Day.

This annual focus, begun 30 years ago, has a “mission of uplifting and encouraging pastors, missionaries and religious workers.”

A Biblical Foundation

Long before Hallmark got into the act, the Lord enjoined His followers to “remember” spiritual leaders who faithfully proclaim His message and lead His people. One example of this instruction is found in three verses in the closing chapter of Hebrews.

The thrice-repeated “leaders” of Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24 are those who lead by example as well as by faithful proclamation of the Word of God. A verbal noun, “leaders” carries the idea of those who “go out in front” to show others the best path to follow.

It is akin to the children’s game of “follow the leader,” but it points toward childlike trust rather than childish behavior.

Verse 7 appears to be a retrospective reminder to remember your past leaders with fondness. The preacher of Hebrews called on believers in Jesus to remember those who had faithfully modeled Christ before them. The commands are forceful- follow their faith; consider their manner in life.

Verse 17 transitions from a backward look to present-day life: Respect your present leaders through followership. The verbs in verse 17 are instructive: Be persuadable (the root meaning of “obey” in this verse); submit (or yield).

Having a spirit of deference is the central truth conveyed in the word translated “submit.” Knowing that spiritual leaders have a God-given duty to “watch out for your souls,” the writer of Hebrews calls on congregants to have a persuadable and deferent spirit.

Verse 24 calls to mind a spirit of inclusion- receive your appointed leaders as friends. When the first church elected a successor for Judas Iscariot, they sought an individual who had been part of the disciple band during the time Jesus “went in and out among us” (Acts 1:21).

The “greet” in this verse implies that the church should have a similar spirit of friendship and inclusion for its leaders as they go in and out among the congregation.

Seven Practical Action Steps

Building on this biblical foundation, here are some suggested action steps to uplift and encourage vocational ministry leaders in your church during this Clergy Appreciation Month.

  • Focused Prayer: Congregational leaders need to hear their names- and the names of their wives and dependent children- routinely lifted up in prayer. Paul often repeated how he was strengthened through faithful prayer on his behalf.
  • Faithful followership: Giving deference to leaders’ ideas for advancing God’s mission through the church’s ministries is one mark of spiritual maturity.

Hebrews 13:17 stresses that leaders long to give account to the Lord with joy! Thoughtful followership by respectful congregants nourishes joy in the hearts of spiritual leaders.

  • Verbal Reinforcement: Elijah was a mighty prophet of faith and prayer, but he was also subject to discouragement and even depression. Church leaders today are subject to these same stresses. Solomon wisely wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). What a force for good!
  • Inclusion in Activities: Pastors, their wives, and their children, like all people, need a sense of belonging. For too long, many have held clergy families to such an exacting standard that they passively omit them or actively ostracize them from social activities. Everyone longs to be included and received (see Romans 15:7-13).
  • Scheduled Enrichment: Investing in your leaders for enrichment conferences (such as the bivocational pastors and wives retreat and/or the statewide evangelism conference, both in January) is one way to honor your pastors by “holding up their arms” as Aaron and Hur did for Moses.
  • Unexpected Surprises: Everyone likes good surprises from time to time, whether a gift certificate for an overnight getaway or a gift card for an evening together as a couple or family.

Pastors and other church staff are no exception to this rule. The venerable Paul gave thanks for being blessed by such an unexpected gift (Philippians 4:18-19).

  • Voluntary Service: Pastors are called by God to equip the saints, who then join pastors in doing the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Stepping forward to take a servant role in church life is a way of demonstrating that the church is a body. Every member has a part.