By Mike Harland
The Christmas season is a special time in churches. The music and choir presentations year after year become part of the fabric of our family celebrations.
Most people look forward to Christmas music all year long. But there are a few who, surprisingly to some, might dread it: the worship leader, choir director, and anyone involved in the production.
It happens more often than you think. The pressure and stress of preparing the most attended musical experience of the year can turn Dr. Jekyell into Mr. Hyde. Extra rehearsals can be tense and long. Everyone loses sleep. Families are affected. Busy schedules make fast food the diet of choice.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can put a wonderful program together without the stress and exhaustion.
1. Start early
If you haven’t started your Christmas presentation preparation by now, you’re already behind—but you’re not too late.If you haven’t started your Christmas presentation preparation by now, you’re already behind—but you’re not too late.The last-minute stress in productions comes from waiting too long to get started. The extra rehearsals should be in October, not December. Instead of cramming all the extra rehearsals into the last week before the presentation, do them now. Then, the week of the presentation can be just a couple of rehearsals for finishing touches.
Your people will have more energy and better stamina to give their very best in the program. And, their families won’t be frazzled by an unreasonable week of preparation during the busiest time of the year.
Try this next year: Select your music by the first of August. Begin preparations by the first of September. Do the heavy lifting in October. And, taper your rehearsal schedule as you approach the presentation.
2. Divide and conquer
Every special presentation has multiple parts. You may have dramatic elements or visual ones. You could have more than one performing group—like children, students, adults, ensembles, and soloists.
Instead of having each group at every rehearsal, divide it up. Plan your rehearsals to be as specific as possible. You’ll get more done during each session and will spare your volunteers the frustration of standing around and watching others rehearse.
Guard people’s time and use it wisely. If you do, they’ll gladly trust you with more of it in the future.
3. Don’t be afraid to repeat
Some leaders get in the cycle of making every year bigger, better, and different.
Yes, we should bring a fresh approach to everything we do. If we don’t, over time, people will be bored with the presentation. But also consider this: People enjoy hearing familiar songs.
Too often, church leaders fail to bring back songs that were impactful from the previous years. Every year, factor 20 to 30 percent of songs and moments from previous years into the program. It will make the learning curve easier for people and the congregation will enjoy hearing special, familiar songs.
4. Fight for simplicity
I love this quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”Not everything that can be done, should be done. Don’t be afraid to simply.There is something to be said for keeping things simple. We have the greatest story ever told, and we have the powerful medium of music to help us tell it. We don’t have to dress it up or try to make it spectacular. It’s amazing by itself.
There’s nothing wrong with adding features to augment the engagement of the congregation. But, make sure those complexities don’t actually become distractions through added pressures or potential failures.
Sure, you can have angels flying from cables around the room—but should you? Because not everything that can be done, should be done. Don’t be afraid to simply.
5. Focus on the people and the process
It’s very easy for production leaders to become so focused on the program itself that we forget people are involved. Think about the families. The homework and school programs. The basketball games and student ministry gatherings.
I always tried to remember the businessman or businesswoman leaving their office at 5:30 in the afternoon to pick up their kids from practice, visit a fast food drive-thru to get dinner, rush home to get them started on their homework, and then walk into my rehearsal at 6:30.If the presentation I lead requires the families of our ministry to be fractured, I need to go back and look really hard at what I’m doing.Then, they get home after 8, wrap up their day with their kids, and fall into bed at 10 so they can be at work the next morning before 8.
Why in the world would anyone do that? Am I feeding them spiritually? Am I using their time well? Do I make assumptions for the sake of the program that are insensitive to the people I lead?
If the presentation I lead requires the families of our ministry to be fractured, I need to go back and look really hard at what I’m doing. The ends don’t justify the means. I have to protect the physical and spiritual health of the people I lead or the presentation quickly becomes more of a drain than a blessing.
Everything we do in ministry should be driven and fueled by prayer. The special program at Christmas is not an exception.
- Pray that God will help you and others put together a great plan to tell the timeless story of Christ’s birth.
- Pray that your people will be blessed and encouraged by every part of the process and the presentation.
- Pray that you’ll be sensitive to the ways your leadership could add stress and frustration.
- Pray that you’ll lead spiritually—and not just musically—through every part of the process.
- Pray that God will be honored and worshipped in the process of program preparation and that people will be drawn into a closer relationship Him through all of it.
Let your Christmas music be a joy to your church and to the people involved in the program.
God will be honored by the worship and the process of getting it ready.
MIKE HARLAND (@mikeharlandLW) is director of LifeWay Worship Resources. He’s the author of Worship Essentials: Growing a Healthy Worship Ministry Without Starting a War (B&H Publishing Group, November 2018).