It almost sounds heretical doesn’t it? The idea that a pastor—called of God to lead and feed God’s people—could endure rather than enjoy the Christmas season? Let it not be!
Yet, because churches try to pack as much into the Christmas season as possible, pastors often find themselves unable to say “no” to one more invite to a class party, department fellowship, church-family gathering, or other yuletide function. By the time the last week of December rolls around many pastors find they have barely kept themselves—much less Christ—in Christmas.
Having survived a number of Christmases in ministry, here are a few things that can help you survive and thrive during Christmas.
No matter how young and energetic or aged and spry you are, don’t do too much at Christmas. It’s okay to say “no” to some of the events to which you get an invitation. You can’t “keep Christ in Christmas” if you are giving yourself to everyone except Him.
Spread the ministry.
Whether your church has multiple staff, elders, deacons, a church council, or some combination, involve all of them in ministry around Christmas. Be honest that you cannot be available for every church event, family event, and community event without wearing out. Assign days for others to be responsible to spearhead ministry—even in emergencies. Lead the church-wide Christmas get together if needed, then graciously decline as many smaller parties as you can.
Take time off.
If it is at all possible save some vacation time for Christmas so you end up with multiple consecutive days off. Most years the world slows down at Christmas. Take advantage of it. If you are bi-vocational, try to schedule time off from your primary job to coincide with days out of the church office.
Close the church office.
It may be too late to do it this year, but begin planning to close the church office between Christmas and New Year’s Day annually. It is not a vacation because work still gets done, but there is no more dead week of the year than week-52. Sitting in the office waiting for phone calls that never come is a waste of time. Turn down the heat, close the office, and save the church some money.
When Christmas or Christmas Eve falls on Sunday bring everyone together for a combined service.
Some churches cancel services on Christmas, but I think there’s a better solution: bring everyone together—birth to senior adults—and have an informal, abbreviated service with carols, prayer, and a short, encouraging message. When I last pastored a church, such services lasted 45 minutes from start to finish. Kids sat in the floor, some brought new toys they had received. We had great responses.
Use a Advent reader/devotional guide as a family.
This is good advice for anyone, of course, but it helps the pastor’s family, too. Whether you gather nightly or 2-3 times a week leading up to Christmas, focusing together on the Christmas story with your family can be a highlight of the season. When your kids are old enough share the reading between them.
Christmas is an amazing time of year. Even with the secular trappings I find myself caught in the wonder of the incarnation, year after year after year. Take these first few days of December to remember why we celebrate and commit to celebrate and worship the Christ of the manger, the cross, empty tomb, and the crown, and commit to keeping Him central during this season.