October is designated Pastor Appreciation Month. I realize the month is nearly over, but time for a true confession that will hopefully help you see life differently.

rural churchWe (those of us in disability ministry) frequently try to urge “the Church” to understand the impact of disability on a family. We talk a lot about the added pressure and demands parents experience.

A number of years ago Jerry and I learned of a pastor in the region who had a child with a disability (there are several in that role; I am trying to be vague enough to protect their identity!). We tried to reach out to this pastor in a variety of ways, through others who knew him and those in his church. We were never able to make a connection and after a period of time we “gave up” thinking that he was probably a bit full of himself.

Several years went by with no additional attempts made on our part to connect (perhaps we were full of ourselves writing him off like this). At one point Jerry felt God telling him to pray for this pastor every time we were reminded of him. Some time later a tragic situation occurred that necessitated us to communicate with this pastor. From that event we built a relationship, in small doses at first, which grew to a deep respect for, and a solid friendship with, one another.

That was when it hit us – this pastor is a father of a child with a disability. We knew this, but this was the first time we really acknowledged how that extra pressure may impact him as a pastor. Had we first encountered this pastor as a “dad” we would have looked at his life with a great deal of compassion and support. But because we failed to see him as a dad, but only as a pastor we lost sight of the dramatic needs he and his family experience due to disability and made a very unfair and untrue assessment of him.

I (and Jerry) am grateful for this perspective change we gained, and the friendship we now share with this pastor and his family.

Why do I share this story? For two reasons. One is to let you know that even those of us who are disability ministry professionals make mistakes; so allow yourself some grace if you are not always sure how to reach out or connect with someone who has disability in their family.

Even more though, as we focus on pastor appreciation this month I’d like to encourage you to think about any pastor you may know who have a loved one with a disability or special need. In addition to “typical” ways you might appreciate a pastor what can you do to encourage a pastor who is also a parent, child, spouse or sibling of someone with a disability? If you need a few ideas to kickstart your thinking consider these, but don’t consider this an exhaustive list by any means:

  • Pick up some extra groceries on your shopping trip; it may be hard for them to get out
  • Rake leaves, shovel snow, weed gardens, wash windows without being asked
  • Clean and vacuum their car
  • Spend time learning from them how to interact with and care for their loved one
  • Extend an extra measure of grace to them when life doesn’t go as planned
  • Give some gift cards to local restaurants that deliver for long days of appointments and therapies
  • Give the family an extra week of paid time off and scholarship them to a week of Joni and Friends Family Retreat.

One last thought, don’t forget about those who are still pastors in their heart, head and gifting but due to their own disability are not currently serving in a formal pastoral role. They would likely enjoy a visit from you, and can benefit from some of the same ideas above. You may find that they can still serve in a pastoral role if you just think outside the box a little!