Giving Christmas to a pastor this season is as easy as making a phone call

Pastors get all kinds of Christmas gifts from parishioners.  Mugs, Lifeway gift cards, and those one-scripture-a-day books are standards.  Some churchgoers forgo gifts altogether because it can be an overwhelming experience to have to get something for your pastor.  Decisions about what to get and how much to spend are baffling, but giving Christmas to your pastor this season might be a lot easier than you think.

Not quite the "mug" I was referring to, but you know...

The truth is that most pastors desire things that no money can buy.  I’m not talking about loyalty or trust or love, though such things can go a long way.  I’m talking about the little things that make for a healthier congregation.

As you consider what to give your pastor this season, think about these ideas:

A wonderful gift is for you to take “ownership” of a ministry in your church.  We know cognitively that pastors can’t do everything or please everyone, but sometimes we don’t behave that way.  This season, why not take the initiative to volunteer in a ministry or constructively address one of your “concerns,” if any, at your church?

Pastors are truly blessed when they see people getting involved in the ministries of church.  It lets pastors know you take that whole “Great Commission” thing seriously.

Give the gift of honesty.  Are you at odds with your pastor?  Perhaps your pastor has offended you in some way and you have yet to tell him or her about it.  Offer to take your pastor to lunch and confront the issues with a compassionate approach.

You may think that this is too explosive.  Consider the alternative: When conflict remains deep beneath the surface, your pastor most likely knows something is awry.  It won’t take long before your pastor starts to lead by anxiety rather than by authenticity.

Also consider that no pastor can enact reconciliation in a situation if the pastor does not know about the conflict in the first place.  We clergy may be ordained and have the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are not mind-readers.  Most of us need to know what’s on your mind explicitly; we’re too ignorant to figure it out on our own.

Another gift is to let your pastor reclaim his or her vacation time.  If you notice that your pastor has not taken off on a Sunday in a while, why not encourage him or her to go away for the weekend with the family come January?  This offers rest and relaxation; if the pastor visits another church while away, it can also be a source of much-needed professional development and personal growth.

Churches suffer when pastors do not take appropriate time to care for themselves.  When the contract between pastor and church says that the pastor has two weeks of vacation, then let the pastor have two weeks of vacation.

In order to let the pastor protect his vacation time, set up a ministry team to handle phone calls while he is away.  Have a registry of local, like-minded clergy whom your church can call if there is a crisis or sudden hospitalization.   This gift will certainly alleviate burn-out and inspire sustainable spiritual growth in your pastor.

Give the gift of friendship.  One idea is to call your pastor to see how she is doing on any given day.  When you call, your pastor thinks that it is to discuss the business of the church.  Surprise her by, first, asking if she has time to chat for a few minutes; and then by stating that the reason for your call is to see how she is doing.  No more, no less.

Christmas gifts for clergy do not need to be elaborate.  With a little insight and a creative, cost-free approach, you can make your pastor’s season a joyful one.

Seek to integrate all aspects of life under the lordship of Christ

According to author Robert Mulholland, the goal of spiritual formation is to be conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.  Many folks think that when we are conformed to Christ, we act, look, and talk differently.  In many cases this is true, especially after a conversion experience.

For others, being conformed to Christ seems to make them turn into someone they are not.  Eventually, those who wear the mask of Christian conformity tire of the theatrical act and wonder whether or not “playing Christian” is even worth it.  Christianity is not a masquerade ball, and faith founded on pretense is flimsy at best.

When the Spirit conforms us into the image of Christ, we are actually called to shed our masks.   Jesus makes us fully human and forces us to live into who we are as unique individuals made in God’s image.  Jesus does not require us to be something we’re not; we can accept who we are just as we are.

One of the ways to live into a life of abundance and acceptance is to align all of who we are under the lordship of Christ.  There is no aspect of our being, from the intellectual to the physical, which escapes God’s transformative engagement in our life.  And those who live in the Light have nothing to hide, even if their life is a total sum of repeated failures and fragility.

As a typical guy, one of my strengths (and, inevitably, my weaknesses) is that I am able to compartmentalize many aspects of my life.  For instance, if I make a mistake at work, it does not necessarily affect who I am or who I intend to be when I am at home.   Each facet of my life fits into a separate box, neat and tidy.

This is different from how my wife goes about life; she sees everything as interconnected.  If I say something when we are at Wal-Mart on Monday that hurts her feelings, she will remind me on Friday that I have yet to apologize.

My wife reminds me that my actions, much less my Christian life, influence every part of who I am.  The person I am on Sunday should be the same person I am Monday through Saturday.  The Christian that I appear to be in church is supposed to be the same Christian I claim to be in my relationships, career, and personal life.

Though I can separate the stresses of work and family into neat compartments, God wants me to understand that every facet of my life plays a part into a dynamic and integrative whole.  Being conformed into the image of Christ means that I connect these loose threads and weave my life into a tapestry that reflects God’s glory and honor.

As you work, play, and relate this week, ask yourself several questions: Do I see Christ as a participant in everything I do?  Do I still hide some parts of my life from God?  Am I a Christian because Christ has a claim on my whole life, or am I only wearing a mask of Christian religiosity?

In the Old Testament, the Shema stresses: “Listen, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today” (Deut. 6:4-5, NLT).

Only when we take off our masks and align all of who we are under Christ’s lordship can we discover our true, authentic selves—the very people that God intended us to be.