Advent offers a busy beginning to the church’s year for most of us; we look forward to the parties and special church programs. Of course, there is another side to this saga.
Advent can drain the life out of ministers in a few short weeks. While most ministers look forward to the celebrative atmosphere of Advent, they also need to take some precautions else they will have no “gas in the tank” for the Christmas Eve service.
Pace Party Life
Attending every church party during December is a really bad idea. Rather, a minister should attend no more than a handful of parties each Advent, rotating the ones attended yearly. Pace yourself.
Do not – do not – party hop. There is nothing worse than a minister “attending” three Christmas parties in one evening.
The party-hopping minister sets a really bad example for the congregation; the behavior suggests the minister wants to touch bases without investing in others who attend the events.
With fewer parties to attend, the minister is far more available at the attended events. Arrive early and stay late.
Party hopping is a professional sin.
Nibble on Desserts
There is no law ministers have to eat everything put in front of them. “Stuffing one’s face” is not a ministerial virtue.
Make a routine of eating (literally) a bite of this and a bite of that. There is no biblical reason to accept a slice of pie; a much smaller amount will do. Just taste five desserts instead of eating full slices of two or three.
Come up with your own excuse and use it without fail. Mine was, “I am not a dessert person.”
In 1978, my second year of ministry, I realized if I ate every dessert put in front of me, I would have significant health problems down the road.
So, I passed on desserts at restaurants and in members’ homes, or asked for just a mouthful. Surprisingly, people complied and did not seem to mind.
Setting dessert limits for yourself makes a significant statement to your congregation and encourages a healthy perspective in your church. Ministers can model self-control and provide a wonderful example for their parishioners.
Of course, I have often heard the excuse, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by turning down a dessert.”
This line may still work with a few uninformed members of the laity. Just put on your big boy/girl pants.
Enjoy Your Family
Contrary to the familiar Abraham/Isaac story, God does not expect ministers to sacrifice children on the church’s Advent altar.
Christmas is the season of negotiation with your spouse. Look over the December schedule and set some parameters to protect time with your family. Some simple suggestions:
â— Set several days aside (afternoons/evenings) to share with family: go shopping, decorate the tree and so on. Flexibility is a must, for people tend to die “at the most inconvenient times.” If ample time for family in your schedule is protected, a few “interruptions” can be managed. There is no solution for six funerals in two weeks!
â— Get used to a very flexible schedule after Dec. 20. Make necessary visits to church members and attend to other important matters before that date. Then, focus on a small list of things that must be accomplished before the Christmas Eve service. Your schedule is therefore hectic for the first three weeks of Advent, but is not for the last five days before Christmas.
â— Use the after-Christmas week wisely. No one really wants to see you that week anyway. Lay low and enjoy some time off. Plan a low-key worship service for the Sunday after Christmas. In fact, a good number of ministers take the Sunday off. I rarely did as the week after Christmas is a “slow week” in ministry. Work a slower pace that week and take vacation on a much busier week later in March or April.
â— Cherish family. They stick with you through thick and thin.
Listen for the Angel’s Song
Over-familiarity with Advent and a hectic pace of life can keep a minister from experiencing the freshness and wonder of Advent.
In your heart of hearts, find a way to experience again the fresh wonder of Advent for yourself. It is a terrible shame when those who preach about the Coming One never experience the joy of the season because of a bruising schedule.
We do for others until we have lost the capacity to do for ourselves. I am by no means an expert on these matters, but here is part of my Advent strategy.
â— Spend time with children; they know about Christmas wonder.
â— Listen to music that inspires you. I am not a CD-in-the-car kind of guy, except during Advent. Handel’s Messiah offers me the best chance of hearing the Angel’s song. I listen to it over and over and over and over during the weeks of Advent.
â— Work at “being present” with members of your church during Advent; no party-hopping or running around wildly. Stay centered in the moment.
â— Practice silence.
In spite of your best scheduling and focusing efforts, some Advent seasons are just routine; no angels singing, no joy, no peace in the deep places of the ministerial soul. It just goes with the territory; it is not you. So “suck it up” and go forward. There is always next year.
If the pattern continues (Advent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Easter and so on), invest in a counseling relationship with a psychologist. Ministers are really complex people. From time to time, we need a little help to find “center” again because we too are entitled to the abundant life.
RonCrawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.