When Christmas Is Anything But Joyful
Anyone who has been serving in the local church long enough knows that ministry is a 24/7 - 365 gig. There is no off-season. There are no slow months. And there definitely is no such thing as part-time. In fact, those times of the year when everyone else is enjoying extra time with family and friends, church leadership is usually pulling overtime like it’s a lifeline.
As I type these words, we are waist deep in the Christmas season. Trees are up and decorated. Garland is strung on anything that will sit still. Sales are in full bloom. On the church front children’s Christmas programs are wrapping up, Christmas Eve service times are being blasted all over social media, and worship leaders all over the world are trying to figure out the perfect set lists.
That all sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
If only that were the case. But for most people in church leadership, the Christmas season is anything but simple. I don’t know about you, but this year in particular seems uncharacteristically heavy. It feels like every time I turn around, I learn about someone else in my little corner of the world who is walking through something tragic . . . a death, job loss, divorce, a diagnosis, and the list goes on. Sure, there are plenty of wonderful things happening in the midst, but the fight every single day is to not let those wonderful things get overshadowed by the not-so-wonderful. And I have a feeling that until Jesus comes, that fight is going to get tougher every year.
So as worship leaders, what role do we play in helping both our worship team members and the people we serve navigate a season that at times can feel more joyless than joyful? Unfortunately there is no secret formula, but I do have a few tips that might resonate with some of you who are entering into Christmas surrounded by people who are suffering, or even walking a tough road yourself.
- Acknowledge the hurt.
A precious friend of mine lost her 2 1/2 year old little boy unexpectedly right before Thanksgiving this year. Not terribly long after his death, she posted a quote that basically said not to avoid mentioning him out of fear of somehow reminding her that he was gone. She hasn’t forgotten, and never will. Instead what you’re reminding her of is that he lived. The people around us who are hurting don’t wake up some days having forgotten what is going on. They don’t walk through the doors of our churches and suddenly feel all better. So what good does it do for us to tip toe and pretend like nothing is going on, whether face to face or from the stage? When the Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep, it doesn’t say anything about holidays being exceptions or saving it for certain settings. The church operates at her best when she comes around those hurting especially at times like these. So call it for what it is - painful - and you might be amazed at the new level of freedom that is felt in the room.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. - Romans 12:15
- Give a reason to celebrate.
When everything is on the table and there is a rich sense of acceptance for everyone regardless of their mental, emotional, or spiritual state, the door to authentic celebration tends to open a little easier. It may not look the same as the person sitting next to them, but reminding them of the truths of who God is, what He’s done, and what He’s still doing will always prove fruitful - even if it’s just one more layer of doubt being broken off. At their lowest points, those who are hurting need to be reminded that there are still things in their lives to find joy in. Then once they are tapping into that joy that only comes from the Lord, they begin to experience a renewed strength they might not have thought was possible.
Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. - Nehemiah 8:10
- Root it all in HOPE.
The most important piece to the puzzle of loving well those who are hurting is to keep everything established and fixed on HOPE. Nothing you say or do is going to make things all better for them or take their pain away, but the HOPE of Christ can and will move the needle. If a hurting person leaves your presence or your church service knowing and believing that things will not always feel this way and that Jesus is able to replace their suffering with victory, their pain with joy, and their grief with peace, then you’ve done your job well. So keep HOPE as your North Star. Center it all around the fact that a baby was born to change everything, that our current sufferings are not in vain, that He wastes nothing.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
Whether it’s someone on your team walking through the most painful time of his or her life or a family in your congregation experiencing a tragedy, you have been given the opportunity to breathe life back into a place where death has begun settling in. Pray for open eyes to see the hurt around you. Ask the Lord to open doors for you to speak into those lives. Make the most of those chances and watch the Holy Spirit do what He does best.
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