A View from the Pew: What to Get Your Church Staff for Christmas

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While the rest of the world started Christmas preparations on November 1, many Christian churches in the U.S. generally wait until after Thanksgiving to turn their focus of worship to the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Whether or not your church has a “Hanging of the Green” service or observes the season of Advent, parishioners often turn their thoughts to showing their appreciation to their church staff with holiday gifts.

A regular old pew sitter myself, this is something that comes up in our pre-Christmas gift planning. As the kid of a preacher and the brother of two preachers, I’ve seen both the results of and been the beneficiary of thoughtful and generous gifts that were incredibly meaningful and timely. Reflecting on those gifts, here are a few thoughts on the best gifts for church staff members:

First and foremost, don’t just give something to the pastor and ignore the rest. Your pastor is the most visible staff member but is hardly the only one who works hard to minister to you and your family. If you happen to attend a church with a large staff, consider a group gift that can be enjoyed by all, allowing everyone from the minister of music to the janitor to feel loved and appreciated.

If you go with something edible, err on the side of healthy or practical. It’s no secret that church work is stressful, and as families experience exponentially more stress during the holidays, that stress gets transferred on to ministers. Like a lot of us, ministers can stress eat, and if everything at their fingertips is fat and sugar laden, your showing of appreciation is really just putting them in an early grave. That said, if your ministers have indicated there is one delicacy they greatly anticipate and desire in moderation during the holidays, don’t hesitate to cater to that wish. On the other hand, if it’s possible for you to be this extravagant, consider a turkey or ham. There were many years our family’s Christmas dinner was provided by a generous person in our church community, and it meant a lot to us, even to my brothers and me.

There’s no shame in giving a card, as long as it has some folding money inside. At the risk of sounding crass, your staff ministers are humans who require money to live, especially at Christmas. If you give them a monetary gift, you can rest assured it is needed and appreciated, especially if they have children to buy for at Christmas. Again, there were many occasions during my childhood and teen years when my brothers and I had a much better Christmas because someone tucked an envelope in my dad’s pocket after church one Sunday in December.

A less tangible but no less meaningful gift is lower expectations, particularly during the holidays. You and I may have one or two Christmas party invitations each year, but your church staff members can have up to a dozen or more. Feel free to invite them so that they feel included, but always give them a sincere opt out. They may want to spend time with their own family or engage in their own family tradition during the Christmas season.

Time is often the most precious commodity. If your church gives its staff members a large gift from the congregation each year, consider time off: a sabbatical, trip, or just downtime. Informally, you can make as big an impact by just letting them have time off during the holidays to spend with their own families, whether in or out of town.

Less is more when it comes to knick-knacks. It may have taken you nine months to make hand-crafted thread spool dolls of the pastor’s family, but that’s eventually going to end up collecting dust on a shelf, moldering in a box in the bottom of a closet, or even going straight to the garbage along with the discarded Christmas wrappings. Though each item may be crafted with love, church staff members only have so much room for stuff.

Overall, the key principle here is to be thoughtful. Pausing a moment to consider these and other circumstances in your ministers’ lives will produce a better gift that has more of the intended effect than a default or obligatory present.

May you all experience the incarnation of Christ in a new and powerful way this Christmas.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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