On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

What does a pastor want for Pastor Appreciation Day?


“Pastor?”  It was Dave, one of my deacons, calling.  “There are some people at church upset over the performance of the youth minister.  This could get ugly.  I expect we’ll lose some members over it.”

The knot in my stomach tightened.  For weeks I had sensed trouble brewing without knowing where or why.  Now it came into sharp focus.  James the youth minister was not friendly enough.  He spent too much time studying.  He put too much emphasis on the Bible in teen meetings.  He was against fun youth activities.  Such were the charges that were flying around the church.  Soon the web of gossip and complaint widened to include me as pastor.

When we first called James to his position, we knew there would be a learning curve, for he had never served on a church staff before.  But I felt he was doing well.  He was diligent, trustworthy, sober-minded yet personable with the youth.  When I offered correction, he took it to heart and made positive changes.

Nevertheless, one family in particular wanted him out.  Wade and Linda used their influence with other families.  Before long they were holding Sunday afternoon meetings to deal with the “youth ministry crisis.”  My own ministry became suspect, as members approached me asking why I would not allow James a freer hand in running the youth ministry.  Actually James and I worked quite well together and were in agreement on his work with the teens.  But I couldn’t seem to convince anybody of that fact.

Our detractors were relentless.  The crisis mushroomed and consumed the energy of the church.  James looked forlorn.  Families began dropping out.  The church trouble was in my last waking thoughts at night, my first waking thoughts in the morning. James confided to me that he was resigning immediately after the next major youth event at the end of the month.  Was it my fault for not being a better supervisor?  Was it the fault of one disgruntled family who thought they were fighting for a righteous cause?  I confided to my wife Marcia that I was going to resign the following Sunday.

But the next day Dave informed me that Wade and Linda had left the church for good.  It seems a backlash had started in support of James and me, even among some of Wade and Linda’s friends.  They felt the couple had gone too far.

Those painful times occurred in our Maryland ministry a number of years ago.  In the months that followed, our ministry recovered.  We repaired some damaged relationships.  The church began to unite again around the cause of Christ. 

One Sunday in October, before I could enter the pulpit to preach, a deacon stepped onto the platform and presented James and me with gift checks for Pastor Appreciation Day.  We were grateful, of course, but the deacon was not finished.  He then called upon several individuals to come forward and give a brief word of their appreciation for the pastor or the youth minister.

Larry spoke first.  When his vivacious wife Karen had died quite unexpectedly in May, he was devastated.  But Marcia and I had been like a brother and sister to him.  P.K. spoke next.  I had led him to the Lord and baptized him two years earlier; we had gone on a mission trip together.  There were others who spoke also, both for me and for James.

Of all the Pastor Appreciation Day gifts I’ve ever received, that one was the most precious.  The church sensed how badly we’d been hurt and wanted to make the day special.  We are still close to many people in that church.  James is now the pastor there.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  How do you plan to honor your pastor?  I can tell you for a fact what he desires more than anything else—appreciation.

“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).