Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want to express my appreciation for those pastors that have helped shape my own ministry. I start a ways back. I appreciate the solid foundation of faith and family upon which my great-grandfather Henry Gaertner raised his family.

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Henry Carl Gaertner

He was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans in August 6, 1899. He went on to serve at Trinity in Port Arthur and Salem in Malone Texas. A memorable story from the beginning years of his ministry occurred in 1902. According to the Port Arthur “Herald” of September 14, 1902, the school children had been greatly annoyed by ‘yellow jackets’ or wasps stinging them near a sidewalk. In an effort to end the menace and control the insects, the Pastor Gaertner set fire to some grass near the sidewalk, which quickly waxed out of control and ignited the building while school was still in session. The flames spread rapidly to the main sanctuary as well, and within an hour, both buildings were reduced to cinders. The financial loss was about $3,000, and was only partially covered by a $600 insurance policy. The church building was quickly replaced in 1903 and the school building followed in 1904.

My grandfather Henry Emil Gaertner became a pastor that served God’s Word in New Mexico and Minnesota. His two brothers, John and Carl, also became pastors.
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(names not necessarily in order) John, Carl, Henry (my grandfather), Pauline (my great-grandmother), Esther, Ruth, Bertha, Paula, Hulda, Marie, and Margaret. This picture was taken I think at Pauline’s 75th surprise birthday party in 1955. She had been away visiting one of her daughters, and when she returned to Waco all of her children and their spouses were together for the first time since 1934.

My father, Mark, became a pastor and served congregations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. Inside my father’s generation of Gaertners there are several pastors and women married to pastors. Growing up my father helped me understand the importance of seeking opportunities to use our God-given gifts to love God by serving our neighbor. No matter what career I imagined, my dad helped me consider how this path would use my gifts to serve others.
Mark Gaertner Ordination 1971

Ordination of my father, Rev. Mark Gaertner in 1971. My grandfather is on the left.

Throughout college and seminary I continued to find God providing me wonderful mentors in the Christian faith. Daniel Brokopp, campus pastor at Valparaiso University, demonstrated the noblest virtues of ministry.
My field education, during the seminary years, was wonderfully guided by my second cousin, Ronald Rall. Ron emphasized seeing the gifts God had given to the lay people in the congregation. No one works by himself in the ministry. During my vicarage, Wayne Puls at Trinity in Hicksville, New York, helped me understand the wide scope of challenges a pastor will experience daily.
In 2001 I was ordained into the Office of Public Ministry at Trinity in Clinton Twp. Pastor Harry Henneman and my father served me the Word of God from their preaching at Trinity. My first call was at Grace in Niagara Falls. I fondly recall Henry Gerike playing the organ at my installation. My beginning in Niagara Falls was shaped by the mentoring of Thees Carl Hoft. Thees is a patient man who gave me perspective on how to be a pastor that does not burn out quickly. John Brunner was the District President. John and Karen kindly let my wife and I stay in their basement apartment for 45 days because the closing on our home was painfully delayed. As much as John served as an administrator in his role as district president, he even more so served as a pastor to me. Pastors in a congregation should always seek out a pastor, I did not have to try hard to find a pastor. John was always ready to receive my phone calls or emails and remind me of the winsome ways to be a pastor to everyone in the congregation.
Since December 2008 I have served as the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan. David Maier serves kindly as my District President. I don’t know a man besides David that can match a strong handshake with an equally genuine smile. His churchmanship is a demonstration to me of how pastors must be authentic in pastoral love and care for each person entrusted to his care.
Besides pastors as mentors and guides, I have also enjoyed the peer support of so many pastors.
Indeed beyond these men, my wife Christi Dunklau Gaertner has been a constant and necessary wonderful support in my life. I am a pastor today largely because of conversations we had together our senior year in high school. No doubt in my mind, God knew what he was doing when he placed her into my life. She is my rib. Each breath I take is easier because she is on my side.

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Why do people burn out from their jobs?

I am a pastor and this is a job that I love. I trust in the call of God to equip me to fulfill the commands and promises of God. I know that I am not perfect but I rejoice that God will yet still work through me to share the good news of forgiveness and renewal.

As godly and grand as my vocation is designed to be, I recognize that the ideal of a pastor’s vocation is designed to be messy. The gospel is designed by God to be in this world precisely because we are messy sinners.

The messiness of sin is where God’s word is designed to be present. I am not meant to find my days as perfect moments of righteousness. Indeed I am continually reminded of my own failings and the failings of others. Always engaging in ministry in the tension between sin and promise can be exhausting for pastors.

At blog.logos.com there is mention of a 2005-06 survey of 1050 pastors. In this survey more than 70% of these pastors said they felt burned out and depressed. This is a scary high number. The devil is prowling around like a lion indeed and he is seeking to devour us.

As a pastor and as a friend I need to be purposeful about reaching out to other pastors. I don’t think we are successful pastors if we attempt to work on little islands in a big sea. Trying to work on a lonely, isolated island will eventually cause me to imagine myself lost and forgotten by the passing traffic.

We are not alone, we are part of a communion of saints delivering the forgiveness of sins. How can I share this communion of the saints with people that are becoming burned out in their vocation?

In the LCMS pastors gather monthly at circuit meetings. When a brother is absent from these meetings I want to find a way to make sure he knows he was missed. Our circuit meetings are successful when they are more than just social gatherings. They are gatherings that bring me encouragement when we are joined together by the power of God’s word and share with one another the reality of how God’s word comes into our messy, sinful lives.

I fondly remember some pastors in my Niagara circuit who regularly sent out note cards of encouragement. I do not want any of my friends in the ministry to drift into burnout. I do not want to become the passing sea traffic that passes by the man lost on an isolated island in the big sea.

October has become the recognized month for purposeful thanksgiving for pastors. I know that I am appreciative of all the words and gifts of encouragement that I have received. I also know that I can become more than the person that receives this encouragement. I can become a part of extending this encouragement to others.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)