Whose Birthday Is It?
By Ken Sloane
Mike Slaughter, recently retired United Methodist Church pastor, served for almost forty years as the lead pastor and “chief dreamer” of the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio. With a deep passion for mission and a belief that a pastor’s role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, Mike presented a bold challenge to his congregation in the fall of 2004. In his sermon, he reminded congregants that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, but we give ourselves presents. He challenged the church to honor Jesus’ birthday by giving to a mission project in Darfur, Sudan. “I want you to have a slim Christmas this year,” Mike said, “and whatever you spend on your family, bring an equal amount for hunger relief in the Sudan.” That Christmas, the congregation brought a Christmas miracle offering of $300,000. (See Mike Slaughter’s book, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, Abingdon Press.)
(IMPORTANT, PLEASE READ!)
I’m not suggesting that we should all do what Mike Slaughter did. Pastor Mike had decades with this congregation – preaching, teaching, and building a culture of mission focus to support his going out on that particular limb.
However, ever since I heard the story of what Mike and the Ginghamsburg church did, I remember it as we draw closer to Thanksgiving and Black Friday. What if we all were to at least ask ourselves, “What have we done to remind people in our churches that this is not your birthday, but Jesus’ birthday?” What gift would Jesus like to see this Christmas?
“What have we done to remind people in our churches that this is not your birthday, but Jesus’ birthday?”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m a hard person to shop for (my wife and adult children remind me of this fact). I really have everything I need, and I’m short on space for more, especially for things I don’t need. I know the people in my life want to show their love and caring, but it would be so much better if their gift to me was a donation that would help someone who really needed it.
In what ways could churches like yours offer people an avenue to give a gift in honor of a loved one who doesn’t need anything, who already has more than they have room to store?
This year, in honor of my colleagues who work with me, I will give a gift to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) or to The Advance. For my in-laws, in their eighties, I will probably make a gift to the Heifer Project or to a local food pantry in their honor. And if someone does something similar for me, it will bring me joy!
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.