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Pastor Appreciation: A Lay Person’s Perspective

I have been a part of the United Methodist Church well before I was born. As I grew up with my church, I have had the pleasure of meeting many pastors as they rotated through every 4 years, or so. As a lay person, I have known for a long time that pastors did not have typical jobs or hold regular schedules. In the last few months, I have realized and appreciated this even more.

Previously, my assumptions of what pastors do included the following: attend church meetings, prepare sermons, lead worship at least once a week, lead study groups, lead camps, contribute to missions and social justice, officiate weddings and funerals, provide encouragement and act as a counselor and comforter to those in need. What I have learned is that these are the “basics” of the job. That’s right… if that wasn’t enough, there’s a whole lot more!

Since the beginning of the year, I have had the opportunity to meet, interact and befriend several clergy who were not my local pastor. I was propelled into developing new connections after being called to “do something more” than just within the walls of my local church but I was struggling to discern that calling. I spent countless hours talking with my senior pastor and several other clergy within our conference. While there were numerous attempts to find the right person for me to talk to, that appeared to be a challenge. What took me months to realize is that every pastor within our conference has unique gifts and specific roles within the connection. In other words, pastors are just one piece of a giant puzzle; albeit very important pieces. Most of the time, especially as laity, we look at the individual puzzle pieces and cannot see the entire complicated puzzle. Kinda like not being able to see the forest through the trees.

After being elected as a lay delegate to Jurisdictional Conference, I have witnessed first hand another side of a pastor’s job that I had never considered before. Beyond caring for their local church, they are involved with conference, jurisdictional or denominational committees, teams and other working groups. This means they spend hours on video conference calls with other leaders several miles or states away. They travel to have face-to-face discussions, attend leadership conferences, and share their perspectives while learning about others’. Their lives are filled with overflowing inboxes, frequent texts, endless phone calls and ceaseless alerts from other forms of communication. And all of this is on top of their personal lives! 

With this new perspective, I can honestly say that our pastors deserve lots of appreciation and TLC from their congregations! Most people don’t like to toot their own horn and say “look what I do!”. So let’s take the initiative to shower them with an abundance of congregational grace, love and support. Instead of letting our gratitude rest in our hearts, let’s take action to care for our pastors. Let’s take care of them so they can in turn take care of others and do the work they are called to do.


Amy is a pharmacist at a large teaching hospital. While not at work, she chases after 2 busy kids and cares for her needy husband. Amy enjoys wine and a good book (often together).
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Hey folks, this is Pastor Appreciation Month!

For many years October has been designated as Pastor Appreciation Month, and it’s probably the church’s best kept secret. In 1994 the Colorado Springs based Focus on the Family began to promote Pastor Appreciation Month across the country with varying results. In my almost 40 years as an active United Methodist pastor, churches and parishioners have recognized Pastor Appreciation Month on a scale of nothing, to cards, gift certificates to local restaurants, well wishes, and other affirmations of my ministry among them.

Now that I have been retired several years, I feel like I’m in a place where I can say to congregations, “Hey folks, this is Pastor Appreciation Month! How do you plan to honor your pastor in October?” In our United Methodist tradition each congregation has a Pastor-Staff-Parish Relations Committee that is in an optimum position to take the reins and honor the pastor of that congregation and encourage the members to do something special for their pastor.

Almost everyone knows that being the pastor of a local church (I know there are many other locations for ministry, but I’m focusing on the local congregation) is not a 9-5 job; it’s not a job at all. Being the pastor of a church is a calling much more than it is a vocation. In some churches pastors are “called” to lead the congregations. Whether a pastor is called, appointed, named, assigned, or in any other way brought to church leadership, she/he understands that it is a 24/7 call.

How many pastors have been called back from a family vacation because of a death? What pastor has not been called on the telephone at 3:00am to come to the hospital or to attend the death of a beloved member? And they go.

Pastors spend hours and hours preparing sermons, Bible studies, and special event presentations. There are always new books to read, study, and apply to one’s ministry. People drop in for a chat that turns into a very painful discussion that lasts a long time. And, of course, those committee meetings.

Pastors do not often hear “how good things are going,” but if there are problems in the church, I assure you the pastor hears about them over and over. A kind, caring word of affirmation of one’s ministry goes a long way.

Most pastors will not remind their congregations that October is Pastor Appreciation Month, not even tell the Chair of the Staff-Pastor-Parish Relations Committee the significance of this month.

Not me, not now. Since I’m retired, I am free to encourage, even urge, every congregation to be aware of Pastor Appreciation Month and to take some kind of action. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, like the gift of a Caribbean cruise (although, I am confident your pastor would be most appreciative), but more simple things like recognition of the pastor’s work during the worship services, encouraging congregants to send letters and cards of appreciation to the pastor, small gifts like gift certificates to the local book store or restaurants, a phone call expressing appreciation. Google it! There are lots of ideas online of ways to honor your pastor. The important thing is do something!

I will wrap up this blog with 10 suggestions to honor your pastor:

  1. Pray with your pastor.
  2. Call your pastor just to chat and affirm his/her ministry.
  3. Take your pastor (and even the spouse) to dinner.
  4. Send a card of appreciation.
  5. Give your pastor and spouse a weekend away, and be responsible to fill the pulpit.
  6. Buy an ad in the local newspaper recognizing your pastor’s contribution to the community.
  7. Gift your pastor with movie or community theater tickets.
  8. Give a financial gift.
  9. Write a handwritten affirmation letter over 200 words.
  10. At the very least, give your pastor a hug and say thank you.

All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. [Romans 10:13-15 CEB]

Gorton Smith, retired and loving it, served as local pastor [Elder] and as a District Superintendent in the New Mexico United Methodist Conference for a long time. Now he plays the ukulele. Aloha! 

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Remember Your “Yes”

A quick scan of any social media will remind you that each day carries significance with it.  I’m speaking of course about the significance of National Hamburger Day, National whatever day.  Just this past week I saw tons of pictures of daughters because, it was National Daughters Day.  What do you do on such a day?  Well, it appears you take a picture and post it to social media.  Along with those pictures comes stories, memories, and appreciation.

Today is October 1st.

Did you know that today is National Hair Day?  For those who have it – appreciate it.

For pet lovers – Did you know that today is National Black Dog Day? Appreciate your pup.

And who doesn’t love International Coffee Day! Today is the day to appreciate the nectar of the gods known as coffee.

For more October 1st holidays check out https://nationaltoday.com/october-holidays/

Today is also the beginning of a new month.  For those in the church, you might remember that today begins the month of Pastor Appreciation.

Churches tend to celebrate Pastor Appreciation month in different ways.  Based upon culture some churches might make a public appreciation on a Sunday morning – (introverted pastors love this by the way).  Others might offer a card, or a monetary gift to thank and appreciate their pastor.  Others celebrate the month by ignoring it completely.

As a pastor myself I have wrestled with this month.

Probably like you…

I appreciate being appreciated.  But, I feel awkward because I didn’t say yes to this calling because I wanted an entire month dedicated to appreciating me.  Yet, I would also feel the pain of having another October go by where my church did nothing to acknowledge it. I felt envy when I saw other pastors post about what their church did for them.  I felt weird when on the last Sunday of the month I would be publicly presented with a card because they didn’t want the month to go by without acknowledging it.  I felt embarrassed when I had to smile and receive my appreciation gift from the same people who were making me feel unappreciated at a meeting days before.

I get it.

I appreciate you.  I appreciate you because you said, “yes.”  Not everyone does that.  Today let my one small voice in the crowd of seemingly louder critical voices in your context reach you.  Maybe this is how we must begin this month.  Remember your ‘yes’ today.

You are a servant.  You know this because you are reminded often of it because of how people are treating you.  They will treat a servant like a servant; remember this.  Yet, Jesus reminds us that this is greatness.  Greatness will not be easy and rarely are servants thrown a parade for doing their job.  In the murkiness of ministry remember that there are people who appreciate and love you.  They may not always show it, even in a month dedicated to trying to show it.  But whatever you are walking through, you are not alone.  You are part of those that said, “yes”.

Thank you for your, ‘yes’.  Thank you for continuing to say yes when your circumstances encourage you to say, ‘no.’  From one pastor to another – you are appreciated.


Michael Smith

Rev. Michael Smith is the Superintendent of Congregational and Community Vitality for the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He is passionate about his family, creating new places with new people, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Hymnody and the Supposed Sin of John Piper

Article referencedà https://relevantmagazine.com/god/should-john-piper-have-changed-the-name-of-great-is-thy-faithfulness/

I read an article from Relevant magazine recently where John Piper was taken to task for adding a verse to the now classic hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I must admit, an article that takes John Piper to task for theological stances is normally “click-baity” for me because I disagree with John Piper in so much of his theology. We come from different places and I continually appreciate the challenges he presents me with when I read his teachings because it sharpens my own theological wit. I thought “what has John Piper done now that I’m gonna have to argue with”? Well, nothing really that blew my thinning hair back (it doesn’t take much these days). He was at a conference and wanted to make more connections to the theme throughout the worship experience that day. One response critical of the decision was put so well to Christianity Today:

The University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College’s  director of master of sacred music program Swee Hong Lim told them, “Hymns are theological statements …  To that end, and particularly for Methodism, hymns are not theologically neutral but carry theological distinctiveness. This is one reason why the denomination has sought to review contemporary worship songs for their theological position.”—Swee Hong Lim

Should Piper be taken to task for taking a Methodist hymn and adding verses to add to the context of his message? Sure, why not? Does the above argument made against him make sense? Sure, why not? An artist’s original meaning for a piece is important. Acknowledging the integrity of a piece of art is important, especially when the art is to be used as a teaching tool of some sort. But I caution us to fully take that argument all the way in our ministry contexts and houses of worship. As worship leaders, our aims should be different from perfect performance. We cut and paste, rearrange, modify, add, and take away, all the time when it comes to a piece of music (and how often are we also doing this to Scripture?). We do this to fit our contexts of ministry; hopefully, it’s a faithful modification. And yes, sometimes we might be missing some of the rich theological teaching a particular verse might hold for the overall message of a piece (assuming that the people we are serving are engaged in both lyrics and tune of a song….but that’s a different topic for a different day). But unless one is sticking to the author’s exact meter, order, the original instrument the author had in mind for the piece, sometimes the geographic location of the composition, sometimes even the placement in a worship service (or for concert/performance intentions only) they are marring the song at least partially. This happens when we add elements to a piece as well, like verses, or perhaps an extemporaneous prayer in the song.

As to the ethics of this practice, I tend to take a more Roland Barthes and “death of the author” stance, though I don’t carry his argument nearly as far as he would like me to. On some level, when any modifications are made, I realize I am at least partially bending a piece of art to my will and judgment. How many times have I cut a verse out of a hymn by Charles Wesley (I’m looking at you O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing), or a bridge or a  repeating chorus from another song (I’m looking at you Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Matt Maher, Matt Redman and others)? The answer is that I do this as a worship leader virtually every Sunday. And so do many of the artists and composers mentioned above because their music context is continually changing.

But back to John Piper and this particular emphasis of “meaning” in a hymn. Honestly? I don’t see anything particularly blasphemous or damning in the verses he added—both in adding them and the contents of their message. I get it. I get the argument about how, in this instance of adding, the theology and the tone of the song can change and original meaning can be stretched. But the fact these additional verses might take a more Calvinist turn since Piper is Calvinist (which, I would argue you could impose whatever spin you want on virtually any text if you played with it and stretched it long enough; and the verses in question don’t exactly scream from the TULIPS) I think enhances the tapestry of faithful beliefs and meanings in a hymn. As to whether I like the additions? Meh. They worked for his context and probably won’t show up in a worship service I lead. Happy hymnody!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

1.

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be

Refrain:

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

2.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

3.

Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer
And to guide
Strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside

John Piper’s apparently miasmic additions

I could not love Thee, so blind and unfeeling;
Covenant promises fell not to me.
Then without warning, desire, or deserving,
I found my Treasure, my pleasure, in Thee.

I have no merit to woo or delight Thee,
I have no wisdom or pow’rs to employ;
Yet in thy mercy, how pleasing thou find’st me,
This is Thy pleasure: that Thou art my joy.

 


final-bridges2Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled 1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It That Way Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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By Our Fruits.

The discussion around and about…unfortunately usually not with…LGBT inclusion has been building steam in my denomination.

I have been praying about my own beliefs for a long time but there has been no question for me on where I stand. Let me tell you why.

When I was a Senior in high school my best friend came out to me. There was much trepidation around this revelation because he knew I was a Christian and he had been burnt by Christians before. The preachers I knew never spoke against same-sex orientation…that I noticed anyway but I zoned out a lot. My parents, at that time, had never brought it up because this was NW Iowa, people, and we did NOT talk about that stuff. The only thing I knew was my experience of my friend…and my friend was, and continues to be, one of the nicest, most compassionate and intelligent people I have ever met.

So he came out and I said something to the effect that of course I loved him and those other Christians must be idiots for rejecting someone as wonderful as him. And that has been my “stance” ever since.

The discussion typically involves someone claiming Biblical truth and then they start slinging around Bible verses. There have been many excellent books written on what these verses mean. I encourage you to read up on the discussion. I have recently finally gotten it all together in my head.

There is this section in Romans 1 where Paul goes off on a rant about how God has abandoned pagan worshippers to “unnatural desires” like same-sex sex. The chapter continues with:

Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy.

In chapter 2 (btw, the chapter markers were added MUCH later so we would do well to read the Bible more continuously and less in a plucking out a pericope fashion) Paul then goes on to talk about how those who judge are probably hypocritical and therefore just as bad.

What we appear to have from Paul, in my understanding, is a list of behaviors that spring from a disbelief in God and the fruit of that disbelief are broken relationships. Not only that, but encouragement for others to break relationships. Every behavior of the people being called out by Paul is about objectifying other people. This caused me to think about the words of Jesus.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, CEB)

Paul might be speaking about rotten trees, including those who judge others without attending to their own health first. But experience has taught me…and many others…that LGBTQ lives and loves are not signs of rotten trees. There is good fruit from the lives, loves, and ministry of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. If practicing their love was so awful, so sinful, that it must be condemned in every form, then I would expect there to be consistently bad fruit. Except that’s not what we see at all.

To be fair-ish. I also don’t see rotten fruit from every single person who struggles with the question of whether or not certain behaviors are sinful. Some I do…especially those who have made it their focus to preach and teach on it. But some folks are just folks who haven’t had a chance to really be taught different, or ask their questions, or sit with the possibility for a new perspective long enough. Some folks need us to be able to talk about what is sinful behavior in any sexual orientation and what is healthy before they can really become advocates.

Some of the best people I know are LGBTQ, and some of the best people I know are just now considering the possibility that it’s ok to be a practicing LGBTQ person. We will know them, and ourselves, by our fruit.


alexis

Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.