October is Pastor Appreciation Month, as congregations nationwide thank and celebrate those who have made it their occupation to serve the Body of Christ.
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist and business consultant with over 20 years experience in "making work relationships work," who has teamed up with coauthor Dr. Gary Chapman, to write The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Dr. White answered a few questions for us about how appreciation can breathe new life into church leadership.
In The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, you mention that pastors and ministry leaders have a unique relationship to their vocation because income is a practical factor in ministry careers, but the driving motivation is "a sense of spiritual calling and a desire to serve others." Do you see appreciation affecting pastors differently than those in other vocations?
My answer is an emphatic "yes" and "no." I see appreciation playing a similar role in pastoral positions and other helping positions (social workers, counselors, missionaries, teachers, doctors) because all of these share the perception that they serve because they were called to serve; they are not doing it for praise or recognition from others. But pastors are unique in their position of spiritual authority, and the common belief that they should receive their encouragement from God. While this is partially true, the pastor as well as every member of the congregation are part of the Body of Christ and are clearly instructed to encourage and support one another.
Burnout is common among ministry workers and volunteers. How do you think appreciation can help prevent this?
Burnout is essentially the result in a person's life when the demands of others outweigh the resources he or she has to meet those demands, especially when this tension stretches over a long period of time.
There are internal ways to increase our resources (rest, exercise, recreation, spiritual disciplines) and there are external ways to become rejuvenated (encouragement, gifts, companionship). Acts of encouragement and appreciation which are meaningful to the recipient and repeated over time can certainly stem the tide of encroaching burnout - but one big act of encouragement when a minister is already "fried" isn't enough.
What are some simple, practical ways a congregation can appreciate their pastor(s)?
First and foremost, a congregation needs to find out what makes their pastor feel appreciated. So many well-meaning people put the cart before the horse-"We need to do this for Pastor Johnson..." or "I heard about a church that ...We should do that, too." But copying other ideas without understanding the individual and what is important to him or her leave you missing the target repeatedly. For example, I am not a pastor, but my church once gave me a Starbucks gift card as a thank-you for a seminar I had recently taught. Unfortunately, I don't drink coffee. The gift was a generous gesture; however, it missed the mark.
Take the time and initiative to ask them what would make them feel appreciated and valued - or have them take the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory so you can find out both their preferred language of appreciation and the actions that are meaningful to them. Often it is hard to come up with ideas that will be effective on the spur of the moment.
Is it ever possible for attempts to communicate appreciation to backfire?
Sure. If people didn't have negative experiences in this area, we would never be asked this question-and we frequently are! Attempting to encourage or show appreciation to someone most often backfires when there is an unresolved relational issue. When we ignore a conflict and proceed to put on a superficial show of appreciation, resentment follows closely behind. Inauthentic appreciation, or appreciation perceived as inauthentic, rarely has positive results.
If a church leadership team actively and effectively communicated appreciation to each other, what might this look like? What changes might take place in the church as a whole?
I recently asked a group of pastors these questions: Do you think you would become better or worse as a pastor if you felt genuinely appreciated by your staff and congregation? What positive effects would you expect to see in your church if your staff and volunteers felt truly valued for what they do?
Immediately, the room started to buzz. Pastors were smiling, nodding their heads, and talking to each other. They started to see the potential impact of effectively communicated encouragement and appreciation on their church's relationships. When people feel valued for who they are and what they contribute, trust me, good things happen!
For more information about the book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, please visit the website, www.appreciationatwork.com.