Christmas creates leadership challenges for pastors. Here are three practices to make this season the most wonderful time of the year.
By Daryl Crouch
In his classic Christmas song, Andy Williams reminds us this is the “most wonderful time of the year!”
There’ll be parties for hosting,
Marshmallows for toasting,
And caroling out in the snow.
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales from the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.
This is an amazing season, but unique from every other Christian celebration of the year, at Christmas at least four leadership streams converge for every pastor.
Four leadership streams
The first is the celebration of the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph in the small village of Bethlehem. Shepherds stopped in for a visit. Wise men from the east followed a star to see the newborn king. This historical moment changed the world and gave rise to the message and movement of the Christian faith.
The second is the cultural and commercial celebration of Christmas. Resurrection Sunday has the Easter Bunny, but nothing compares to the non-religious commercialization of Christmas. This includes everything from music to lights to shopping to Christmas trees to Santa Claus and, of course, Elf on the Shelf.
The third and fourth streams are less noticed in public but are significant in church life. Number three is end-of-year offerings. Every pastor must decide how to manage the tensions of the church budget and the desire to give generously to missions.
And fourth is new year preparations. While everyone else is looking for their ugly sweater for the Christmas party, pastors are working through how to shepherd the congregation into the new year. And of course, sermon planning through Easter and into the summer months should be taking shape by now.
So, while Christmas is great, it’s also a season that creates diverse leadership challenges for pastors. As we lead out in celebrating the birth of our Savior, these three pastoral practices will help make this season truly the most wonderful time of the year:
1. Rely on the well-told story of Christmas
Christmas is familiar to us. We’ve preached, taught, sung, and celebrated the story over and over. Because of that familiarity, pastors may be tempted to steer away from the simple telling of the Christmas narrative. We may feel some pressure to come up with a new angle, find a never-before-discovered nugget of truth, or dive into our creative trunk of tricks and pull out something that will wow the church.
Whatever you do, please do not attempt that.“Because of the familiarity, pastors may be tempted to steer away from the simple telling of the Christmas narrative. Whatever you do, please do not attempt that.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Simply open the Bible to one of the biblical texts that tells of Jesus’ birth, explain again the old, old story, and, like the angel to the shepherds, proclaim the good news of great joy that is to all people.
Yes, most of us have heard the story hundreds of times, but we celebrate Christmas every year because our hearts need to hear it again. It’s a well-told story that never gets old.
And while the faith of Mary and Joseph inspires us, the joy of the shepherds encourages us, and the worship of the wise men impresses us, the point of the story is not to offer us principles for living. Instead, we tell the story over and over to remind us again of what God has done to rescue us by His amazing grace and for His eternal glory.
We tell the Christmas story again to crush every idol of our hearts and to exalt Jesus to His rightful place as King of kings.
2. Rest in the finished work of Christmas
The saints who gathered around baby Jesus are heroes of the faith because despite their struggle to understand all God was doing, they trusted Him.
Unlike these first followers of Jesus, however, we can see His cross and the empty tomb. So, our wonder is a different kind of wonder than the shepherds felt or even Mary experienced. It’s not less than or better than, but ours is a wonder informed by the finished—but not quite finished—work of Jesus.“This is not a snow-globed, suspense-filled sentimental journey we proclaim. Faith has become sight, and hope has been secured for everyone who trusts in Jesus as Savior.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
This means pastors don’t stand before the crowds on Christmas with any lack of clarity. This is not a snow-globed, suspense-filled sentimental journey we proclaim. We are not wondering as those who aren’t sure. We wonder with a hands-held high, unwavering worship of the Most High God for what He has done to save the world and what we are certain He’s doing to restore all of creation.
Faith has become sight, and hope has been secured for everyone who trusts in Jesus as Savior. So then, let us proclaim the gospel, invite people to come to Jesus, and expect them to move from death to life in Him.
3. Refresh your soul in the promise of Christmas
Pastors give themselves away throughout the holiday season as if they’re narrating a Christmas play, but never included in it. Responsibilities weigh heavy, schedules demand much, and social media gurus tell us exactly what to do and not to do.
So, rather than just standing over the crowd to make known the joy of Christmas, what would it look like to step into the crowd and enter this life-giving story with your church family? What could we do to refresh our souls during Christmas?"Rather than just standing over the crowd to make known the joy of Christmas, what would it look like to step into the crowd and enter this life-giving story with your church family?” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
It is better to give than to receive. But perhaps a few of these practices of receiving will help us all enjoy Jesus in this season and in the seasons to come.
For example, consider starting the workday an hour later or finishing an hour earlier just to create more margin. If it’s not already a common practice, share the preaching and teaching ministry with others through the holidays. Attend Christmas parties and events that you’re not in charge of, and receive the ministry of others. Walk slowly—slower than you think you should—at the Christmas Eve and Sunday services, listening for what God is doing in the people you shepherd.
This is the most wonderful time of the year. The fulfilled promise and abiding presence of Jesus makes it so.
Daryl Crouch is the executive director of Everyone’s Wilson, a network of gospel-loving churches working together for the good of the community. Prior to this role, he pastored churches in Texas and Tennessee for 28 years. He and his wife Deborah have four children.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.