Churches who celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month have a fresh opportunity this October to affirm their support of those leading their congregations. For Rev. Scott Conn of Laurel Wesleyan Church (LWC) in Laurel, Delaware, this month is a reminder of the importance of mutual support year-round between pastors and parishioners.

“My home church pastor loved our congregation well; and when I began preparing for ministry, he told me, ‘If you love your congregation, they’ll go a long way with you.’ So, I started in my ministry with a sense that I should love Christ, love the church and cherish the people God brings,” Rev. Conn reflected.

“But one of the greatest blessings has been being held in love by a congregation in return,” he continued.

Rev. Conn’s first congregation — Lebanon Wesleyan Church near Dover, Delaware — was a congregation with 80-90 people in attendance. Rev. Conn and his wife, Jackie, were recent college graduates parenting four young daughters.

“One year for Pastor Appreciation Month, they took up a love offering and wanted us to use it to get a new dining room table, because we were fresh out of college and didn’t have anything nice in our house,” Rev. Conn remembered. “We would hand the girls cards they could open and celebrate those words together.

“Growing up, it meant a lot for my girls to read things that our church appreciated — not just about me as a pastor, but about our family being in that church together. Reading the notes from people was what really sustained us, even more than monetary things. When I reflect on that, I see how it helped our family feel endeared and loved.”

Those memories have stayed with Rev. Conn’s family even as his children are all grown. Now at LWC (with a larger attendance at around 200), the deepest satisfaction for him emerges from the following three sources:

First, words from those who share a story of how the church has helped them toward greater wholeness as people. “One of my main metrics is: am I making an impact in people’s lives? Beyond attendance, I need to know that,” said Rev. Conn. Notes, texts or verbal expressions of the value of the church’s presence help him and his staff know their work is worthwhile.

Second, partnership in emotional health and growth. Undergoing a stretching season in the first couple years of his leadership of LWC, the local board of administration (LBA) gifted him an extra week of vacation for a retreat and paid for the lodging costs for a pastor-and-spouse getaway. When the LBA discovered Rev. Conn was interested in seeking counseling to deepen his emotional health, they extended an offer to pay for regular counseling and Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” book and course. Rev. Conn cites both as incredibly helpful in his own self-awareness and growth.

Third, ongoing affirmation of partnership. Beyond October, Rev. Conn cites LWC as a space in which people are biased toward participation in the work of ministry — not just as observers but as stakeholders. From funeral care teams to an active ecosystem of lay leadership, LWC has let him know they prioritize the work of ministry and are unwilling to let him lead alone.

For pastors who are discouraged after the events of the past 18 months, Rev. Conn offers the following reminder, “Better days are coming. For every year and every person who takes a lot, there will be one that gives.”

For more information on Pastor Appreciation Month and how to help your congregation participate, visit the resources provided by Education & Clergy Development.

 Ethan Linder is a freelance writer and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.