12 Ways to Bless your Pastor in December

December is to pastors what April is to CPAs.

This month begins the triple crown of holy celebrations: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Christmas is our Kentucky Derby, but without the garish hats.

It takes weeks months to plan and prepare – not just events but hearts – to receive the spiritual feast that is Christmas. This work gets piled atop our regular work. Pastoral care and counseling skyrocket as the holidays trigger grief, pain, loneliness, and disappointment for so many. And like you, pastors navigate the extra expectations that come to family life this month.

Prepare-Him-Room-close

Chances are that your pastor’s inner life is a mess of scattered thoughts and mixed feelings right now. She or he is pushing (or crawling) toward December 25th fueled by stubbornness, waning hope, and the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many pastors are too busy or drained to partake in the spiritual feast of Christmas themselves.

If you want help your pastor thrive this month, here are some practical ways you can dole out blessing.

  1. Send a festive card, but do more than sign your name next to the printed text. Tell them three things you’ve noticed them do in service to the church and why it matters.
  2. Better yet, whether by card or in person, affirm something of your pastor’s character or spirit. This will help them know you value them for who they are, not just for the role they play at church.
  3. By all means, invite the pastor to your Christmas party every year, but please do not be offended if they decline. Realize that their absence might be an important chance to rest, reflect, and spend time with their family or alone with God.
  4. There’s a time and place for constructive feedback. 5 minutes after the Christmas concert/play/service is not one of them. (That’s kind of like going up to a bride and groom during their wedding reception and telling them it was a lovely ceremony, but her dress is not to your taste.) Wait a week or two if you must pass on your critique.
  5. Better yet, volunteer your thoughts or time in the weeks or months prior to these extra events. If you have a great idea or a concern, take it to your pastor when they are rested and free to share their time with you. They’ll likely listen better and have time to consider/incorporate your ideas.
  6. If you want to offer positive feedback or affirmation about an event, sermon or service, try giving more than a “thanks” or “good job.” A pastor’s dearest hope is that their work is more than a pleasant experience; they hope it nurtures your soul. Please thank your pastor, but try something like this: “That was a great service because the silence allowed me time to hear God’s voice,” or “the music and scripture readings encouraged me to be more hopeful when life seems dark.” (If you’re not good with words, pretend my examples are Mad Libs and fill in the blanks with your own thoughts.) Trust me, specific feedback is more gratifying in the present, and very helpful when planning for the future.
  7. With a congested December calendar, things like grocery shopping or getting to the post office tumble down the priority list. If you are one of those rare people with spare time this season, how about dropping off a simple meal (thanks for the split-pea soup Sarah!) or offering to run some simple errands?
  8. Encourage your pastor to rest. Sabbath is never more important than when our hearts and energy are in higher demand. If your pastor is regularly open to your feedback and accountability, then they’ll certainly need it this month. Feel free to cut through their excuses (i.e. “I don’t have time to rest”) with a gentle but firm reminder that rest is essential to doing their work well, and to their souls!
  9. It’s super nice of you to gift your pastor some Christmas cookies or peanut brittle, but the sugar highs and crashes will make these long days even more challenging. Tired people need nutrients. How about trading high-carb gifts for fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or even a gift card to the local grocer? If your cookies are truly a prized gift, how about 1 or 2 sweets nicely wrapped instead of an entire dozen?
  10. Help clean up. This one might sound silly, but I can’t tell you many times I’ve planned an event and forgot to ask volunteers to stay to the end and help me stack chairs, wipe tables, take out the trash, etc. Not every church has staff to do this, so your pastor might be working for hours after everyone else goes home. Many hands make light work!
  11. Friends, your needs and concerns are legitimate and important, but in your pastor’s busiest season, it’s caring and wise to ask yourself whether your issue is time-sensitive or emergent. If it’s neither, consider blessing your pastor by postponing your meeting until the new year. That way he or she gets some restorative downtime at the end of a very full month.
  12. Gift your pastor time away. Being a pastor is unlike most jobs today; It’s not 9-5, Monday through Friday. Pastors work odd days and hours to accommodate their congregants’ schedules. They respond whenever there’s a crisis, no matter the day or holiday. And many pastors make a modest income, which limits their ability to travel or retreat. Your church may not have the means to give your pastor a raise, but can you afford to beef up their vacation package? Or maybe you have airmiles, a country cottage, or a guest pass to an amusement park? Gifts of time and experiences in a different setting will be sweet refreshment after a busy season.

I’ve suggested 12 ways to bless your pastor this month, but I’m sure there are many more. Have fun exploring ways to bless!

P.S. – This post is not a hint to any of my congregants. I am well cared for and thank you for your wonderful, consistent support. 

Clergy Types: The Silly and Strange

Clergy Types: The Silly and Strange

Several of my Facebook friends have been sharing a graphic called the beards of ministry. Take a look. It’s pretty funny and full of caricatures that are often true in the church.

I remember looking forward to seminary and to ministering in a church. I had such high hopes for learning, for being challenged intellectually and spiritually. I really wanted to see new fruit in the church and in my life. I never expected to witness the birth of the hipster movement.

(Skinny jeans weren't in yet, but I could have gone to seminary with this guy!)

(Skinny jeans weren’t trendy in the early 2000s, but I could have gone to seminary with this guy!)

At seminary, I was surprised to find men (so many men) wearing corduroy pants, flannel button-downs over graphic t-shirts, and wool hats. Granted, I went to grad school in the pacific northwest, but the weather is not so cold that you must wear this outfit ten months of the year.

At my seminary, the professors often used the verb grapple to describe the Christian life. We were grappling with this arduous spiritual and intellectual journey of following Jesus and being a part of his church. Seminary certainly challenged and stretched me, but the only thing I grappled with was the sight of my fellow students toting sleek Mac laptops in trendy shoulder cases while wearing faded Converse sneakers with holes in the toe.

I knew there would be a plethora of men at seminary, but I didn’t expect to have so much trouble remembering their names. I kid you not — in every class there would be at least five guys named David or Daniel; two guys named after the patriarchs (though Abraham was rare); a Paul and a John or Jonathan; and at least one guy named for a minor prophet. Other than a Jewish synagogue, a Christian seminary is just about the only place you’ll hear a guy introduce himself saying, “Hi, I’m Ezra” and then hear the other guy say, “So am I.”

And yes, the facial hair phenomenon was as real for seminarians as it is for pastors. There were so many strange, but clearly intentional, patches of facial hair. My theory is that creative facial grooming draws the eye away from an exposed scalp. Here is the question I will ask the Lord when I meet him in heaven — why are so many seminarians prematurely balding?

Really, this scalpular creativity is nothing new. My brothers in Christ are carrying on a long-standing tradition among religious men. Soul-patches are just the modern day tonsure.tonsure_statu

Clearly, that graphic about pastoral beards got me laughing about all of the stereotypes I’ve seen in the flesh. But it also got me thinking about the things that I experience as a female pastor in a faith tradition where pastors are mostly men.

For instance, take the robe.

I’m not from a tradition where pastors preach in robes, but Clergy-Roberecently I was asked to wear one for a wedding I’ll be officiating. The only robes I’ve ever worn were rentals definitely made for the male body, though advertised as unisex. There was no room for hips.

The sleeves on these robes are poofy and voluminous – you could fit a small child through their opening. So I had a pastoral dilemma of needing a robe, but as a woman I also had a style dilemma; I did not want to drape myself in a manish, gospel choir inspired robe.

Thank goodness I found this flattering and feminine robe courtesy of the staff at Women Spirit.

“Ruth” robe

Clothing and hair are also an issue for the female pastor, especially when preaching. Most churches either supply mics that clip on your shirt like this…

clip-to-shirt
or on a tie, like this…

lapel mic
or one that hooks around your ear like this…

wireless-microphone-5
As a woman, I have issues with all of these options. First, when preaching, I do not wear button down shirts as a rule. This eliminates the risk of unfortunate gapage during Spirit-filled hand gestures.

Second, I’m not in the habit of wearing a tie or a stole to which I can conveniently clip a mic. I won’t be wearing a tie. Ever.

Third, those over-the-ear mics can be a problem for those of us with small ears or long hair. Every time I preach, our sound technician bends the earpiece like Gumby’s legs, desperately trying to fit it to my ear. He always ends up taping the thing to my cheek and the cord to my neck. When I wear my hair down, he instructs me to avoid moving my head so my hair won’t brush the mic and cause crackling.

You try preaching two half-hour sermons without moving your head. Especially when there is tape on your face.

Also, I’d like you to try preaching from a pulpit designed for the average man. I’m four inches taller than the average woman so this is less of a problem for me, but many of my female counterparts are preaching at pulpits much too tall for them. The flat surface for notes is closer to their necks than their waists. Natural hand gestures get lost behind the pulpit and the preacher sometimes looks like a disembodied head.

I don’t spend much time thinking about leaving a legacy in ministry. I hope to be known as a pastor who clearly and joyfully preached the good news of the kingdom of God. But I have this funny feeling I’ll be remembered for something insignificant, like being the pastor who invented the first height-adjustable pulpit. I guess there are worse things to be known for…

soulpatch