By Joe McKeever
I spent 42 years behind the pulpit of a local church before stepping away to try my hand at denominational leadership. So when it comes to leading a church throughout the Christmas season, I suppose I’ve made most of the mistakes one can make. The good news is once in a while I got it right; the blessings were enormous.
It’s the mistakes that stand out in memory, however. And, human nature being what it is, the failures of others make great reading and, hopefully, great learning experiences without our own trial and error.
So, here are my candidates for the top 20 mistakes we preachers make during the Christmas season…
20. Saying to the church: “I’d like to welcome those of you who’ve not been here since last Easter. Great to see you.” Do that, and it’ll be a long time before they’re back.
19. Planning “other” events during December. If it’s an emphases that could just as well happen in November or January—a five-night revival or a seminar on something (leadership, stewardship, whatever)—have it at a different time.
Adding yet another event during the Christmas season only adds to the incredible load your people bear during the heaviest month of the year. Ease up on them, pastor, and on yourself.
18. Lead everything yourself. Pastors of small churches are notorious for this. At first, they feel they “must” do it all because there’s no one else who will. But in time, many begin to demand they do it all whether help is available or not.
It’s better to ask the Holy Spirit to show you laypeople with potential who could help for an event or two. In addition to enjoying it more yourself, you’ll soon discover the joys of helping others find their talents and develop leadership skills.
17. Overscheduling, overplanning, overloading, overlooking, and overthinking. Keep it simple, keep it holy, keep it real.
16. Forgetting about your own family. My biggest regret in ministry is failing to make my family a priority.
15. Ignoring the needs of those who have lost loved ones during this season, particularly newly widowed members experiencing their first Christmas alone.
14. Giving no thought to those in the congregation who grew up with bad and negative memories of this season, whether from an alcoholic parent, abusive family, or a tragedy.
13. Failing to make the most of the heightened interests in families, children, and togetherness of the season. This is a great time for baby dedications, for instance, as well as efforts to encourage missing members to come back.
12. Overly decorating the worship center. People need to know this is a place of worship and of prayer, not a competitor with the local department store.
Leave room at the front for people to pray in the services and space for those responding to the invitation to trust Christ.
11. Preaching a myth-busting sermon against Santa Claus. You may enjoy it, but as soon as the service ends you may learn half the young parents in the church are angry at you for usurping their role.
They have their own way and schedule for preparing their little ones for this coming-of-age awareness.
10. Preaching an entire sermon on how no one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth or how December 25 was originally a pagan festival.
No one will benefit from this and at least half the church is frustrated. In truth, we could celebrate His birthday every day and do well.
As for December 25, even if the day once belonged to the pagans, it wouldn’t be the first time Jesus redeemed something that the devil had claimed for himself. (Starting with you and me!)
Don’t miss these 10 videos of hilarious church Christmas service fails!
9. Turning over every worship service during December to musical programs. It’s by the preaching of the cross that people are saved. Find ways and times to have both.
8. Failing to adequately promote your church’s special programs in the community.
Many churches are notorious for planning and presenting terrific events which are attended only by the faithful few because no one else knew about it.
7. Filling the house with outsiders, first-timers, and visitors, but failing to present the gospel message. A creative pastor will find ways to do this. (Here’s a good text to get you started: “Unto you is born this day a Savior!”)
6. Missing out on all the class parties and special programs. As much as possible, try to enjoy many of the special activities happening in your church this time of year.
Even if you can’t go to all of them or stay the whole time, make an effort to spend time with the people from your congregation outside of the church building.
5. Preaching the same tired old sermons and rerunning the same stale stories you’ve used for 30 years.
A wise pastor will be building a collection of themes, stories, and interesting scriptures throughout the year.
4. Getting too innovative with novel themes and bizarre ideas. Your people will appreciate a fresh look at these beloved stories, but not you ignoring them completely.
They don’t want the same sermon they heard last year, but they do want to hear sermons on Mary and Joseph, the shepherds in the field outside Bethlehem, the magi’s visit, and such.
3. Not offering a Christmas Eve service. Most people expect part of their celebrations on the day before Christmas to include a trip to church.
In most of my churches, I started a 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service and soon found them well received. Other pastors tell me their services then are always packed.
2. Being too busy—and too tired—to celebrate and worship with your own family.
One thing my wife and I did a few times was to take the family to a neighboring church’s Christmas program.
We knew almost no one there and were able to enjoy everything without the clutter of a thousand details and constant interruptions.
1. Not reading aloud the biblical Christmas story several times in church this month.
Before the new year comes, make sure your people have heard the story of the incarnation several times.
As a rule, it may be easier for pastors to do this than anyone else simply because they are veterans of reading the Bible publicly. But make sure the story of Jesus’ birth is read slowly, distinctly, lovingly, and repeatedly in your congregation.
Have a wonderful Christmas season, minister of God. Plan it well and you may look back on this as the best one yet.