Giving Your Pastor a Christmas Gift
In 1996 one of my denomination’s General Superintendents at the time dubbed me as “the Bishop of the Internet.” That remark was mostly in jest I think but I’ll pretend the title for a day so I can issue this “Pastoral letter” to laity who read my column. I urge you to give your pastor a nice Christmas gift. There are several ways to give a Christmas gift to your pastor:
1. Most churches give their pastor an “employee gift.”
Most churches already have some sort of Christmas gift policy for their “employees” including the pastor and staff. If the church has multiple staff usually these gifts are divided up across the board so every staff person gets a gift—usually based on their salary.<> But the church tries to recover some of this money. It works like this: the church budgets the gift by policy, then distributes little envelopes calling on the people to contribute pretending they’ll pass on whatever comes in. This usually works since less comes in that they designated. In fact many lay people have caught on to the fact that the pastor gets the gift no matter what is collected so many don’t pitch in. This employer-gift-with-a-collection means the giver gets a tax deduction for their giving to the pastor. Since it is technically given to the church, a $20 gift really only costs the taxpayer-giver maybe $17. However sometimes churches get painted into a corner with this charade. Like one church I heard of where a wealthy member gave $5,000 toward the pastor’s Christmas gift. The board’s make-believe “love offering” was exposed since they really didn’t pass the gifts through but were only trying to recover the policy-set gift cost. Since they wouldn’t pass the five grand on, they had to return the gift to stay honest. Of course this method means when it comes to taxes, what the giver saves the pastor pays. A Christmas gift from an employer is taxable income to the pastor—so he or she will have to fork out 15% Self Employment Tax, plus another 10-15% income tax on such a gift. Thus the $20 the pastor gets in this sort of employee gift means they have to pay a third of back out in taxes to stay honest—the $20 gift becomes $13 after taxes. This is why some churches choose another way to give Christmas gifts to their pastor.
2. Centralized envelopes urging individual giving.
To avoid the impersonal institutional gift-giving of the first method some churches print up “My Christmas gift to the pastor” envelopes and urge people to send their own personal Christmas gift directly to the pastor. Some even hand out addressed and stamp envelopes. In this method anyone who wants to give adds their cash to the envelope and mails the gift directly to the pastor’s home, usually with a little thank you note. The disadvantage of this method is the giver gets no tax deduction for their gift. The corresponding advantage is the pastor gains since he or she owes no taxes on small personal gifts like these. This means a $20 gift is $20. Pastors who have experienced this method say the real joy, however, is getting all the personal notes at Christmas citing sermons, hospital visits and the like which encourages them to survive the “pastoral winter doldrums” that often follows the Christmas season.<> But a disadvantage in larger churches is that attendees often send only a gift to the senior pastor and staff pastors are left out in the cold.
3. Decentralized individual giving to the pastor.
In a third modification of the above a few churches simply announce they will be giving no [institutional] gift at all to the pastor and urge individuals to send a note directly to their pastor [wink-wink-hint-hint—tuck in a $20]. Of course many do and their gifts are invariably larger than they would have given to the centralized kitty in method #1 above. The disadvantage is the pastor could feel beholden to the most generous folk and they might even remember those who forget. In many churches where they use #1 method abuve (employer-gifts-by-policy) many individuals also send their own personal gift to the pastor.<>
There are probably other ways churches give Christmas gifts to their pastor and I suspect some of you will add them to the comments on this column, but these are the three most common methods I’ve seen. Nobody has to give a gift to their pastor. A gift is just that—a gift. Why not address an envelope now and tuck in a $20 (or more?) to your pastor.<>
So what insights do you have on giving gifts to pastors (and if you are a pastor read the footnotes below).
So what do you think?
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 Some churches, especially those of lower classes where few folk itemize deductions have tried an adaptation of this with a cash-“march offering.” In such an offering people bring their cash gift for the pastor on a particular Sunday and the congregation “marches” past a table and drops it in a basket and the basket is handed directly to the pastor without the Treasurer touching it or in any way letting it pass the church’s books. This is might be fair for a Christmas offering, but in churches where they actually pay their pastor’s annual salary this way I think it is a dubious practice and sort of smelly. I think it might be OK for a Christmas gift however but if it is actually a means of paying the salary “for services rendered” by the “love offering” method it would probably not pass the smell test with the IRS as a tax free gift.
 And remember, if your church has several pastors to give something to those not in the limelight. For instance if you’ve got a children’s pastor sweating away working with the kids out of sight send them a gift too.
 If you are a pastor, who could you give a gift to at Christmas? Your DS? General Superintendent? (Whatever you just thought when you read that may be exactly what some of your laity think about giving you a gift ;-)