It’s almost Christmas. You want to use the holiday as a time to thank your pastor, youth pastor, church pianist, child’s Sunday School teacher, missionary, or other Christian worker. What meaningful gift can you give that doesn’t push you past your budget?
First of all, let me say that this is NOT a plea for presents for myself. I happen to fill many of those positions in our small mission church, but I’m not writing to get presents. The fact that I have been in ministry for many years, however, does help me understand the kind of gifts that people in ministry appreciate. I want to give you some tips for giving Christmas gifts to those in ministry.
One Size Fits All: Words of Affirmation
Almost anyone who leads or serves people will appreciate this gift—words of affirmation. This gift is so simple, but can be more encouraging than almost anything else.
It’s nice to tell your pastor and other Christian workers that you love them and thank them for serving. But when you thank them for something they do that has specifically helped you, your words suddenly extend beyond polite duty and become true encouragement. Tell your pastor how a particular series of sermons helped you this year. Thank the youth pastor for the time he took your teen with him to chop wood and the relationship he’s built by engaging each teen in meaningful conversation. Thank the pianist for all the extra hours she spent practicing for the choir cantata or tell the music leader that the song he’s introduced lately has helped you remember God’s faithfulness. Show appreciation for the patience your child’s Sunday School teacher shows when he’s faced with some particularly rowdy kids. Tell your missionary family the specific prayer requests you’ve been praying for and thank them for remaining faithful in a difficult ministry.
The traditional Christmas card.
Due to postage rates and the easy availability of email letters, people send far fewer Christmas cards than they used to. A newsletter about your family can be nice for those you want to keep in touch with now and then. But words of affirmation can make the difference between a card or letter that soon hits the trash and words that they’ll remember for a long time.
We don’t send cards to our family, but we hand a card to everyone who comes regularly to our church. This is not about wishing them a merry Christmas or expecting a card in return. This is a way of thanking each family for the part they play in our church. We thank them for the capacity in which they serve or for faithful attendance or any way they help our church. The absolute key to making this effective, in my humble opinion, is being specific.
For my husband’s 60th birthday my adult daughters organized a paper chain. Each wrote out 30 memories, verses, or quotes and sent the files to me. I copied them on colored paper and cut each one into a rectangular strip. Then I made a chain out of the strips. Each day my husband unstapled one link and read the memory. For 60 days he shared a memory or thought that our daughters had sent. This postage-free gift brought a lot of joy to him. You could do a similar chain to tell others different things that you appreciate about them.
To me an email is as good as a card. When you show affirmation for someone by email it’s easy for them to reply. In fact, if you send a card or letter by mail to a missionary, I suggest you include your email address to make a reply easy.
I guess by now you’ve guessed my love language, but don’t overlook the fact that a simple, sincere, specific thank you may be more appreciated than any other gift you give.
But maybe you want to do more than that. What else can you give people who are busy in ministry?
The busy pastor or ministry leader
Offer to help them with things they will have to do anyway. At times it’s easier for them to do these things themselves than explain to others how to do it. Give a sincere offer to help, and be willing to be flexible to help in the time and way that is most helpful. The wrong help at the wrong time can just make things more difficult so it’s best to ask ahead of time how and when to help. It’s great to say, “I would be really glad to do this particular thing for you. Would it be helpful at this particular time? Is there another time it might be more helpful?” It’s better to offer to help and find something that works than surprise them with something that isn’t helpful.
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
Make a meal for their family to be used on a busy day and deliver it at a time that works with their schedule.
Do holiday baking for them or provide a dish or treat that they can use for an occasion at church rather than making one themselves.
Sew costumes for the church Christmas program. Or work on the program set or other program needs.
Babysit over the holidays.
Pump up the balls at church or offer to fix or clean the sports equipment.
Offer to help with church maintenance.
Buy a musician a songbook they’ve been wanting.
Offer to make baptismal gowns for a missionary.
(Our church is planning to set up a new baptistry in 2015 and we’d be glad for someone who would make new gowns for us.)
If you have someone with experience in making puppets, offer to make some for missionaries who are interested in puppet ministry.
Send a Kindle or Nook book.
If your missionary doesn’t have an ereader, offer to buy one for his family. That makes it simple to gift books from that time on. Don’t know what they like? Give a Kindle or Nook gift card.
Think of special furlough needs.
During furlough time for a missionary family purchase a scrapbook for each MK to keep pictures of all the cool places they travel. Or provide books for them to read in the car.
Send their college kids care packages.
Don’t forget coins for the laundry. If they don’t have a place to spend the holidays, invite them to visit you. Take them clothes shopping and take along someone of their age who has good fashion sense to help them know what’s appropriate and in style. If there’s one thing your missionaries will appreciate the most, it’s probably caring for their college kids in your country while their parents are on the field.
Post a book review.
If you know an author, post a review of his book on Amazon and other review sites. Few non-authors realize how important reviews, especially Amazon reviews, are to an author. All you have to do is write what you liked about the book. Having more than a few reviews help authors in many ways. Seriously, if you know an author, this is the best gift you can give him, and it costs you nothing.
Choose a gift related to writing.
If you have an author in your family and really want to treat her, find out what writing book, resource, or conference she’s really wanting and make that possible.
My Blog Reader
And now let me practice what I preach by saying, “Thank you for reading my blog.” I especially want to thank readers who follow my blog week by week. Today everyone seems to have so much to read they end up scanning much of it. I hope you find at least some of what I write helpful.
[image courtesy of Gennadiy Poznyakov/Deposit Photos.]