Friday, December 6, 2013

Church Anniversary and Pastor & Wife Appreciation Services

In November 2013 our church Grace & Truth Apostolic Ministries (GTAM) celebrated 14 years of Ministry. I am often asked why we celebrate our Anniversary the way we typically do (though this year for the first time in our history we did not have a formal celebration service) and why we do not have Pastor and Wife Appreciation services. So I thought I would take this Blog post and use it as an opportunity to answer both questions.

Church Anniversary Service

To some degree, celebrating key milestones and accomplishments are biblically supported. The Old Testament is filled with examples of Memorials erected to mark the place and remember the time when God did something memorable. Additionally, in Jewish culture feasts were established again to revisit and rehearse the exploits God performed or to celebrate what God has done.

In modern cultures, it is also usual and customary to celebrate key dates in individual’s lives and organizations history. Whether it’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc. we celebrate memorable events in our lives. Companies also celebrate employment anniversaries for their employees, remember and celebrate the date the company opened for business, etc. So it is appropriate that churches celebrate their anniversaries as well.

I have always aspired to be true to our vision and keep it top of mind in all that we do. In particular, it is important that we keep our focus on souls, both in our evangelistic efforts as well as our on-going ministry to them. This has carried over into the way we think about, plan and celebrate our church anniversary.

I strongly believe that the only reason God allows our ministry to continue to flourish is because of the souls that we add to the Kingdom and the growth they experience both naturally and spiritually. If we were ineffective in Ministry, I do not believe that God would waste His resources on us.

It is for this reason, that our Anniversary services are a celebration not of the Church or its history per se, but a celebration of the souls that were added through the Ministerial efforts of GTAM and their resulting growth. Additionally, it is an opportunity for us to use our deeply gifted ministry to creatively prepare an evangelistic opportunity that will attract new souls to the Kingdom and an atmosphere for continued spiritual as well as natural growth.

So while we readily acknowledge, though usually informally and very low key, the anniversary of GTAM and celebrate its accomplishments over the prior year, it is really more of a celebration of the souls. Admittedly, this is not the traditional approach to a church anniversary service, nor do we intend for it to be.

We also typically have short anniversary services consisting of a Friday night special event like a Play or Musical, that is free and open to the public. Sunday morning we may have a special guest speaker and acknowledge that years “Spirit of Excellence” Award winner, followed with a Sunday night service that has varied in form over the years. There are many creative and effective ways to present the gospel. We don’t typically have any other special presentations or awards, though one year we did a video collage highlighting the souls that were baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit and other meaningful Ministerial events and achievements for the year. We also don’t have any special pledges or offerings. We try to keep it streamlined, genuine (organic – new GTAM buzz word) and effective.

So far, this approached has been well received and seems to be fairly effective. It is very refreshing for all involved in the planning and delivery as well as for those who get to receive and enjoy the experience these services create.

Pastor and Wife Appreciation Services

The other question I am often faced with is why we do not have Pastor and Wife Appreciation services? In fact, we have never had an Appreciation service in our 14 year history. Let me share this up front, it is not because the congregation has not wanted to have an Appreciation service or couple our Anniversary service with an Appreciation service. It is because I have resisted this effort by the congregation to date. That is not to say that we will never have an Appreciation service, but for now I have continued to resist this effort.

So the real question is why have I resisted having an Appreciation service? Let me start by saying it is not because I think there is anything wrong with them. I have seen them done very tastefully and have participated in several well-conceived and executed Appreciation services. I do not begrudge any other Pastor who receives or fellowship that chooses to honor and celebrate their Pastor in this way. In fact, I applaud any fellowship that demonstrates appreciation, loyalty, faithfulness and sincere love to their Pastor in any way that their Pastor would receive and recognize it.

For me personally, however, there are a few reasons why I prefer not to have an Appreciation service in the traditional way.

The greatest appreciation anyone can show me as their Pastor is to live their life well. A life lived well is more precious to me than any words spoken or gift given. God has placed us in the lives of those that are a part of GTAM to look after their souls. My prayer is that they are excited to have us in their lives. Living their lives well, following the guidance we share, embrace and run with the vision and growing as people both naturally and spiritually is a great gesture of thanks and appreciation for all that we have already invested and plan to continuously invest in their lives.

To me, this is far more valuable than any gift we could get or check we could receive. What good would it be for us to receive a big check or get an expensive gift if the congregation (the giver of those gifts) isn’t there when they are needed or openly resisted the vision, did things their way without regard to how we wanted things done. Sure, the gifts and financial support are nice and we are open to receiving them, but they must always be accompanied with commitment, loyalty, dedication, faithfulness, personal growth, etc. These are the things that lead to a life lived well and to me that is the greatest appreciation I could ever receive.

My wife and I, though important to the health and vitality of the Ministry, are only 2 members of a team of people that make GTAM what it is. My ego is intact; I am fine if I do not get a lot of attention. In fact, I would prefer that people not make a big fuss over me. I am just a guy, no different than anyone else really.

I happened to be called to Pastor a congregation and am happy to serve in this capacity. There are others who are also called to serve the congregation, but they do so in a different capacity. Some serve in hospitality, others by caring for and instructing our children while their parents receive and participate in ministry. Yet others by caring for the affairs of the church and those that serve through the arts. We are all members of the same body and every member as important as the other. (I Corinthians 12)

If we are going to have an Appreciation I would prefer it be for our entire Leadership Team. So much attention and privilege naturally falls to the Pastor. I think it would be nice to recognize and show appreciation to others that make GTAM what it is who do not naturally receive recognition and appreciation. That is in part why we established the “Spirit of Excellence” award, to recognize those behind the scene unsung heroes of GTAM.

We also encourage our Sr. Leadership Team to find creative ways to recognize and show appreciation to the host of volunteers that so generously share their time, talents and resources with us. We hold Leadership Team Summits quarterly and try to do different things occasionally to show our appreciation for them. We should all be appreciated for what we bring to and do for GTAM that allows it to flourish. I would feel selfish being at the center of an appreciation service knowing it takes the effort of an entire team to make GTAM what it is.

Lastly, we are fortunate enough to live a fairly privileged life derived from the income I earn from my secular occupation. So, it is difficult for me to be publically showered with gifts knowing there are so many others who I delight to serve who do not live such privileged lives.

I have often wondered is this arrogance on my part? I certainly do not intend for it to be so. It’s not that I see myself as better than anyone else, just recognition that we have a very comfortable, though not opulent life style. I do not feel guilty about the life style we have been afforded to live. I have worked hard, made a lot of personal sacrifices and have been incredibly fortunate and favored by both God and man to be in the position we are in.

I would much rather see the resources that would be directed towards us, redirected towards others that are really trying, working hard and doing the best they can, but need a little help. Honestly, I would appreciate that more. It would delight me to see someone from GTAM materially helping someone else get ahead or overcome a setback. That would be an indication to me that they get it! They understand the heart that God has given me for His people. What greater gift of appreciation could I receive?

If our natural condition were different, perhaps I would have a slightly different view of things. That's why I’m not suggesting we will never have an appreciation service, you just never know what may happen or how things may change. But for now, I think I’m good with how things are.

For those that really feel compelled to do something for my wife and me personally to say thanks or show appreciation, I do not want to rob you of that opportunity either. We know first-hand how much joy we get from blessing those we love with something tangible that they would enjoy. It isn’t always money or big gifts, but we made it a point to learn our spiritual leadership and what they value and enjoy. Then we make it a point from time to time to do those things.

That opportunity is always there. But it can be done discreetly without the big display or presentation. Though it may be given in private, God will bless you openly for your heart.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear from you and your thoughts on this post.