If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, December is fun, right?
Unfortunately, most ministry leaders I’ve run into don’t feel that way. In fact, most people I know in vocational ministry look forward to the last week in December when they finally get some breathing room.
It’s not that we don’t love Christmas or what it stands for. And most pastors are genuinely excited for the people who will be coming to a Christmas Eve service who need to hear that God loves them and how Jesus’ coming and eventual death is a very real picture of that love.
But even when things are going well, most of us are relieved when December 25th is behind us. And if things aren’t going well—in ministry, in our family, or just in our hearts—December can feel like a marathon we never wanted to run.
And it shouldn’t be that way.
Could it be different? I think so (and I say that as someone who has also been overwhelmed in December). But it takes intentionality, and it takes work. I don’t think Jesus intended the celebration of his birth to be the cause of stress and even burnout for those who lead his Church. Here are some things we can do differently in the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth:
You know every year going into December that you’re schedule is going to be jam-packed. Intentionally create gaps in your calendar that will give you room to breathe. It might be just deciding to go into the office an hour later to have more time with your family or so you can spend additional devotional time with God. But you have to schedule it in, or it won’t happen.
Remember The Reason
Yeah, I know; remembering the “reason for the season” is pretty cliché. But December gets so stuffed with so much “stuff” when you’re a ministry leader, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder why we do what we do. Remind yourself continuously that we are celebrating the fact that Jesus laid aside heaven to give himself as a sacrifice for us. Also Christmas Eve is an incredible opportunity to connect with many people who are far from God but will be at one of your Christmas Eve services. It may not make your December any less crazy, but it’s easy to get through a busy season when theres’ purpose and vision behind it.
Create New Family Traditions
We have young kids, and by the time I’m done helping with our church’s Christmas Eve services and can get home, the kids are already asleep. So a few years ago, we started celebrating Christmas Eve as a family on December 23rd. Everything most families do to celebrate Christmas on December 24th, we do the night before. Being a pastor means that your schedule around Christmas is different, so add in some other Christmas traditions for your family that most families don’t get to do.
Say “No” More Often
If you’re a pastor, chances are you’ll be on the invite list for several holiday gatherings. Don’t feel like you have to say yes to every single invitation. If you feel guilty about it, send a nice card expressing your gratitude for being thought of. Just don’t feel like you have to go.
If we’re honest, sometimes what really needs changing in December is our attitude. If you—and perhaps your spouse—begin to get resentful during the Christmas season, find something additional you can give to, whether that means financially, some stuff you have that someone else could use, or simply giving your time volunteering outside your church. When we practice generosity, our hearts become more grateful.
Schedule Some Family Magic
If you have a family of your own, put some family time on your calendar. Just like your margin time, it won’t happen if you don’t schedule it. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, either. Put some hot chocolate in a Thermos and drive around to find the house with the best Christmas lights, or (if you’ve got snow near you) take your family on a snow picnic followed by a snowball fight. Find a way to make Christmas magical for your family, or all your kids will remember is that you were always stressed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Chime in: what else would you add to this list?