By Eddie Pipkin

I spent Thanksgiving in Miami with our friend Chiny, and I was reminded once again that she is the “queen of hospitality,” a model for all of us who would welcome guests with an open heart and creative style.  Her front porch delighted me as a testament to a thoughtful and imaginative response to folks pulling essential duty during the pandemic (see picture in the main article) with a tangible thank you – “hey, you’re appreciated – here’s a small treat to say thanks.”  As ministry leaders, we have an opportunity to take advantage of the convergence of three holidays as we say thanks to those who make our ministry possible, express that thanks through creative gift-giving, and look ahead to what comes next: a combo of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s that’s perfect for celebrating our support teams.

So, in the case of my friend, what she has done is create a help-yourself snack dispensary, so that delivery folks can know that they are appreciated for the long hours they are logging — it’s pretty awesome in that it offers a variety of options to choose from (making it customizable, which is a feature we love here at EMC3), comes with a nifty personalized thank you note, doesn’t require her physical presence to function, was easy and straightforward to set up, and it’s COVID SAFE!  These are all features that check happy boxes for me — plus she checked the box for a creative, adaptive, meaningful response to an ongoing issue (how we let delivery folks know they are appreciated).  Bravo!  I have no idea whether she came up with this independently or borrowed from a social media suggestion, but who cares.  One of the mantras frequently referenced in this blog is “don’t reinvent the ministry wheel”: it’s silly when there are so many great ideas eagerly shared every day.

I wanted to highlight that excellent example of putting principles into practice before diving into the holiday combo concept.  Here we are at the confluence of three big celebrations, and each has a distinct personality:

THANKSGIVING is a time for expressing gratitude.

CHRISTMAS is a time for giving gifts.

NEW YEAR’S is a time for making resolutions.

As regards your ministry and the people who work with you all year long, you will find yourself acknowledging these three occasions in accordance with the personality and traditions of each.

For THANKSGIVING you will have expressed your gratitude to them in some way, generic or personalized.  You might even have convened for a potluck Thanksgiving lunch together.

For CHRISTMAS you will acknowledge them with a gift, large or small, personal or generic (generic in the sense that everyone gets the same thing, like that cool olive wood manger ornament you picked up in the Holy Land on your last visit).  You’ll probably share some sort of fun and festive Christmas party or Christmas staff lunch.

For NEW YEAR’S you’ll make some ministry resolutions together, maybe even share some personal growth resolutions for getting healthier and happier in 2021.  You might even get together for one of those Watch Night parties.

But let us consider some ways we might combine the sentiments of all three of these holidays to take a different approach.  Instead of just expressing words of gratitude, we can show our gratitude by giving them something with impact — impact on the stress they face from the faithful execution of their duties.  That’s gratitude interconnected with gift giving.  For the New Year’s spirit of resolutions interconnected with gift giving, why not give them something that shows in a tangible way how you resolve to be a better boss and leader?

Before giving some specific examples of this holiday combo approach, let’s first take a look at Thanksgiving and New Year’s and how we express gratitude and proclaim resolutions.

In expressing gratitude, we should do it thoughtfully and often:

  • Write short notes (or long notes), send texts, leave a voice mail.  Say “thanks” as a course of habit.  Here’s a challenge: we should say thanks at least as often as we offer a critique.
  • Be as specific as possible as often as possible when expressing thanks.  It’s great to offer that generic “I appreciate you,” but far more powerful to offer thanks for specific things.  This can show you are a good listener (a very important leadership skill) when you offer thanks for something that you know was a particular challenge for a person to accomplish or something they did well even though it was a task they dreaded.
  • Offer thanks on public platforms.  Celebrate your team on social media (both as a team and through individual shout-outs).  Imagine you took the two weeks around Thanksgiving to celebrate a different team or team member every day.  Use worship as a time to celebrate folks (which also makes for a great object lesson in joyful service).

When thinking about our routine of establishing New Year’s resolutions, consider a different perspective:

  • We tend to make resolutions about overall ministry goals, team goals, or goals that we push individuals to make for their own personal and professional growth (usually tilted toward ways that benefit us).
  • What if this year you put the emphasis more on making resolutions about how we will better leaders for our team members?  What if you shifted the focus to how you will be serving them?  What if you publicly communicated to your congregation or people you serve in your ministry that you are making resolutions to be more responsive to their needs?
  • What if part of this bold “resolutionary” pivot is to actually ask team members for suggestions as to how you could resolve to serve them better in the coming year?  Or likewise for those you serve in ministry?  What an amazing, humble, eye-opening approach that could be!
  • Such an approach would inspire others down the leadership line to think in the same terms about defining their own resolutions for the coming year as they seek feedback from the people they lead and serve.

In the gift giving that is inevitably part of the Christmas celebration in the weeks ahead (and which is in its best and most holy form an homage to the unfathomable generosity of God’s greatest gift, represented in the Nativity, that is the Incarnation), we can combine some of these ideas.

We can express our gratitude by giving gifts within our power that show our resolve to focus on what really matters to the people we lead.  (The first principle here is that we are taking time to listen and observe the concerns, hopes, struggles, and aspirations of our team members):

  • Imagine that we make one of those homemade coupons like our kids do (the ones that say “good for a free hug” or “good for one chore of your choice”) but our homemade coupon instead says “good for one two-day emergency getaway” or “good for a free pass for one meeting of the holder’s choice.”  Such a gift would acknowledge the very real time demands which pressure folks who are passionately committed to making ministry happen week after week.
  • Imagine that you offer team members an “I win” button that they can use one time over the next year to come out on top in a debate they are having with you about some specific issue.  Or a “mulligan” that they could use one time in the next year to get a second chance on something they mess up (rather than a long lecture about their failure).  They would just toss in the mulligan (traditionally a coin-like token) and say, “Yes, that one’s on me.  I’d like a do-over.”
  • Imagine a gift of a date night.  You have the team member pick the night, and you (and possible a larger crew, such as helpers from the Staff-Parish Relations Committee) arrange the babysitting, a gift certificate to a restaurant of the team member’s choice, maybe some flowers — creativity would have a chance to shine in this scenario.
  • Imagine a gift of “choose a training course, weekend workshop, or class you’d like to take,” and make it happen.  Team members would know you are invested in their development (as they are passionate about their professional or spiritual growth and development — not just how you would define it for them).

All of these possibilities share the principles of being attentive to their needs or their goals, express thanks in a way that acknowledge their hard work, and look towards the future in communicating your commitment to keep listening and keep helping them find ways to grow as they are appreciated and given ways to renew and recharge.

What is the best Christmas gift you ever gave staff or ministry team members?  In what ways do you regularly express your gratitude to them for the tireless work they do?  How can you resolve to be more attentive to their needs and goals in 2021, and how can you creatively communicate those resolutions?  Share all your great ideas and past moments of inspiration in the comments section.