October is Pastor Appreciation month and I know I gave you a card last night, but it didn’t begin to say all that is in my heart. I know that if I let you read this post before I make it public, like I usually do, you will probably tell me not to post it, so I’m not going to do that this time. I know Proverbs 31 speaks of the husband praising the wife in the gates, but this time I’m going to flip that around and write this publicly, praising you in the “gates” and rising up to publicly say how blessed I am to have watched you minister all these years.
It has been said to us that ministers shouldn’t have a month set aside for “appreciation.” I don’t know, I guess that is an opinion and everyone is entitled to their own. But not everyone lives with a minister. Not everyone sees firsthand that full-time vocational ministry is not a job that can be measured in hours per week. There is no clock-punching in vocational ministry. You are never “off call.” And not everyone sees that even if you are not doing something ministry- or church-related at any given moment, there is usually someone on your heart. Because people don’t realize, often, that when you are in the vocation of dealing with people’s souls, those souls have a way of entwining with your own, and their burdens become your burdens. Their sorrows are yours to counsel through, their indifference breaks your heart, and their trials are often yours to walk through as well, holding their hand and weeping with them. I have seen you come home broken over another marriage broken. I have seen you laden with the burden of someone who refuses to listen to your warning against their sin. I have seen you shaken and grieving over fellow ministers, friends of yours even, who have fallen morally. I have seen your frustration and sorrow over church members and Christians in your “flock” who claim the name of Christ but live like the world. You can’t turn these things off at the end of the workday. And that is just what happens when you care for souls. I see you do all of this because you love people. And I appreciate you for loving the people in your care.
Also, not everyone knows that being in vocational ministry means loving the church to the point of grieving when the church fails to be the church. Too often, churches get caught up in drama that has nothing to do with the kingdom, and we’ve seen this in more than one place of ministry. Too often, churches are afraid to reach outside their comfort zone to love the hard-to-love, even when the hard-to-love need Jesus desperately, and this is tragic. I’ve watched this weigh you down, and I’ve watched you stand alone, loving the hard-to-love and showing them Jesus in the name of a church who wouldn’t stand with you. I appreciate you for loving the hard-to-love. Sometimes loving the church means not giving up on the church when she seems to be resting on her laurels, content in her traditions. I’ve watched you try again and again to motivate members for ministry, to preach the word of God, to encourage excitement for the kingdom, watching burn-out hit the faithful, tempting them to give up. I watched you stand, sometimes fighting the burn-out yourself, and not give up, not run away, because you love the church. I appreciate you for not giving up on the church. And sadly, sometimes, the church forgets to be the church to those they have called to lead them. Sometimes, they forget that their staff are not employees of a business, but caretakers of their souls, and are depending on the church body to keep their promises. I’ve seen you attend a farewell reception that was based on deception, not knowing where your next paycheck would come from or where your family would live after the next week, and you carried yourself with grace. I’ve seen you weep, broken, over slanderous words that were carelessly tossed about based on nothing when our church plant failed and the promised three years’ funding was jerked after only six months, leaving you with no job, a mortgage, and a family to support, and you carried yourself with grace and humility. Unfortunately, we’ve seen promises made by the church and promises broken by the church, with no regard to how our family would be affected. The ministry is by no means a “safe” vocation. You have taught me so much in each one of these situations by refusing to spread gossip and refusing to leave in a trail of bitter words, and instead by leaning on the truth that God is the one who will provide for your family, and if the church refuses to be the vehicle for that, He will use another vehicle. After all this, you still love the church. I appreciate you for loving the church.
And not everyone knows that being in vocational ministry means loving the word of God, to the point of putting your job on the line in defense of the Scriptures. I watch you labor over the Scriptures in preparation to teach and to preach. I hear you say you are inadequate to stand behind a pulpit, because you feel the weight of the Scriptures and you know how imperfect you are. I see you tremble at the Holiness of God, and at your unworthiness to handle the Holy Word. I’ve seen you pour your heart out in a lesson or a sermon, based on the Scriptures as God has burdened you with their truth, only to be misunderstood and have your motives questioned and your character slandered by those whose own motives appear to be far from Scriptural. I’ve seen you mourn when pastors and teachers use Scripture flippantly, to suit their own purposes or causing division in the church. I’ve seen the Scripture work its mighty work on your heart, and seen it bring you to your knees in confession, in repentance, in awe of His goodness, in gratitude, in grief, and in rejoicing. I’ve seen changes in your life as the word of God bears fruit in your heart. I see this better than anyone else because I live with you. I see that you don’t just give lip service to the word of God at church on Sunday, but you let it soak into you and change your heart at home and every day of the week. I’ve seen God emblazon certain Scriptures at certain times so deeply into your heart that you were willing to make them your hill to die on in defense of the word of God when you felt like the situation warranted. I see you stake your life on the word of God, because you love His word. I appreciate you for loving the word of God.
And finally, not everyone realizes that those in vocational ministry must do all of these things for the church and her members and their families, while doing the same for his own. I watch you struggle to juggle the needs of the members with the needs of your wife and children. I watch you wrestle with the irony of teaching and preaching Scripture dealing with sins that you know are present in your own household. I watch you try to set boundaries, to set aside some family time as sacred only to receive a call from someone needing help or guidance, and then try to make the best decision you can at the moment and know you are letting someone down. I watch you love your family harder, hold us closer, as you hear of another family shattered to pieces by divorce or sin or tragedy. I see you counsel your wife when life hits hard. I see you teach your children the grace of Christ. I see you pray for us, lead us in worship, encourage us, and serve us with joy. Not because you think people are watching you, or you have to in order to set an example, but because you love your family. And I appreciate you for loving your family.
I’ve walked this path of vocational ministry with you for most of our marriage. Ministry can wring your soul, exhaust your energy, try your faith, and break your heart. It has done all these things to us. But ministry has its own rewards. Rewards not measured by human standards. Rewards not often seen with human eyes. Your rewards come in the weary soul refreshed by your counsel, in the thirsty mind enlightened by your teaching, in the hungry heart challenged by your preaching. You will never even know of most of these, until you get to Heaven. Of course, it is the Spirit Who refreshes, Who enlightens, and Who challenges, but He uses ministers of the gospel to do so. And I am so thankful that He placed me with you, a minister of the gospel. Your ministry to me alone has earned you many rewards in Heaven, I am confident. I love when people thank you for ministering to them, express their appreciation for you and your love and your ministry. I am so thankful for each one who has done so along the way. But today, it is my turn. As perhaps the only one who knows and sees the real you, I can testify that you are the real deal. Your ministry is not for show. If it were, you would have thrown in the towel long ago. Your ministry comes from the depths of your soul. It is born out of a call from God and sustained by a love for people, a love for the church, a love for your family, a love for the Word, and most of all a love for the Gospel. I appreciate you for loving the Gospel. I appreciate you so much, Pastor Clay. Thank you for your ministry to me, to our children, to the hard-to-love, and to the church.