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Start preparing for December now


As a ministry leader, December can be tough. A sense of dread mixed with joy begins to creep up when Christmas is on the horizon. We celebrate the glow of twinkling lights and the scent of evergreen decor, while hoping one of our gifts under the tree is a nap. This year will be my 19th Christmas as pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church. I’ve been to more Christmas parties and preached more Christmas sermons than I can count, and while I’m filled with gratitude to do what I get to do, each November, as the world becomes red and green, I always ask myself, “Am I ready for this?”

Christmas for Christian leaders comes with a heavy load. Personal pressures combined with ministry pressures can add up and become too much. Like two beautiful streams combining into one raging river, the rapids begin as soon as Thanksgiving ends. As a seasoned Yuletide veteran, let me offer three leadership suggestions to ensure the Advent season is one of fruitful and fulfilling ministry, in our hearts, homes, and churches.

These steps will help us ponder the manger instead of just enduring the mall:

1. Preparing your heart for December

I encourage us to ponder and appreciate the value of what we do. It truly is, as Paul said to Timothy, a “noble task” to lead. Connecting families and individuals with the Word of God in significant moments is an overwhelming gift.

What a joy to declare on Christmas Eve that Jesus has come, while lighting the room with candles and singing “Silent Night.” What a blessing to see the church rally together in outreach to the community for a Christmas event. What an encouragement to be in a church member’s home for a Christmas party. It truly is the most wonderful time of year in which we ponder the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Our eternity has been changed and secured by the baby in the manger and the man who walked out of the empty tomb.

Let’s fight against the temptation to become a banker too familiar with $100 bills or a jeweler too accustomed to dealing with diamonds. Our frequency of handling spiritual things can numb us to their beauty, power and worth. I remind our staff all the time, “Don’t let your ministry ruin your Christianity.” We cannot give our church body what we do not have ourselves. So before leading others to celebrate the joy and mystery of Christmas, let’s begin by pondering its message in our hearts, spending time alone with God in our prayers, and giving our intentional thanks that Jesus has come to earth to save our souls. Salvation has come! Rejoice!

2. Preparing your schedule for December

Even with a prepared heart, an overwhelmed schedule hijacks our Christmas passion and exchanges our fire for fumes. We quickly begin to lead from a “have to” instead of a “want to” heart. But if you prepare your heart and your schedule, joy will rise like the Christmas star in the shepherds’ sky.

I know it sounds crazy, but delete, delegate or delay as much as possible in the month of December. By creating margin during your busiest time of year, you will feel a tremendous weight lift and gladness return.

  • Delete a few meetings, no matter if it’s with deacons, staff or a small group. Your next scheduled meeting will be here soon enough.
  • Delegate any task that someone else can do 80 percent as well as you.
  • Delay any non-urgent projects, lunches or meetings until the second week of January.

“Easier said than done,” I can hear you saying, but let me give you a practical example.

For decades, our church hosted a staff Christmas party the first week of December. Finally, I realized many of our people did not want to be there because they had so much work to do. While our staff were smiling on the outside, they were stressing out on the inside. We had put one more activity into an already overflowing ministry month.

Therefore, we made a bold but great decision. Our December Christmas party became our November “Staff Appreciation Party.” Now held in mid-November, our gathering is filled with crisp fall weather, big smiles, a relaxed staff and something I want them to know deeply … they are appreciated.

Believe it or not, you can run refreshed instead of running yourself ragged when the calendar turns to the 12th month of the year.

3. Preparing your plans for December

Plan now what you will do then.

Don’t wait until December 23 to prepare your Christmas Eve message or November 30 to plan your sermon series. You know December is coming, so set aside the time now to plan your path.

But let me do more than simply encourage you. Let me also equip you to walk out this prepared path by telling you what I am going to do to lead my church this Christmas. I believe it will be one of the most special Christmas times we have had as a fellowship.

During the month of December, our congregation will read the entire Gospel of Luke before the Christmas Eve service. Since there are 24 chapters of Luke, in 24 December days, my people will know the Who and why of what they celebrate by the time we gather for Christmas Eve.

As a companion to this Luke challenge, I have written a December devotional for each day of the month. This devotional, Salvation Has Come, daily and directly ties to the Gospel of Luke. As our people read a chapter of Luke each day, a devotional thought from Salvation Has Come on a verse from each chapter will shape their hearts and thoughts to honor Christ. Practically speaking, this will be both our December theme and plan. To connect the dots, the Sundays of December 3, 10, 17, and 24, I will preach from Luke 3, 10, 17, and 24, moving the devotional thought into a message. I’ve also put a “sermon plan” together to give you something to ponder and pray over to see if this sermon series and devotional work for your ministry.

Your three-step December leadership plan:
  1. Read the chapter of Luke matching the date (Luke 1 on December 1 through Luke 24 on December 24).
  2. Read the daily Salvation Has Come devotional coinciding with the chapter in Luke. 
  3. Preach Christmas messages based in Luke each Sunday in December. 

Plan now what you will do then to increase your impact and decrease your stress. What a deal!

Pastor and leader, by preparing our hearts, schedules, and leadership plans, we have a great opportunity for December to truly be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Fight for your heart this Christmas. Don’t get lost in the shuffle or become numb to the truth that salvation has come. Let’s rejoice and minister to a weary world from a well-watered heart.

This article originally appeared at lifewayresearch.com. For more insights on church and culture and practical ministry helps from Lifeway Research, sign up for their Daily Insights newsletter.

    About the Author

  • Greg Matte