How to Break Out of Seasonal Stress to Experience the Joy of Jesus This Christmas
Compiled by Justin Horey
Joy is more than the subject of a classic Christmas carol. Joy is an integral part of the Christmas story. It was “good news of great joy” that the angels announced to the shepherds outside Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. Ironically, the trappings and traditions of the modern Christmas season can threaten to steal our joy at a time when we should be celebrating Christ’s birth. This is even true—perhaps especially true—for those in full-time ministry.
From staff parties and sermon preparation to decisions about gifts and end-of-the-year budget deadlines, the demands of ministry can make it difficult to maintain a spirit of joy during “the most wonderful time of the year.” This year, as we approached the Nativity, Christian Standard asked church leaders from around the country one question:
How do you maintain joy in ministry at Christmastime?
Though the responses reflected our contributors’ own individual experiences, they were also remarkably consistent—and one answer was given far more often than all the others.
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1. Slow Down and Focus on the Giver
I counter the pressure of demands and expectations by increasing and deepening my personal time with the Lord. When I took scuba-diving lessons, I was taught how to equalize the pressure in my ears. If I failed to do so, I suffered a searing pain. Fish are known to exist in the deepest parts of the ocean by equalizing the pressure within them, keeping them from being crushed at the great depths. To not be crushed by the demands and expectations of the holidays, I enjoy times of solitude and quiet, meditating on the Scriptures, while conversing with the Lord in prayer. I must be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), for he is my strength when the pressures of Christmas press against me.
—Gary Johnson, Indian Creek Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana
I like to be reminded of the lowly manger with the simple surroundings of love, peace, and the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. With all of our holiday decor and lights at home, we have a small Nativity as a central focal point in our living room. Every time I see it, it reminds me why I do what I do. When the holiday season seems like a blur, I like to spiritually, emotionally, and mentally put things in slow motion and center my gaze on the simplicity and humility surrounding the birth of our Savior. What an undeserved gift. As much as I enjoy all of the festivities, at times I am exhausted because of them. There’s just something about a holy, quiet acknowledgment that Jesus came and God is with us that brings new life into my spirit. This poignant truth restores me and is more than enough to keep the fervor for the calling of God in my life.
—Josh Childress, Kempsville Christian Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia
I need to create space in the busyness of the season to rest, reflect, and ruminate on the reason for the season. I need to take a deep breath and remember that God is in control and I’m not.
—Rick Grover, East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana
I am a morning person, so I try to spend extra quiet time in the mornings during the Christmas season sitting in the living room with everything off but our Christmas lights. I take that time to quietly reflect, worship God, read the Word, and pray. This brings me peace and joy during a hectic season.
—Darren Walter, Current: A Christian Church, Katy, Texas
I love the old, old story. What an amazing story it is. When I feel myself spinning out of control because I have too many gifts to buy and too many parties to go to, I remind myself of what this truly is all about. The idea that a perfect God would send his perfect Son into this world full of imperfect people (me being as imperfect as anyone else) is truly mind-blowing.
—Tim Turner, Christ’s Church, Winterville, North Carolina
I intentionally slow down and simplify—reading the Gospel texts of Jesus’ birth and singing Christmas songs help me to maintain joy.
—David Vaughan, Whitewater Crossing Christian Church, Cleves, Ohio
At Christmastime I have found it helpful to write one long prayer to the Lord (handwritten and kept in a little notebook). Usually, I set aside some quiet time to write this letter during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I reflect on the Father’s blessings over the past year and request his help in the year ahead. Writing this annual prayer helps me stay in touch with the Lord during the Christmas season, and my faith grows as I review letters from previous years and see how God has been at work in my life.
—David Faust, East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana
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2. Plan Ahead
I work hard to have all my sermons for November and December written and finished in advance. This frees up time and reduces stress a great deal. (Don’t dismiss this one, preacher—you can do it!) Our family also decorates our home for Christmas in early November. We know it’s a busy time of year, so we want to get the decorating chore out of the way and enjoy those visual “treats” of a decorated home. I know ministry families who get around to decorating a few days before Christmas because they’re so busy with everything else; I don’t want that to happen to our family.
At our church, we plan well in advance for all the key Christmas “things,” and we limit what we do. We do a few events with high quality planned in advance, so the events are not stressful, and the stress is limited and confined. We plan our Christmas series and Christmas Eve services well in advance.
—Glen Elliott, Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona
A few years ago, we moved our fiscal year from [starting] January 1 to September 1. We do our budget and reviews and goals in the summer and begin the new budget year September 1. It has taken some of the busyness and workload out of December. It allows us to focus more on the meaning of Christmas and ministry opportunities.
—Ben Davis, RiverGlen Christian Church, Waukesha, Wisconsin
I plan ahead. (Procrastination never helps.) It relieves stress during the holidays when I summon the self-discipline to work further ahead than usual on sermons, lessons, and devotional articles. The Christmas material I write in August or September can still be tweaked and updated in December, but it reduces pressure when I do the bulk of my preparation well ahead of time.
I’ve run a few marathons, and an important rule for a distance race is to maintain an appropriate pace in order to finish. I carefully plan my schedule throughout the month so the demands of ministry do not create a frenetic pace that crushes my joy. I know how much I can do, how many invitations I can accept, and more.
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3. Make Time for the Ones You Love
All of the parties and gatherings can make us feel as if we are on a never-ending merry-go-round, but they do provide us with opportunities to hang out with people and enjoy their company. I love my family. I love our staff. I love our leaders. So, coming together and doing something just for the sake of being together (and not to make strategic plans) is a real blessing to me.
In the midst of the Christmas activities and parties, I need to create space for peace and joy. Practically speaking, this means I sit down with my wife and look at our schedule to make sure we’re not overscheduling and that we are taking time to celebrate as a family the hope we have in the Christ of Christmas.
Our family tries to attend a Christmas concert or special event [each year] at which we are the guests and have nothing to do with pulling off the event. We can relax and enjoy the event, Christmas concert, or whatever.
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4. Give, Give, Give
I love giving gifts. That must be one of my love languages. Being able to give a gift to someone (especially someone who can’t give a gift in return) is a special blessing. I try to put some thought into the gifts I give because I want to make them special. It is a joyful thing to be able to bless others. Our church has been able to reach out to families in our community and provide Christmas for them. Like many churches, we want to give back to our community. Christmas is a great time to do that. What a joy it is to see the faces of those children—and even the parents—when they receive a gift in Jesus’ name!
We give our staff time off between Christmas and New Year’s. This is in addition to normal vacation time. It’s a slow week and a good time for staff to take time off and enjoy family time and get replenished.
We try to carve out time to make special deliveries as a family. We surprise people with a drive-by gift. The kids love placing the gift on the person’s doorstep, ringing the bell, and running back to the car before we speed away. This can be a homemade treat, but we’ve also used boxes of doughnuts on Saturday mornings . . . so it can be low prep and high fun.
We have changed our last regular Sunday service before Christmas to a “Serve Your City” focus with organized service projects around town. We close down our campus for other activities the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas—and we give the staff the week off from Christmas to New Year’s every year while the campus is closed.
Do you have practical, personal tips for maintaining joy during the Christmas season? Leave a comment or join the conversation on social media.
Justin Horey is a writer, musician, and the founder of Livingstone Marketing. He lives in Southern California.