How Pastors Should Respond to Gifts

Gifts for the pastor are a form of Evangelical Penance. Don’t be flattered by them, pastors. They are guilt offerings.



Let me preface this by saying, “OK, not always.” There was this one time that a very faithful member of my church very graciously gave us a number of things, one of which was very expensive. It was appreciated and was purely given out of a pure heart as far as I can tell. To this point. So far.

I even told this person, “Oh man, I know this huge gift means you’re going to leave the church now. I just want you to know that you can leave the church if you want and you don’t have to give me anything.”

My house is filled with gifts that people who have left my church gave me before they left.

I don’t know what it is, or what comes first: the thought of giving a gift or the thought of leaving the church, but people who leave your church will give you things before they go. Maybe years before, not necessarily associated with their leaving. It’s uncanny how many things I’ve been given by people who later leave the church.

Perhaps they gave it in hopes of a kickback. Maybe it was a bribe. Maybe I didn’t reciprocate enough. Maybe I didn’t play their game and they got tired of me.

Maybe it was guilt on their part. They had a problem and the problem gave them guilt. Feeling guilty in church makes a person not like church. But they want to stay, they like the people. “So here, guy who makes me feel guilty, here’s a gift, an offering, some penance to assuage the guilt you make me feel.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m analyzing it too much, but it sure seems like the people who give me the most stuff leave the church.

Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Thesis to a church door. The Thesis was all about indulgences, how the Catholic Church would charge you money for various things, and part of the price went to get your sins forgiven. “Every time a coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs,” was the saying of the time.

Luther was upset by this and thought it was unbiblical. The Protestant Reformation sprang when coins in the coffer rang.

People feel a need to work off or buy their way out of guilt. So when Luther took that opportunity away from Protestants, we invented a new penance.

Pastor preaches sermons. His sermons deal with sin. Sin makes me feel guilty. I can’t buy an indulgence. I will buy my pastor a book instead.

Maybe I’m being too theological about it. Perhaps they were just being friendly and then for other reasons grew disillusioned with the church and left. I mean, in all honesty, plenty of people who never gave me nothing but grief also left the church.

Maybe it’s just the odds speaking. If 75% of your church leaves over time, a massive portion of those people will be people who gave you stuff. No doubt the 25% who stay also gave you stuff, it just doesn’t annoy you as much!

I don’t know, but my house is filled with stuff that people who left the church gave me, (except there’s less now, because my wife has destroyed much of it). The gifts that remain however do play a purpose. When I see the gifts the departed gift-givers gave me, I say a prayer for them.

My advice to pastors: watch out for people who give you things, especially if they haven’t been around long. They want something. I don’t know what exactly, but something that you probably will never be able to provide and they will leave. Enjoy the stuff, but don’t be too flattered by it.



He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house;
but he that hateth gifts shall live.
–Proverbs 15:27

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