Much has been written to the individual about how we should simplify holidays, but it gets a bit more complicated for those of us in ministry. We are, after all, responsible for other people whom we fear may be alone or neglected during the holidays. We also feel compelled to help others connect to God during the holidays rather than default to the culture’s interpretation of these sacred events.
I speak from experience. In the past, I had no trouble chucking personal traditions around the holidays that caused me stress, such as sending Christmas cards or baking cookies, but for some reason, I had trouble applying that to my ministry. I went into overtime during the holidays to make sure no one was left out and that everyone understood the true meaning of the holiday.
That meant that I would do extraordinary things, from making sure lonely people in our congregation received a small gift every day during Advent so they would feel loved, to organizing a drama with multiple practices to make sure those in the congregation got the meaning of the holiday. The result was exhaustion for me and those I recruited to help with my frenzy of activity. I also began to dread the holidays and wish they were over before they even began.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep what is meaningful while letting go of things that were merely depleting my energy—and everyone else’s energy. Three things helped me do that:
Eliminate anything that is unnecessary.
Take time to think about what you have initiated or sustained during the holidays that has now become an expectation in your church. Make a list and take it to your team, whether that’s a church board or a specific ministry you’re in charge of. Together go through each item on the list and consider what it costs in people’s time and energy. For each activity or event ask: Is this something that is truly helping people worship God and/or connect well with others?
- If the answer is no, should we cut it all together? Or could we replace it with something that will better accomplish helping people worship God and/or connect with others?
- If the answer is yes, what could we do to simplify this event so that it’s less draining for others? Or how can we enlarge the team working on it so it’s less strain on those doing it now?
For example, if you’re considering a Christmas program, and you decide it isn’t helping people worship God and connect, then brainstorm what you could replace it with that would better accomplish that. If you decide this event is helping people worship and connect, then what can you do to simplify it? Perhaps instead of a full-blown drama with costumes and stage props, you could try some simple readings and meaningful reflections. Or perhaps the drama would include just a few people instead of dozens. Make it a matter of prayer and discussion to determine what’s best for your congregation.
Put your energy into that which gives you and your leadership joy.
What exhausts me may not exhaust you. For example, for years we had a woman in our church who loved the theater. She would begin working on the Christmas drama in September and would go to a great deal of trouble to recruit people to do costumes and stage sets to make it remarkable.
When she moved, however, there was no one to take her place, and we also found that many people had been participating out of duty rather than joy and were frankly exhausted with the whole process. What had brought her and a handful of others joy was not what brought the vast majority of those working on it joy. Therefore, we replaced that lavish event with a few simple songs by the Sunday school classes during a worship service. There was a collective sigh of relief from many who had been working so hard every Christmas.
We also discovered that simple things can be more powerful than big productions. Many of us renewed our joy in being able to hear the truth of Advent in simple Scriptures and meditations rather than in flashy displays. An a cappella hymn can sometimes tug the heartstrings more than all the instruments blaring, and a whisper can arrest our attention more powerfully when it follows a lot of shouting.
Model for those under you what the holidays are truly about.
As church leaders, we can set the precedent for what is genuinely important. As you simplify your own life around the holidays and moderate church activities, you will find yourself enjoying the simple blessings of the season. Your overflowing joy will be evident to all those around you, giving them freedom to do the same.
Consider replacing big, church-wide events with smaller, more personal gatherings. Or instead of events, provide your congregation with an Advent devotional they can do together as families or in community with a small group of good friends. Let people share what they are learning through that devotional during the services of Advent.
Rediscover the pleasure of the little things and it will be contagious to all those around you, and you will help them truly believe the angel that said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10).