PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) – As they have each year since 2018, members of First Baptist Church began December by reading Day 1 of an Advent devotional prepared by their pastor, Dave Snyder.
“I pair it up with my series for that month, which this year is ‘Journey of Hope,” Snyder said. “Basically, it’s a preparational devotional for Christmas morning. Families do it together, but so do individuals. Many of our homebound members receive it in the mail.”
Advent refers to the time leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth and is typically recognized on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. An Advent wreath that many use contains four candles traditionally representing hope, faith, joy and peace, one candle lit each Sunday.
Preparing church members’ hearts for honoring the true meaning of Christmas is an obvious benefit. But in addition, a recent Lifeway Research study revealed that while most Americans celebrate the holiday, few know details of the biblical story. Advent accomplishes that while, many pastors say, emphasizing discipleship at home.
“Christmas is a good time for families to get in the habit of having devotionals together,” said Peter Johnston, children’s pastor at West Acres Baptist Church in Evans, Ga. “It’s essential and can help kids start having a daily time in Scripture.”
Johnston arrived at West Acres on Easter Sunday, but has helped produce Advent materials throughout his 14 years of ministry.
Parents gave positive feedback for a November devotional he developed that focused on thankfulness and included conversation prompts alongside Scripture. “A few kids did it every day, but the point was to get them in the habit,” he said. “One fifth grader didn’t miss a day and her mom noticed.”
For the past three years, Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, Texas, has promoted an emphasis on Advent. This year, said pastor Michael Criner, the church provided a take-home box for families to celebrate together.
The materials, he added, are aimed to be “engaging, theologically rich and accessible for all ages. In doing so, we’re able to shape children, youth and also parents toward a Godward focus during this important season.
At City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., Sarah Stephens’ role as communications director gave her children – ages 9, 7, 5 and 1 – an early look at their Advent materials.
“It’s been really fun watching them,” she said. “We want to see families connect with the Gospel message and be able to share the true meaning of Christmas, but do it in a way that’s easy for them to do.”
Advent materials produced by City Church in the past have ranged in themes connecting with Pastor Dean Inserra’s sermons. This year’s family focus includes cards in the devotions that can be arranged at home. The six devotionals will be handed out this Sunday and can either be used weekly, in the six days leading up to Christmas Day or some other way that best fits that family.
City Church’s children’s ministry department produced the material, Stephens said, with intern Mariel D’Errico and children’s minister Courtney Webb leading the way.
Like Stephens, Criner’s children have taken to the materials.
“They ask daily when it’s time to go through them and light the candles,” he said. “I’m grateful for our ministry team at Rock Hill, particularly [children’s minister] Aron Adalian, who value the home and the parents’ role in shepherding hearts within that home.”
Snyder, who wrote the 300-word daily devotions for First Baptist Pensacola, prays that they give parents a boost at home during one of the busiest times of the year.
“I want it to assist their joy, especially during the holiday season when for some people things are great, while for others it can be difficult. Advent means anticipation, as we anticipate hope that was born in a manger.
“We celebrate Christ’s birth, and want that joy to be strengthened as they spend time with the Lord.”