October is "Pastor Appreciation Month." Given the fact that almost no movies or TV shows offer positive or accurate depictions of pastors, I believe that many people need to know what a pastor really is and what a pastor does. So the following is my own summary of what a pastor is. Maybe it will help demonstrate why pastors need some appreciation.

A Pastor is ... someone who is following a vocation, not just an occupation. The pastors in our Conferences all feel called by God into this ministry, even though that call has happened in ways that are as unique and varied as are the pastors. Pastors do not just sit down one day and say, "I think I will choose to be a pastor." They are in ministry because they believe that is God's call upon their lives.

A Pastor is ... an increasingly complex job. Lyle Schaller estimates that it is four times as difficult to be a pastor today as it was in the 1950's. Here is a short list of the skills and abilities that pastors need today: preaching, teaching, counseling, office management, computer skills (word processing, email, web site development), organizational leadership, visioning, leading public worship in a variety of styles, planning rituals and worship, supervising hired or volunteer staff, spiritual discernment, spiritual guidance of individuals and groups, recruiting and training volunteers, budget preparation, fund raising, etc. If it ever was easy to be a pastor, those days are gone, and our pastors feel the strain of trying to meet such a variety of expectations.

A Pastor is ... someone who must be able to deal with all age groups, from small children, to older children, to youth, to young adults, to adults, to older adults. While many other jobs allow a person to specialize in skills with one particular age group, being a pastor means dealing with people from "cradle to grave." This requires a lot of listening, a strong understanding of human nature, and a great deal of patience.

A Pastor is ... a community leader. While this varies with the size of communities, most pastors are expected to serve on various community boards and agencies and to be aware of the needs in the community beyond their own church or churches.

A Pastor is ... someone whose family makes great sacrifices in order to enable their ministry. The families of our pastors give up lots of things that other families take for granted: weekend outings, holidays spent with others, the opportunity to have evenings free from being "on call," and having someone to be their pastor (who is the pastor to the pastor's family?). Our pastors are grateful for the support of their families, but they also worry about the sacrifices being made by their families.

A Pastor is ... someone who works hard. Most of our pastors work from 50 to 90 hours per week, and even when they are not working they are subject to calls for emergencies. Many of our pastors don't get much vacation time, and they are never able to forget the needs of their churches and their people.

A Pastor is ... often unappreciated. Some pastors go months without any words of appreciation from anyone. They remember fondly the few times that they receive a thank you card, an assurance of being prayed for, or even a kind word after worship which expresses more than the perfunctory "good morning."

A Pastor is ... often a lonely ministry. Some of our pastors live in isolated areas, but many who live in cities also feel isolated. Most pastors work alone, and many pastors (and their families) find that they are not readily welcomed into the communities they serve, because their laity know that "pastors come and go" and they avoid building friendships with pastors and their families. Some of our pastors report that they have NEVER been invited to anyone's home for a friendly visit unless some "church business" is involved.

A Pastor is ... a joyous vocation, because pastors are privileged to share with their people in the most sacred moments of life. It is not unusual for a pastor to have a wedding, a baptism, and a funeral in the same week. While those ministries bring added time demands, they also bring the satisfaction of helping people through tender times.

A Pastor is ... often underpaid and deep in debt. Most pastors graduate from seminary with a large load of educational loans (nationally, the average seminary graduate is over $30,000 in debt), and yet they serve in positions where the salary does not allow for easy repayment of those debts. Nearly every pastor has some money worries, and yet they are reluctant to complain because they serve some laypersons facing similar financial troubles (and they serve others whose life style demonstrates obvious affluence).

And a Pastor is ... a spiritual leader who is aware of his or her own human frailty. Very few pastors are egotistical or self righteous. Most are plagued with a deep awareness of their own humanity, their failures, and their utter dependence upon God's grace in order to be in ministry.

I am impressed with our Pastors, and I invite you to pray for your Pastor and for all the Pastors of our the Indiana Area:

Dear Lord, bless those precious pastors who have answered Your call. Give them gifts for ministry, keep them faithful to their task, bless them with grateful parishioners, and encourage them with the presence of Your Spirit. In Jesus' name, Amen.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner