How Not to Be a Grinch

Even with limited funds and a crowded schedule, you can give joyfully to the congregation at Christmastime.

John and Mary were still enjoying their "honeymoon" with the church as the holiday season approached. This was their first ministry after seminary, and Mary wanted to do everything right.

While being treated to tea and muffins at the fall ladies' social, she was also treated to some subtle "instruction." One veteran saint, Mabel, began, "I just bought my Christmas cards. I'm up to 250 this year!" Others reminisced about the previous year's parties, particularly the pastor's open house, complete with roast goose and 30 varieties of home-baked cookies. Delores described the hand-crocheted lace ornaments the former pastor's wife had given to every member family.

Mary's heart sank as she pondered her plight as the successor to this graduate of the Martha Stewart School for Pastors' Wives. With student loans and moving expenses still outstanding, Mary didn't know how she would provide a special Christmas for her two preschoolers, much less the whole church.

Many of us in ministry desire to give gifts and share ourselves with our congregation, especially at holiday times, yet we struggle with time demands and financial constraints. What's a busy, budget-minded minister's family to do about all the gifts, cards and entertaining that seem expected?

First, forget Santa, forget the Grinch and remember God.

The holidays don't need to be all or nothing. We are to acknowledge God in all our ways, so pray about the Lord's plans for this holiday season. He came to bring "peace on earth." He may give you peace about serving limits. He may give you fresh ideas, designed for your circumstances. He may provide extra helpers, time or finances.

Set reasonable expectations for yourself.

After you pray, determine your capabilities and plan from there. Don't assume you know what other people expect — give them the benefit of the doubt. Church members might notice that you work and home school four children, so they probably won't expect you to play host at every church holiday event. And if they do, gently educate them about your all-too-human condition.

Give cheerfully.

The apostle Paul instructed, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Graciously give your time, resources or hospitality, no matter how limited or modest. People want to know you, not your china pattern or how many recipes you've mastered.

What about special friends, staff members and others in the church whom you want to bless? Is it possible to give gifts only to some and not offend others?

Most everyone recognizes the special relationship between staff members. These workers and their families should be honored at the holidays by the church (with a special dinner, cash bonus, gift certificate or gifts for each individual in the staff families) and also by the senior minister's family.

What about special friends within the congregation? If you desire to exchange gifts with those you feel closest to, use discretion. Avoid exchanging gifts at church or at your all-church open house. Instead, deliver the gifts to your friends' homes in private.

When members give gifts to you, remember that postal carriers and teachers receive gifts at Christmastime, and so do ministers. An exchange of gifts is not necessary. Simply say thank you and then express your appreciation in writing also.

Show hospitality.

Hospitality without partiality is a challenge in any size church. But don't feel guilty about spending more time with some friends than with others. Jesus set an example here, developing a special relationship with three of the apostles (Matthew 17:1).

When you do want to include everyone, don't overwhelm yourself. Have an all-day open house and arrange the invitation list to have guests arrive at different times. You will work all day at partying, but at least you will have had to clean and decorate only once for all your holiday entertaining!

Share the fun and the costs.

Many churches provide entertainment allowances or reimbursements. If yours does not, keep track of your expenses (noting the date and purpose of the event) and attach the receipts. The expenses of business-related entertainment are tax-deductible.

To save money and preparation time, ask guests to contribute to the menu. Have an appetizer party, dessert buffet, soup supper, waffle breakfast, salad luncheon or ice-cream social. Try a modified potluck supper where you provide the main dish and your guests bring the rest.

Get creative with the Christmas card challenge.

Christmas cards are not absolutely necessary. You could use a page of the church newsletter to send Christmas greetings from your family to church members, or enclose a family Christmas letter in a December mailing from the church.

If you enjoy sending cards and have a computer available, you can design and print your own cards. Save time by printing the church address list on labels.

Especially if your church is small, however, folks appreciate the personal touch. Debbie Snell, a pastor's wife in Nampa, Idaho, writes brief personal notes and addresses every card, including the name of each child. The parents of one family with seven children told Debbie how delighted they were at this extra attention.

Have fun!

With imagination and creativity, any minister's family can experience the blessings of giving while remaining solvent and sane. Try some of these ideas, add your own and enjoy the holiday season with your church family.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, Dec 1996/Jan 1997.
Article copyright © 1997, Linda Riley.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Linda Riley was founder and director of Called Together Ministries, an organization that formerly supported women in ministry. She and her husband, Jay, currently serve Living Word Fellowship in
Southern California. They have eight children.