October is “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Here’s one of many reasons.
Your congregation is a practical link between individuals and the wider community. However, in recent decades two contradictory trends have weakened that mediating role. On one hand, there’s hyper-individualism. “I have my opinion; you have yours. Who are you to tell me I’m wrong.” On the other hand – and this goes against American’s rampant individualism – people have grown to rely upon centralized institutions, like government and big business, to fix their needs. Institutions in the middle, like congregations, have been weakened.
Social commentator Yuval Levin describes it well. “Individualism tends to weaken mediating power centers that stand between the individual and the nation as a whole—from families to local communities (including local governments), (and) religious institutions…. In their place, it strengthens individuals, on the one hand, and a central government, on the other, since such a government is most able to treat individuals equally by treating them all impersonally. For this reason, a hyper-individualist culture is likely to be governed by a hyper-centralized government, and each is likely to exacerbate the worst inclinations of the other. (The Fractured Republic, 99-100)
Pastors lead congregations in gathering individuals around a personal message, Good News from God for you and for me, and that Word has implications for how individuals live with others. Law and Gospel help us understand ourselves as sinners and saints and then see how we as individual members of the Body of Christ should relate to others. Levin: “The ultimate soul-forming institutions in a free society are frequently religious institutions. Traditional religion offers a direct challenge to the ethic of the age of fracture. Religious commitments command us to a mixture of responsibility, sympathy, lawfulness, and righteousness that align our wants with our duties. They help form us to be free.” (204)
We can show appreciation to our pastors by helping make our congregations lively and loving places of God’s Good News to individuals in our communities, not only to church members but also to the community. “Putting them (soul-forming institutions) within the reach of as many of our fellow citizens as possible must be among our highest and most pressing civic callings.” (205) Most important, it’s Jesus’ mission through us!