God’s Gift of Shepherds: Pastor Appreciation Month

"The world has changed, churches have changed, expectations have grown, and the questions have intensified, but a pastor’s role is needed more than ever." Ravi Zacharias comments on the vital role of pastors this Pastor Appreciation Month.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month! Want to bless a pastor in your life? During the month of October, submit their name here to win free enrollment to the RZIM Academy Core Module. Ten winners will be chosen randomly and announced on November 1. Submissions due by October 31.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and whoever came up with the idea ought to be commended. Like everything else in our news, the stories that make the headlines are those of failure. How easily we leave unnoticed the scores of beautiful stories and successes among those that labor in the calling with a sincere heart.

I, for one, have long believed that being a pastor is one of the most difficult callings in our times. My life as an itinerant has less rigors than that of a pastor. The world has changed, churches have changed, expectations have grown, and the questions have intensified, but a pastor’s role is needed more than ever.

The world has changed, churches have changed, expectations have grown, and the questions have intensified, but a pastor’s role is needed more than ever.

I remember years ago watching as a shepherd trained Border Collies to herd sheep into a pen. It was fascinating. Border Collies are my favorite breed of dog, and they are usually considered to be one of the smartest breeds. Watching the process, you learn how difficult it is to train a Border Collie.

A pastor in our time may not feel complimented by having a Border Collie held up to him as an example, but I think anyone engaged in shepherding people should be flattered. At a time when there are no more borders and changing expectations within the “pen,” it is hard to bring anyone in. God says that even the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, “but my people, do not know...” (Isaiah 1:3). We can be the most difficult sheep.

Over the years, the responsibilities of the pastor (shepherd) have changed. A pastor is not just expected to be there for births and deaths and baptisms, but for every question this turbulent generation has. Christian homes are at risk, and young people battle hopelessness. The questions that are brought to the pastor now are loaded with angst and emotion and, dare I say, the prejudices of our time. The very word “morality” has become a contentious word. In the name of tolerance, our relativistic culture has shown its true colors by being the most intolerant generation. Touting prejudice as the ultimate sin, this generation is the most prejudiced I have seen in my entire life. And their poison tipped swords reserve their greatest poison for people of faith. How does a pastor keep up? Consoling and encouraging in past days were easier than the postmodern-day challenge of intellectual and existential animus and restlessness.

I recall a man telling me years ago that he had said to his pastor, “You’re the only one whose preaching I listen to, so please be right.” That statement gripped me: “Please be right!” That is the demand upon a human being who shares the same frailties as the rest of us. This month especially, let us uphold our pastors in prayer. They need the disciplines of a professional athlete, the intellect of an exemplary scholar, and the sacrifices of a revered saint. More than that, they are expected to take care of their own families while answering the questions and meeting the needs of scores of families. They are expected to be model fathers, husbands, and speakers, while the cumulative needs of the people they love and serve ever drain their reserves. They are expected to prepare great sermons but be available 24/7 for any emergency. Their work hours never end. Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, bares his pastoring heart to them. It is a moving passage.

This month especially, let us uphold our pastors in prayer. They need the disciplines of a professional athlete, the intellect of an exemplary scholar, and the sacrifices of a revered saint.

A few days ago, I was going through my notes with an interpreter before bringing a message. He has literally interpreted for kings and leaders. After I finished detailing the message, he said, “My brother, please pray for me. I am going through a very tough time in my life. I need your prayers.” His eyes flooded with tears. We prayed together. Being on a platform doesn’t rescue you from the threats of the arena. To whom does a pastor go for pastoring?

John Stott once said that pastoring changed when the sign on the pastor’s study door was changed from “Pastor’s Study” to “Pastor’s Office.” Stott had a point. The fact is, both are part of a pastor’s calling. Leading the team under them and exercising fiscal integrity are official roles. But ministering the Word demands serious study. We cannot set a tepid Christianity beside a scorching skepticism. The work of ministry necessitates understanding the times and knowing what to do. I meet scores of pastors every year. Many are discouraged but keep pressing on.

The story is told of a battle that was raging. A young soldier looked at an older one and said, “You’re scared, aren’t you?” The older one paused and said, “Yes. And if you were half as scared as I am, you would have left by now.” You see, it is not the absence of inner struggles that keeps one going. It is the conviction that greater is He that is in us than the one that is in the world. The battle will always be there. The truly called ones stay the course. They will someday hear the divine accolade “Well done.”

The battle will always be there. The truly called ones stay the course. They will someday hear the divine accolade “Well done.”

May I ask those of you who are part of a church to please write a note to thank your pastor for being a shepherd to the sheep of his fold? It will mean a lot. Bad news is attractive because evil seduces. Good news is harder to come by, but it is those who scatter benedictions wherever they go that reap a harvest of being blessed themselves. There is never a shortage of critics. Criticism is the easiest exercise on earth. Building something or someone beautiful takes character.

To the many that pastored me in my youth, I owe a debt I cannot repay. Thank you for caring and guiding and not quitting on me. We rise up and call you blessed.

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