FIRST-PERSON: Let's thank our pastors

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- Pastoral ministry can feel at times like a NASCAR race. Between preparing sermons, caring for hurting members and leading ministry efforts, pastors often run at breakneck speeds only to finish at the end of the week and do it all over again.

I talk to pastors all the time who are doing incredible work on Kingdom causes. They're preaching Christ with boldness. They're demonstrating God's love to the neglected neighbors, communities and children around them. They're mentoring young leaders and starting new churches in underserved regions of North America and around the world.

Yet many are desperate for refueling so they can finish the race God has set before them.

Before coming to the North American Mission Board in 2010, I served for nearly 25 years as a local church pastor in churches of every size. Obediently following the call to pastoral leadership can lead to much influence for Kingdom expansion, but it also can accelerate spiritual warfare.

Many pastors throughout North America are exhausted -- and hurting. According to a LifeWay Research study in 2011, 55 percent of pastors say they feel lonely and discouraged at times.

For the North American Mission Board to complete the task with which Southern Baptists have entrusted us, we need healthy pastors. Healthy pastors are the fuel for healthy churches. Ultimately God didn't give NAMB the responsibility for pushing back lostness in North America. That's the job of local churches. As pastors lead in that effort, they need the rest of us to come beside them and lift them up.

We're doing all we can at NAMB to help pastors and their families thrive. We're hosting Pastors Roundtables where pastors can come and exchange ideas on topics of significance. We're sponsoring marriage retreats to help pastors invest in their marriage. We're partnering with First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., to bring pastor Johnny Hunt's Timothy-Barnabas Conference to areas around North America where it has never been before. Recently we partnered with Focus on the Family to make a confidential pastoral care line available to all Southern Baptist pastors free of charge. The number is 1-844-PASTOR1.

Because pastors lead the churches we've been called to serve, I make it clear with our staff and missionaries that pastors are our number one customers.

But no matter what NAMB does to honor and support pastors, nothing compares to what local churches can do. Your pastor needs to hear from you about how God is using him in your life. He needs to know you appreciate all he does to care for, equip and mobilize your church for the mission of God.

October brings the observance of Pastor Appreciation Month and we've provided a variety of resources on our website to help your church show appreciation for your pastor. Some of these resources include:

-- A poster and/or bulletin insert with 50 Ways to Honor Your Pastor

-- Information about how to give your pastor and his wife a weekend's stay at a bed and breakfast for 25 to 50 percent off and the ability to print off a certificate so you can award this to them in a worship service

-- Links to two smartphone apps that will help your pastor reboot his marriage and his spiritual life

No matter how you do it, make sure you take time to honor your pastor publicly. Let's start the effort in October but keep cheering all year long.

Kevin Ezell (@kevezell) serves as president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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