The pastor-writer’s congregation surprised him by installing a post for his bicycle.

Christmas humor: top 10 gifts to pastors

By the Rev. G. Travis Norvell

One evening six Christmases ago — not too long after I had resigned from my pastoral position — I started compiling a list of all the things I thought would make for a flourishing pastor-congregational relationship. As I looked over the list, I realized that I had created the perfect top 10 guide to giving gifts to pastors.

Reader, know that this list was composed with a money-conscious church treasurer in mind. 
 
10. A title. That’s right, a title. What if you granted your pastor the title of “dean of the chapel” or maybe something whimsical like “bishop of the boulevard”? Trust me, I have yet to meet a pastor who does not secretly covet a formal title, especially some obscure English one. What if you referred to your pastor every now and then as “prime minister”?
 
9. Perhaps a title sounds too high churchy for you. Then what about an alternative professional title? What if you called your pastor the church’s “writer-in-residence”? Why would you do that? Two reasons. First, your pastor writes quite a bit. (Add up all the words in sermons + prayers + emails + letters to the editor + monthly newsletter articles + letters of recommendation, and you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 words per year.) Second, imagine your pastor is on a plane and does not want to talk religion for the next few hours. Then the person sitting next to your pastor asks, “and what do you do?” Your pastor can faithfully and truthfully answer, “I am a writer-in-residence.” 
 
8. A stack of “I’ve Had It” cards. I would recommend a stack of at least five. There are times when pastors give and give and give, until they are spent and can give no more. Rather than have your pastor just check out, reward him or her with the opportunity to redeem an “I’ve Had It” card on any day of his or her choosing. The stack could include such cards as “Taking the day off to sleep in,” “Going shopping” and “Eating an ice cream sundae for breakfast.”
 
7. A night out. Although cash is a great gift for pastors, he or she will probably feel guilty for having it and will either give it away or use it to pay down debt. Therefore, take up a secret collection so you can purchase gift cards to the nicest restaurant in town and tickets to a show. Then arrange for a trusted congregant to watch the pastor’s kids, pets or house while your pastor and his or her partner enjoy an evening out.
 
6. Promise to say thank you over the course of the year. Write a note to say how much you enjoyed the sermon or how much the prayer, visit or telephone call meant to you. Do not let the work go unnoticed or unacknowledged.
 
5. Vow never to criticize a sermon on a Sunday morning after a worship service. The act of preaching is a dangerous and courageous act; it is one of the most vulnerable acts in which a person can engage. In preaching, pastors reveal their most cherished and deepest thoughts — their hopes, dreams and relationship with the Holy. After a service is not the time for criticism, which can wait until Monday morning. Bonus: When the sermon is good, say so.
 
4. Acknowledge that pastoral work is artistic work. Sure managerial, fundraising, interpersonal, supervisory, strategic planning and visionary skills are needed for effective and meaningful ministry. However, transcending all of the above-mentioned skills are the arts of taking ideas and incarnating them, of healing and mending, of crying with and for, of tearing down and building up. 
 
3. Remind yourself, periodically, that your pastor is human. He or she may work miracles. He or she may even make the dead to live. However, at the end of the day, pastors are human, just like you. Sometimes they lose their cool, say things they wish they could take back, goof up big time, and stand in the need of prayer and grace.
 
2. A sidekick. Yes, a sidekick. This position is neither paid nor volunteer. It is more of a worship sidekick. This person will be the (insert day and time of your worshipping community here) version of Ed McMahon. The sidekick will do the following: stand first to sing; sing the loudest; maintain the most sincere facial expression while the pastor prays; hang on the pastor’s every word; keep a handkerchief handy to wipe away tears during the sermon; and guffaw and hold his or her sides like nobody’s business if the pastor tells a joke or funny story.
 
1. Finally, love your pastor as much as possible. Through bad times as well as good, just love him or her.
 
However, if you must purchase a gift, then let me suggest tickets to Jazz Fest in New Orleans or a subscription to The New Yorker — if for nothing more than the cartoons. (Trust me, pastors need to laugh and cultivate a deep sense of dry humor.) Or, you could surprise your pastor — like my church surprised me — by installing a bicycle rack or post with a “clergy parking only” sign.

I hope this helps. Happy holidays!


The Rev. G. Travis Norvell is pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.