Musings

This Pastor is Appreciated!

I don’t normally share our weekly in-house email, Between Sundays, with the wider public, but I think this one deserves to be shared.  If you’re not tangibly appreciating your pastor, here’s some inspiration to do so, whether in October or any other time of year – since nobody gets too much encouragement! — JFL

I was speaking with my spiritual director last week, telling her about October. Insightfully, she said, “October is like Christmas for you.”

She was absolutely right.

October is a month for giving thanks in Canada, and it is Pastor Appreciation Month. I am the envy of many of my colleagues, whose congregations have never heard of Pastor Appreciation Month.  I brag a little bit each year – not about what I receive, but about you, and how, even after ten Pastor Appreciation Months with you, I am still surprised, honoured, and humbled by your kindness.

(Can you believe it’s been ten Pastor Appreciation Months?  It was 10 years ago today that Diana and I moved into the manse, with me in some fear, some trepidation, and a lot of faith as I eased my way back into the pastorate after two and a half years in parachurch ministry.  What an amazing journey this has been, and continues to be! God is good.)

I have a collection of cards on my desk; each will be kept, read again, and treasured, as I have done for the past 10 years.  I’ve mentioned before that in previous congregations, I had a “happy file”, in which I kept notes of encouragement that I received from congregants.  Early on in St. Paul’s, I learned that a “happy file” won’t do; I actually have to keep a “happy drawer” in my desk, one of the deep drawers, to contain all the encouragement I’ve received over the years. I’m sure it’s no secret that your encouragement makes it a joy to serve the Lord among you, and I truly hope that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27.17), that I am able to be an encouragement to you, too.

I don’t know who organizes this, but it’s obviously a coordinated event.  Most people sign their cards, allowing me to thank them.  Some choose not to sign, and that’s okay, too – though if I recognize the handwriting, I thank them anyway!  There was one person who scratched out a signature, thinking it was supposed to be anonymous, and that person’s handwriting eludes me.  (Whoever you are, thank you!)

October has always been my favourite month of the year, with beautifully-coloured leaves and crispness in the air.  But you have doubled my delight with your ongoing kindnesses.

A culture of gratitude – not only toward the pastor, but from the pastor, and toward one another – makes a church’s culture irresistible to those seeking a church home.  So keep up the good work of being grateful, as will I.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  It truly is a joy to serve the Lord together.

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Encouragement From The Word

Iron sharpens iron

Last Tuesday night, the active elders of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton invited all the elders who had previously served on the congregation’s leadership team to a pot luck dinner for some conversation around change and the future of the church.  It was a really productive and encouraging evening; I wish it could have been longer, but by the time everybody pitched in with clean-up, it was getting late, and we didn’t want to keep people.

Consulting with people who’ve “been there” is always time well spent.  I’d say if you added up all the years of service to the Lord that were gathered in that room, it would total many hundreds of years – that’s a long time.  That’s a lot of wisdom to draw from.

I wish I had always seen the value of such gatherings, but when I was younger in ministry, I actually feared these sorts of conversations, probably because I didn’t handle criticism very well…even when it wasn’t offered as criticism.  If I’d held gatherings like this when I was in my 20s and 30s, I might have made fewer mistakes.

Likewise, having mentors and friends who can encourage us in the work we do and in our walk with the Lord will benefit us greatly, whether we see immediate results or not.  The key is to be open to the conversation, to listen, and to act on what we learn.

Who could you meet with that would improve your work?  Improve your discipleship?  Improve your church?  There’s something to pray about!

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Iron sharpens iron

Yesterday, I had a three-hour conversation with a colleague whom I deeply respect and genuinely like. Our conversation went ‘around the world’ in one sense, but found its focus on God, the things of God, and being leaders of God’s people. It was the kind of conversation that leaves one energized and encouraged about the task of serving God’s kingdom.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in church leadership or not; you need a friend with whom you can have those comfortable conversations. Ideally, you need a friend with whom you can talk about your work and your faith; for my colleague and I, of course, those two things are intricately interwoven. But to be able to chat freely, openly, and vulnerably with someone about life and faith is a real gift. Hopefully, you can do this with your spouse, if you have one, and that’s an important part of any marriage; yet it’s also good to have friends, particularly who share similar vocational or avocational interests, with whom to exchange ideas and just generally commiserate.

John Calvin certainly had this in mind when he created his Company of Pastors, a weekly gathering of clergy from all around Geneva and environs, in the 1530s. Not all jobs have any sort of built-in method for fellowship, but that doesn’t stop us from creating them. Even if we are not working outside the home everyday, as is the case with retirees and stay-at-home parents, there can still be room for connecting with friends in a similar place in life. (If you’re not sure of the value of this, check out any moms-and-tots group, or the coffee klatch at the nearby donut shop most weekday mornings!)

These examples allude to another form of Christian fellowship from which we all can benefit: the small group. Congregations have different names for their small groups; at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we call them LifeConnect Groups. They are avenues for study, fellowship, mutual support, and service, and are key means of helping the congregation fulfill its mission to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community. Being part of a small group is a great way to remember that our faith is not just a Sunday thing; God calls us to integrate our faith into every aspect of our living. That’s basic discipleship. Following Jesus is the vocation from which every other part of life flows. Having a church family, a small group, and faithful friends make a difference in our walk with God.

We all need people in our lives to keep up sharp, in the best way. They are gifts from God; sometimes, though, we need to seek out those gifts! Have you?

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).