Appreciation is valued
January 30, 2022
As the church slowly enters the post-pandemic era, pastors are exhausted and burnt out to the point that leaving the ministry altogether is tempting. A recent Barna study revealed that 29% of pastors have seriously considered doing just that: leaving full-time ministry. Too many have gone it alone, and it is taking its toll.
While tension and unrealistic expectations have always been inherent to ministry, they are likely to increase as churches continue to develop a hybrid model that not only makes sense in their context, but one that is sustainable, with the equipment and tech experts to oversee digital ministry.
According to presbyters, if a church doesn’t go hybrid, it will die. For the church not yet embracing technology — either by choice or due to a lack of resources — and for churches that are embracing technology but are confused with what a hybrid ministry will look like once the pandemic dust settles, the percentage of ministers leaving the church might grow.
The Rev. Dr. Bryon A. Wade was one of many clergy who found themselves making a vocational transition during the pandemic.
After 24 years of service to Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, he became general presbyter of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. He admits he’s surprised that more pastors haven’t left the ministry over this time of trial.
He is also quick to point out that showing pastor appreciation has not been widely embraced in the PC(USA) — and the reason could likely be due to cultural differences.
“Culture influences how congregations recognize their pastors. The Black Baptist church has done a good job of honoring their clergy as pastors are seen and looked upon as leaders in the community, especially when it comes to civil rights. We’ve inherited the legacy of those such as Martin Luther King Jr. and other Black preachers who were on the front line of social justice,” said Wade. “Preachers bring the Word and care for others. Showing appreciation to pastors is celebrated in such churches, but not so much in the Presbyterian church.”
Wade said appreciating a pastor starts with understanding that the work they do is a call, not just a job.
“To appreciate a pastor, you have to walk in their shoes. No one is complete or perfect. Showing love and appreciation goes a long way,” he said.
The Rev. Dr. Floretta Barbee-Watkins, the transitional general presbyter of the Presbytery of Detroit, knows that “appreciation appreciates” as she pastored a Black Presbyterian congregation for 18 years. During that time, she said she received such gifts as golf clubs, gift cards and a year’s worth of working with a personal trainer.
“In the church I served, many of the congregants came from traditions other than Presbyterian. The Presbyterian church could do a much better job of showing appreciation, especially after the pandemonium of the pandemic when pastors had to learn to preach in front of a camera, do their own editing, use their own equipment and stay in the struggle,” said Barbee-Watkins.
But it’s not just the new pandemic skills clergy have had to learn that make congregations showing their appreciation more important.
“Beyond the pandemic, Presbyterian pastors require a lot of education, carry student loans and serve smaller churches with small salaries that are not commiserate with their education,” she said, adding, “Clergy are not called to be indentured servants who answer on demand. They experience more emotional exhaustion and physical ailments than most. They want to do what they do and do it well. God has called us; we want to feel that those we serve grasp the time and effort it takes to fulfill that call.”
Studies have shown that most pastors burn out within seven years, as they are on call day and night and don’t have enough balance in their personal lives.
“Love breeds love,” said Barbee-Watkins, noting that tokens of appreciation don’t have to be lavish. They can be as simple as pictures drawn by the youth, words of affirmation and positive comments on sermons. “All acts of kindness count,” she said. And those acts “can transform a culture of lack and scarcity to a culture of abundance and generosity.”
Sherry Blackman, the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, and author of the recently published book “Tales from the Trail, Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail.”
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, January 30, 2022, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Today’s Focus: Appreciation
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Loving God, too often we see people who are suffering, and we cross to the other side of the street. Help us to be compassionate, to love our neighbors, to feed your lambs. Amen.