By / Oct 22

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The observance originally began in 1992 as Pastor Appreciation Day, (the second Sunday in October) led by Jerry Frear, Jr., founder of Under His Wing Ministries. The name of the unofficial observance was later changed to Clergy Appreciation Day and expanded to include all of October as Clergy Appreciation Month.

In honor of ​​this observance, here are five facts you should know about American pastors.

1. There are no reliable figures on the number of pastors in America. In 2012 the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported that there were 600,000 clergy serving in various denominations in the U.S. But that figure included retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries and did not include independent churches that are not connected with a denomination. The Bureau of Labor Statistics​​ underestimates the number of pastors, claiming that only 53,180 Americans are employed as clergy. (There are currently 47,000 Baptist churches in the United States and its territories.)

2. The median age of an American pastor is 57 years old, according to a 2020 survey by Faith Communities Today. Although most pastors surveyed by Barna first felt a calling to ministry in their teen or early adult years, more than half (55%) had another career before going into ministry. Roughly one-quarter (26%) remains bivocational, currently holding some other kind of (paid or unpaid) role in addition to pastoring, usually for non-financial motivations like personal fulfillment or having other outlets for their gifts.

3. Most pastors seem to value the education they received at seminary. More than three-fourths (76%) of pastors surveyed by Barna say that their seminary education was a good fit for their role. Seminaries in America are also continuing to grow. According to the Association of Theological Schools, seven seminaries—including two SBC seminaries—have generated enrollment growth consecutively over at least the past five years. The schools are Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri; Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois; Shepherds Theological Seminary in Cary, North Carolina; Sioux Falls Seminary in South Dakota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; and Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Southern’s graduate enrollment in 2015 was 2,754 and increased to 3,390 by 2020. Midwestern’s 2015 enrollment was 1,196 and more than doubled to 2,397 by last year. In the 2018–2019 academic year, SBC seminaries trained 23,818 ministers and Christian workers. 

4. A 2018 study by Lifeway Research and Guidestone found that the average compensation for a full-time senior pastor was $65,793 and the average pay compensation (salary, housing allowance, retirement benefits, etc.) was $77,979. The average compensation for a part-time senior pastor was $19,790 and the average pay compensation was $22,084. The average compensation for a bivocational senior pastor was $14,482 and the average pay compensation was $15,200. Another study of church leaders from various denominations found that about 14% of all pastors work without pay. 

5. Relatively few pastors give up on pastoral ministry. A survey of pastors of evangelical and historically black churches found an estimated 13% of senior pastors in 2005 had left the pastorate ten years later for reasons other than death or retirement. Two percent shifted to non-ministry jobs, and 5% stayed in ministry 1% one percent a year.

By / Oct 21

One day a couple of years ago, I walked outside to my mailbox and found that a package had been delivered. It contained a copy of Every Moment Holy, a collection of liturgies for attending to the presence of God in everyday life, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey and Ned Bustard. The volume contains prayers for everything from washing windows to consuming media to saying goodbye. This book has now become like a little companion to me, offering words of solace, inspiration, and edification when I need them. It was sent to me by my pastor, Dean, who has a special knack for sourcing books for the people he knows well. I suppose it makes sense that a pastor would be well suited to offer life-giving words to the people he tends to, and I have been a happy recipient of this generous gesture more than once. 

How pastoring is like keeping bees

Presently, it is Pastor Appreciation Month, and this little leather-bound book is helping me reflect in gratitude for my own pastor (for reasons more than his gift-giving skills). Inside, there is an entry entitled, “A Liturgy for the Keeping of Bees.” Often we liken the pastor’s call to his church to the shepherd’s call to tend his flock, and the Bible gives us plenty of imagery throughout its pages to draw these comparisons. After all, pastors who shepherd well do so by imaging the Good Shepherd, Christ, whom we encounter in the Scriptures. And yet for some reason, this October, I have been thinking about how maybe in some ways, pastoring is also a little like keeping bees.

As church members we often function much like a beehive, moving as the liturgy says bees do, “full of buzz and bumbling about.” Our lives are busy and industrious, and in varying degrees of faithfulness, we are on a mission. Day in and day out we labor, ideally unto the Lord but sometimes for lesser glories, and we need someone to keep an eye on us. We are delicate. We need to be kept, and we flourish when we are being faithfully tended and directed toward that for which we were made. We too can be “a small comedy of creatures . . . with our bright and varied stripes.” And, like bees, we live within “a nature now fallen and hostile,” seeking defense from that which threatens to overtake us and subvert our purposes. 

A faithful beekeeper serves the bees by tending to them, nurturing them toward flourishing so that others might enjoy the fruits of their labors and so that God might be praised for his wonderful work in creation. A beekeeper exercises dominion in cruciform, working on behalf of those he has taken into his care. And while we are much more complex beings than bees, we who follow Jesus and love his Church find ourselves in the care of pastors who devote their time, energy, expertise, stewardship, and love to us. Like bees that “harvest in the blooms” of flowers planted for their benefit, we feast on rich nectar of gospel truth and learn to thrive in spaces cultivated for our good, to give us a taste of creation as God intended. You could say that we are all being raised to live well in the kingdom. All the while, it is the beekeeper’s joy to see that his hive grows and prospers and to share the abundance of what they make together with others.

What do I appreciate about my pastor?

Speaking of abundance, what first brought my attention to this particular prayer and eventually to this metaphor was a conversation with Dean, my pastor. He had read the liturgy for beekeeping and shared it with a local coffee shop barista whom he had befriended. The barista was not a follower of Jesus, but she was a beekeeper. Dean made the connection between a vocation she pursued and how walking in that very calling reflected her status as an image-bearer of God. He offered her something more, a glimpse into truth that transcends, and deeper meaning for her life. He pointed out to her that God cares about bees and beekeepers.

I would say that this example portrays the essence of who Dean is — one who takes the time to get to know someone well by listening, taking interest, and learning to speak his or her language. He does this out of love for the people God has placed in his path. He is not perfect, but he is a man changed by the gospel, and that is evident in the way he shares Jesus, along with liturgies and laughter, with beekeeping baristas. Because he is a good pastor, he calls all the members of his church to walk in this way with him. 

So what do I appreciate about my pastor? Many things, but almost none as much as his faithful presence and wholehearted commitment to the people he knows God has entrusted to him. He does not simply keep us organized around a common mission; he feeds us with truth and works tirelessly to ensure that we have a place to gather, grow, and prepare to go out from. Even when the work is tedious, even when we swarm and sometimes sting, when conditions aren’t ideal and when he’s too tired to tend to us, he suits up and serves for the good of what is being built. He too knows and receives his place in God’s kingdom. 

How should we respond in gratitude?

How should we respond in gratitude to such faithful pastors who keep us well? 

First, let us live well in their care. May we participate in the life of the church, busy ourselves with the right things, and follow the ones guiding us to do what we were meant to do. May we also show up faithfully and labor fervently to harvest and share the abundant goodness of the gospel with those around us. Let us not grow weary or get off task, but bless our leaders by joining in purposeful service with them. 

Second, let us remember that pastors are also God’s creatures. They need to be kept, tended to, and pastored themselves. Even if we do not fill the role of pastor to pastors, may we encourage ours by praying, speaking uplifting words, inquiring of their wellbeing, and serving them as we are able. Let us be the ones they thank God for in their prayers.  

Finally, may we trust our pastors when they have proven to be trustworthy. Rather than rejecting their care or demanding it on our terms, let us humbly entrust ourselves to their leadership. As many voices clamor for our attention, we would do well to listen to the ones that proclaim words of life and truth to us over and over again. When our pastors are people who love God’s Word and his Church, let us join them and participate with joy in the life of the kingdom as we enjoy God’s presence together. 

As the liturgy reads, “Together may our co-labors resound to [God’s] praise and glory.” To the pastors who keep their churches well, thank you and bless you.