Why I Love and Hate Preaching on Christmas Eve

Pastors everywhere are now putting their finishing touches on their Christmas Eve sermons. Christmas Eve is an incredible opportunities for churches and pastors to have a significant impact. But they’re also very challenging. In fact, most pastors I know do not particularly like Christmas sermons. Here’s what I love and hate about preaching on Christmas Eve.

Preaching on Christmas Eve

Why I Hate It

1. Everyone thinks they know what you’re going to say. There’s not a lot of question about what you’re preaching on. You’re not talking about marriage, finances, forgiveness, or how to pray. You’re talking about Christmas. The expectation of predictability makes people less likely to really tune in to what is preached.

2. Preachers are expected to be creative. Because of the above expectation, it puts a lot of pressure on pastors to be extra-creative. How are you going to make this same familiar story interesting? What fresh angle are you going to take? How will you surprise and challenge people? Everyone’s coming–it better be good! These questions and ideas rattle around in the preacher’s head, adding a level of pressure that often makes it even harder to be creative.

3. Traditions trump truth. Christmas is puffed up with so many other things that seem to get more focus from people than the truth of it–and I don’t even mean all the commercialism. People are thinking about getting their daughters in pretty Christmas dresses, preparing their traditional Christmas Eve dinner, or singing the songs they’ve always loved. They’re sentimental, but not serious. The distraction of tradition–even well-meaning Christian tradition–makes focusing on something substantial more difficult.

Why I Love It

1. Many non-Christians are there. Whether out-of-town family or in-town guests, Christmas Eve services are filled with people who don’t regularly attend church. What a great opportunity. Pastors must be sure to speak in a way that acknowledges and engages these non-Christians.

2. Christmas really is a great story. God became a man. Wow. Pastors, don’t get bored with this truth. It’s earth-shattering. Help people feel how great this story truly is.

3. You can showcase your regular ministry. On Christmas Eve it’s important to give people a good picture of what a normal gathering is like. We try to do a very good version of a normal service with a few special elements rather than an over-the-top thing that is foreign to a typical Sunday. People should hear the kind of preaching they’d hear on a Sunday (even if a little shorter) and sing the style of music they’d sing on a Sunday. You wouldn’t want them to come back the next week and think, “What happened to this place?” Additionally, you can use your printed pieces on Christmas Eve to promote ongoing ministry rather than just upcoming events.

4. You can collect money for important, outward causes. People are eager to give on Christmas. Non-Christians too. That’s why we’re doing a Christmas Offering. I don’t feel bad asking non-Christians to give to causes that will really make a difference in the community. It allows them to make real spiritual decisions (giving is a spiritual decision), and the money goes to great things.

In the end, there are more reasons to love preaching on Christmas Eve than to hate it.

I’ve got my Christmas Eve sermon ready. I’m looking forward to God working among us. And I’m praying that God would use these services across his Kingdom so that people would respond with faith to his good news.

Question:

For you, what are the best and worst parts about Christmas Eve Services?

Where is Jesus When Horrible Evil Strikes?

Last week’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut continue to bring me–and our nation–a great deal of sadness. This past Sunday at Redemption Gateway we took a break from our 1 Peter series to address the question, “Where is Jesus when horrible evil strikes?”

It seemed appropriate to try to shepherd our people through the problem of evil and help equip them for the inevitable conversations that would take place around this issue.

The sermon seemed to resonate with people, so I thought I would share it here as well.

 

Weekend Update (12/14)

Weekend Update is simply a number of links that I think would be helpful and fun for ministry leaders.

WeekendUpdate

Ministry

5 Ways to Get Better at Preaching & Teaching / Mark Driscoll gives a helpful response to a young leader’s question.

How to Create a Disciple-Making Culture / “I realized I had made a big mistake in church planting. I kept talking about discipleship and I was coaching others in how to make disciples, but I hadn’t done enough face-to-face modeling of what I meant when I told our church to make disciples. Thus, our church didn’t yet have the discipleship culture I wanted it to have.”

What I Wish Somebody Had Told Me / Pastors of fast-growing churches share lessons that they learned the hard way.

Personal

How People Change / New York Times columnist David Brooks makes a case for why shame and guilt are not most effective for creating lasting change.

If you rearrange the letters in the word Santa, it spells… / My friend Matthew engages with this timely cultural issue…Santa.

Fun

Robert Downey, Jr. Asks Forgiveness for Mel Gibson / I like both of these actors and appreciated this touching, behind-the-scenes story.

Christmas Eve Service Checklist

For many churches, Christmas Eve is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s an exciting time with lots of guests. On the other, it can be very stressful with so many things to plan. There are a number of details that you have to remember. We’ve learned with these kinds of things to make a list of what we learn each year so that we aren’t starting from scratch every Christmas.

Christmas Eve Checklist

So here’s a Christmas Eve Service Checklist we use at Redemption Gateway.

Promotion

  1. Design and print outdoor banner with service times (3-4 weeks out)
  2. Design and print Invite cards (3 weeks out)
  3. Design and send Facebook Invitations (2 weeks out)
  4. Special e-mail invitation (1-2 weeks out)

Decorations

  1. Trees — lobby and stage (4 weeks out)
  2. Other decorations, signage and Christmas “flair” (4 weeks out)
  3. Other stage decor (poinsettias, fixtures, etc.) (2 weeks out)

Guest Services

  1. Buy and prepare “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake
  2. Crayons & coloring sheets for kids
  3. Giveaway toy for kids
  4. Staffing — make sure all regular jobs are accounted for (sign setup, ushers, bulletin “stuffers,” etc)
  5. Communicate any special instructions regarding when to open / close doors

Other

  1. Food / refreshments for staff and volunteers
  2. Assign someone to close up building
  3. Proactively manage temperature if services are at different-than-normal times

Question:

What would you add to the list?

A Key Ingredient for Healthy Church Leadership

Healthy church leadership is more rare than it should be. Every month I meet more and more church leaders who are in, or are coming out of, very unhealthy leadership cultures. They’re often refreshed by the culture at Redemption Church (which is not perfect, but is healthy).

One of the key ingredients to our healthy environment: We take God very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously.

Healthy Church Leadership

Healthy church leadership cultures take God very seriously. He’s a consuming fire who created everything, knows all, and is ready to judge the living and the dead. He is holy, righteous, good and gracious. When he shows up, the earth quakes. You can’t see him and live. You don’t trifle with a God like this.

But to be a healthy church leader, you can’t take yourself very seriously. You’re a vapor who is made of dust and headed there soon. You’re plagued with folly, self-deceit and sin. You have very little control in any ultimate sense. God is delighted to use you as he made you–and even uses your mistakes to accomplish his purposes.

Without this second perspective:

  • You’ll be deceived into thinking you’re something you’re not.
  • Rather than serving with humility, you’ll think you’re entitled to something.
  • You’ll give lip service to the grace of God while also imagining that you deserve a slice of the credit for your success.
  • You’ll worry and fret about things you can’t control.
  • You’ll fight to protect your reputation as though you were a big deal.
  • Your insecurity will plague those around you and ruin your leadership.

True confession time…

I sometimes struggle with taking myself too seriously. But the more I remind myself that I need to take God seriously instead of myself, the more it frees me to enjoy what he’s called me to and create a fun, healthy environment for my fellow leaders.

We need more healthy leaders. We need more healthy churches. May it start with us.

Question:

In what ways do you need to take yourself less seriously?

Weekend Update (12/7)

Weekend Update is simply a number of links that I think would be helpful and fun for ministry leaders.

WeekendUpdate

Ministry

How to Read the Bible and How Not To / “There are two ways to read the Bible.  We can read it as law or as promise.”

The Humble Celebrity / This is a GREAT story.

Personal

Is the Toilet Seat Really the Dirtiest Place in the Home? / “Would you chop your vegetables on your toilet seat? I think pretty much all of us would say No. But maybe we should think again.”

At Last / This pretty well sums up what my wedding day was like and why I get so excited about how weddings and marriage image the gospel.

Fun

Starbucks Taste Test / Jimmy Kimmel tests Hollywood’s taste buds to see if people could tell the difference between regular coffee and Starbucks’ new $7 Costa Rica Finca Palmilera.

2 is Better Than 1

We’re about to finish our fourth year of ministry since planting Redemption Gateway. Through that time, we’ve had many different volunteer leaders in a variety of roles. Through it all, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: When it comes to volunteer leaders, 2 is better than 1.

Volunteer Leaders

It’s better to have two volunteers lead the team rather than one. Here are some reasons:

1. More leadership development. Having two leaders gives more people a chance to grow as a leader. They are forced to grow in their ability to plan, communicate, inspire, care, and lead.

2. More ownership. One of the strongest assets a church can have are people who own the ministry. Two leaders creates two owners. The more leaders that own the ministry, the stronger the people under them will be.

3. More flexibility for the leaders. People inevitably have to be absent for various legitimate things. Having two leaders makes it easier for flexibility when this happens.

4. Less burnout. Over and over, we’ve experienced that our ministries led by a single volunteer leader have had higher rates of burnout by those leaders. In contrast, in the areas where there has been a team, we’ve had almost no burnout.

5. Better ideas. Two people provide more ideas, creativity, and energy than just one.

I still believe in point leadership and think that there should be a “first among equals” even in the duo who’s leading (This allows for simpler and better communication, while still having people lead as a team in a very real sense). But, whenever possible, do what you need to do to have two volunteer leaders instead of just one.