Pastors and Christmas Gifts

I am always grateful when pastors and church members share with me topics of interest to them. Those suggestions tend to be viewed by more readers than my own ideas. I guess that says something about my creativity!

A reader recently indicated his curiosity and perhaps concern about how pastors are treated at Christmas time. In the course of posts similar to this one, I typically hear from one or two persons who are eager to point to pastors who feel entitled or who are treated too lavishly. Please hear me clearly. Those pastors are the clear exceptions. Most pastors receive little and expect little. They see their clear call to serve and to care for the congregation.

The Question and the Concern

So I asked a simple question on Twitter:

What do you do for your pastor at Christmas time?

For pastors, I asked what their congregations gave them at Christmas.

Though my survey was not scientific, it was nevertheless revealing. I am truly concerned about how congregations treat pastors. I thought the issue of the Christmas gift would at least be an indicator of such concern.

The Responses and the Heartbreak

There were two dominant responses, each at about 40 percent of the total. One of those came from pastors or church members who shared with me that they indeed did give a gift to their pastor during the Christmas season.

The most common gift noted was a cash gift equivalent to one week of salary. The pastors who received such a gift expressed deep appreciation for the thought. I sensed no attitudes of entitlement in their responses.

A second dominant response, from both pastors and church members alike, was that the pastor received nothing at Christmas time. Church members were more likely to comment on this attitude than pastors. One person said: “If it’s anything like pastor appreciation month, they won’t even know it’s Christmas.”

My heart broke as I read many of those type responses. My pain is not so much related to the failure of a church to give a monetary or material gift; rather it’s the failure of a church to acknowledge the gift that a pastor is during this season.

The Exhortation and the Inquiry

There are few hundred thousand pastors in America. The vast majority of them sacrifice and give for the sake of their congregations and for the glory of God. Many of them struggle financially and, often, emotionally. A gift of some sort would do wonders for the pastor and the pastor’s family. The amount or cost of the gift is not the issue here; it is the encouragement the pastor receives when he knows he is loved and appreciated.

As we approach these seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, please remember your pastors and staff. Please let them know in some tangible way how much you truly value them.

And I would also appreciate your help informing this issue. What does your church do for the pastor and staff? What do you think your church should do for these servants of Christ?

Posted on November 23, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • On the downside…one Christmas the church began to talk early about making this the best Christmas ever for the entire staff..which was a bit weird. The best turned out to be enough for me, the pastor, and the Ed Dir’s families to share a pizza dinner. It was a dysfunctional congregation beginning to deal with a multitude of immorality issues among lay leaders and was probably the best of which they were able at the time.

    On the upside, in our seminary pastorate, we began on Nov 1 and had no washer or dryer. The Sunday prior to Christmas they presented us a state of the art new set. We were blessed and shocked. The church blessed us all our years of ministry with them.

    Churches need to do something for the pastor and staff families this time of the year. We are never more like our Father than when we engage in two heavenly activities: giving and forgiving (John 3:16)…He loves us so much He GAVE His Son in order to FORGIVE our sins in order to GIVE us eternal life (my paraphrase). The cycle of His love is found in the continuous interaction of these two. As a denominational worker, I now have the opportunity to try to influence my church family to “err” on the side of generosity and forgiveness as a lay leader.

  • This is always such a difficult issue for many of those who are serving as pastors – do u really buy the pastor appreciation month bulletin inserts? Do u RT the link to this article? How does either not appear self serving?

    So I can appreciate the sentiment that it can be disheartening to come to PAM and not have anyone write a card let alone give a gift. And I also can relate to the idea from a very early comment – “most often an affirmed and appreciated pastor is an effective and energized pastor.”

    So thanks for writing this article though many in congregations will never see it. And until that happens I don’t think much will change bc pastors, bc they’re serving out of a sense of calling and desire to glorify God not to serve themselves, will not talk abt this. Most are genuinely seeking to live selflessly so they won’t talk abt it. They need an advocate within the congregation but many do not have one.
    Just .02

  • Thanks, you are always on target.
    Thankful to be part of God’s church for 41 years.

  • Just wondering, if the Christmas gift to pastor subject to tax? Some say it is if exceeding $25 or in value. Other say exceeding $600 in value per year..

  • My experience has been, that congregations who have been gracious in other areas of ministry, they have shown that same grace towards the staff. A church I served for 10 years would give a card shower at Christmas. Some people would include money in their cards and the amount our family received exceeded a weeks salary. Every year, one lady would include $50.00 in her card. That was overwhelming to me because she couldn’t afford that amount of money. That was one of the best gifts because she was teaching me about grace.

  • Tom –

    Thank you for this post and conversation as well as all you do for the church, her leaders and the world. Lifeway is a blessing.

    I have been in full time ministry for over 23 years. Some churches have given big gifts. Some have given small gifts at Christmas. For every one of them, pastor appreciation and Christmas, I feel honored and encouraged by them. Often what means the most to me is not what the church does as a whole but what individuals do at that time and others. A card and/or gift on a birthday, anniversary or special occasion mean much. As well a gift to my wife or one of our kids at a special time is a big deal I am thankful for.

    My current church I helped plant over 7 years ago does give Christmas gifts as I lead gifts for staff, and the gift I am given is currently a percentage of annual income based upon growth. The Christmas gifts is actually called a bonus. This has been something our key leaders have struggled with, making it a set figure or what ever it is, since we began. I am grateful for the gift.

    It saddens me when I see a church, any church, struggle as one of the comments stated above that the gift to the pastor was proportionate the same week’s offering decline. Much of the issue is education. Leaders have to educate the church as to tithing and honoring the staff.

    It is an honor to serve God through the church and to get to do this full time. I consider myself blessed. Christmas gifts make it even sweeter!

    James 1:5

  • I know this isn’t always possible due to church size, but I think one of THE BEST gifts church’s could give their pastors at Christmas is the freedom to visit their family without the guilt of leaving the pulpit open. We all travel whenever we choose, and for years I never thought twice about the fact that I could worship on Christmas Eve at any given church. That is until I got married to a PK. Because of the unwillingness of church members to allow my father-in-law to travel over the holidays unless we traveled over 2,000 miles to see them, we were not able to spend any time with John’s family at Christmas. It also meant my father-in-law was serving others (which he loves doing) constantly without the chance to enjoy being served. The church we attend now freely allows and even encourages our pastor to take 2 weeks off at Christmas. We work around it. We don’t have a Christmas Eve service. If we want to attend one, there are a gazillion churches that we can choose from that do. A few churches in our area even combine congregations to provide for people who are in town and fill holes for people out of town. Anyways, that is my thought. Give the gift of family. Amy

  • Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but here in Wales I’ve never expected any church gift for Christmas. However in one sense my church does something really special every Christmas morning. Rather than expect me to prepare another message for them, every family comes to church with some way of expressing their own joy of Christmas. Some families might bring a song to sing together. Other might bring a poem that they have written. Others might lead us in some devotional thoughts whilst others might bring a story for the children. It’s one of the most joyous meetings of the year, and all I have to do is provide the carols for us to sing. Many gifts are shared also, but no-one is singled out for anything special

  • Our church usually gives it’s pastors a suit, dress shirt and tie for Christmas. They have even given the pastors wives a gift card to a department store of some sort. The staff is very appreciative of the thoughtfulness.

  • It should be mentioned that in a few churches I’ve known, often when gifts were given to the pastor by groups of individuals (say, a love offering for Christmas), the amount in the offering that week often declined by the same amount. What a dilemma for a pastor of a struggling church, knowing that accepting the gift would mean so much to his family, but hurt the church (since they will get behind on their bills) he cares for so much and has put so much of his life into.

  • Our church gives each staff member a Christmas bonus each year that ends up being about $200. Our church is filled mainly with new believers so Pastor Appreciation Month is nowhere on their radar. They are, however, excellent at encouraging my family and me on a regular basis and having little or no church experience, they are also unaware that ministers have taken a “vow of poverty” as some of our previous churches believed. They compensate us well, offer regular affirmation, and enthusiastically follow pastoral leadership. What more could a pastor ask for? We feel blessed year round!