Living as a disciple of Christ affirms our pastors
By Connie Faber
As I write this, our congregation at Ebenfeld MB Church is preparing to celebrate the retirement of Pastor Gaylord Goertzen. Pastor Gaylord served the Mennonite Brethren church in Balko, Okla., for nine years and then our congregation in rural Hillsboro, Kan., for 25 years. He is the only pastor that my children have known, a rare opportunity for young people in their late teens and early 20s.
So how does a congregation say thank you to a pastor and his family for decades of hard work, sacrificial dedication and multiple blessings? There is the usual list of retirement activities—a dinner, appropriate gifts and words of thanks and appreciation. All good things—and we’re planning a Celebration Sunday honoring Gaylord and his wife, Peggy, which will include them all. (The photo above from the celebration dinner shows Peggy and Gaylord enjoying reflections from one of several guest speakers.)
But there is one gift that our congregation can give Gaylord that will keep on giving. It’s the same present that you can give your pastor—your commitment to making discipleship a priority and to doing so within a community of faith.
A church is only as strong as the disciples within, says writer and pastor Elizabeth Evans Hagan. In her essay, “Re-thinking Pastor Appreciation Month,” Hagan lists three things that typify devoted disciples.
Disciples attend church regularly—even when a relaxing morning at home sounds so refreshing—because they believe that faith is lived out in community.
Disciples give regularly—even when there are lots of other good things to spend their money on—because they know that everything we have comes from God in the first place.
Disciples serve—even when they think their gifts aren’t very significant—because they believe that God will bless what they offer.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, initiated by Focus on the Family in 1994. Noting that pastors and their families live under incredible pressure, the Focus on the Family website encourages congregations to make a difference in the lives of their pastoral leaders: “Clergy Appreciation Month is one way we can counter the negative erosion in the lives of our spiritual leaders with the positive affirmation they need.”
So do the things you normally do in October for Pastor Appreciation Month—take your pastor(s) out for lunch, give a gift certificate or send a card. Our pastors need encouragement just like everyone else. But let’s also encourage our pastors by taking seriously the ways in which they are leading us individually and corporately to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. Come to church ready to worship and to encounter God. Be open to grow in your own faith when attending Bible study or a small group. Find something to do at church and serve with enthusiasm—volunteer to serve on the cleanup crew for the Wednesday night meals, to rock babies in the church nursery or to lead a new ministry. Our congregations will thrive and our pastors will be inspired when we faithfully pursue our call to discipleship.