by Lisa Molite
I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me . . . [insert record scratch here] . . . well, unless you’re a ministry leader!
Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But for many (whether you serve in ministry or not), Christmas provides an extra helping of stress and pressure, as more is heaped on our already full plates. In addition to our regular routines, we are now in the throws of buying and wrapping gifts, making cookies, sending cards, decorating, going to parties, watching family movies (Christmas movies of course—complete with hot chocolate and a candy cane stirrer), helping at school parties, going to Christmas concerts . . . the list goes on and on.
Are you stressed yet?
Wait, there’s more. If you serve in a church, you are planning Christmas programming, decorating the church, organizing Christmas pageants or special productions, creating live Nativity sets, going Christmas caroling, and serving at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services. Hopefully, somewhere in there, you manage to attend a Christmas service with your family and celebrate the birth of Jesus. But don’t fall asleep during Silent Night!
No matter what time of year it is, it is always challenging to balance your role in ministry and your role at home. This is never truer for ministry leaders than during the holiday season. The struggle is real, and for good reason.
It’s well known that most people who do not engage with matters of faith will be more open to doing so around the holidays. This is great news for the Church and leaves us with a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to Jesus. How could we do anything but give it our all? But, we also have families at home that love us and need our time. They matter and need to know that they are a priority in our lives. Time really does fly, and we have only a few short years to invest in our children (have you seen the Legacy Marble Jars?).
So, how do we do it? How do we strike the proper balance between serving God and serving our families, particularly at Christmas?
I can honestly say I’m not sure I ever got this right. I am the mom of two college-aged daughters. I always did my best not to let my ministry work interfere with my home life, but I’d be lying if I said I did that well. Over the years, I tried hard to not miss anything with my family during the holiday season. I pushed through and never said die. I do not recommend this. When I did manage to “get it all done,” it wasn’t without my own personal health and well being taking a hit. I carried the stress internally (my family might say externally) and slept very little. I didn’t look forward to the holiday season as I once did, and by the time Christmas was over, I was in great need of a long winter’s nap. All this to say, the suggestions below are written from my weaknesses in this area!
Over the years, I have learned a lot. I’ve recently begun making changes based on the lessons I’ve learned. Making these changes have helped me look forward to the holidays again. It is my hope that in sharing these suggestions, you too will enjoy this most wonderful time of year, as a ministry leader and with your family.
As you think about the holiday season, it is critical to be ahead of the game in your ministry role. Start thinking about Christmas programming way before November. Develop your to-do lists and create a calendar. This way, you can delegate tasks, recruit volunteers, and be ready to go after Thanksgiving. Doing things at the last minute always takes more time because you can rarely recruit help on the fly, especially at Christmastime. And then there are those moments where things don’t go the way you planned or you can’t find what you need at the Dollar Store, so you are scrambling around, spending more money and more time than you intended because you waited until the last minute. Remember what I said about writing from my weakness?
PRIORITIZE AND SCHEDULE
This one is for both home and ministry. First, you must recognize that you can’t do it all. Prioritize what is most important for your ministry, and what is most important for your family. Ask your family about their favorite aspects or traditions of the holiday season. Maybe have each child choose one or two things they really want to do and schedule them. Physically put them on the calendar. I know that may feel contrived but we schedule every other area of our lives. Every meeting, coffee date, soccer game, and even our workouts land on our calendars. Why wouldn’t there be a box (or boxes) filled with the names of the most important people in our lives? When time is scheduled, it does not lose its sincerity. In fact, it does just the opposite. It shows that we recognize the importance of that time, and that we are committed to making it happen.
INVOLVE YOUR KIDS!
Often, the tasks we do for our ministry roles are things our kids would love to be a part of. I took advantage of every opportunity I had to bring my children with me as I worked on projects at church. If I was painting a backdrop or decorating an environment, I brought them with me. If I was rehearsing for a production, I brought them along so they could watch and giggle at our bloopers. When they were old enough, they began to take part in the productions themselves. I have great memories of serving with my children at church, particularly during the holidays. My daughters will often remind me of a funny memory or a special moment they remember, as well. They may not be the most “traditional” Christmas memories, but they are treasured.
TURN IT AROUND!
As a ministry leader, there are going to be times when you have to be at church during the holidays and your family is not serving alongside you. During those occasions, I always tried to turn the event into something we could all enjoy. For example, if I had to be at an evening service, I would invite my family to come along with the promise of getting Starbucks on the way home and driving through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. If I had to go shopping at the Dollar Store, I’d invite them to come and they got to pick out something for themselves.
LET YOURSELF OFF THE HOOK
Remember the mention of a family night, complete with a favorite Christmas movie and hot chocolate? While that is a great idea, it isn’t a necessity. So much of what we feel we should do over the holidays has been wrapped and delivered to us by the media. We unconsciously strive to emulate the portrait the media paints of a “perfect family Christmas.” Then, when things don’t go as planned, we become frustrated and disappointed. We need to be willing to let go of the “Hallmark Channel Movie” picture in our heads and let ourselves off the hook.
Here’s something to think about; I watched my father serve our church my entire life. He was busy and gave it his all. Not once, did I feel resentful of the time he gave to our church. If anything, it helped me have a deep love of serving. Yes, we have to be careful to balance ministry and family. Yes, ministry often wins out and we have to guard our time and set boundaries. However, hopefully, our kids will watch as we serve in our ministry roles and see people who are devoted followers of Jesus—people who love others, care for others and want to help others know Jesus. As they see that, hopefully, they will take their place as servants of the Most High. Serving in ministry can be taxing on our families, but it can also give them a beautiful example of what it looks like to love and follow Jesus.
Yes, it takes effort to make sure our families get our best. We have to be intentional and plan ahead. But hopefully, as we do, we’ll be able to live out the words of that old holiday song: I’ll be home for Christmas (and I’ll be at church some of the time) but you can count on me. That’s my hope for the people in our lives. That they know they can count on us to be there for them—at Christmastime and always.
Lisa Molite is the elementary director at Community Christian Church in White Marsh, MD. She is married to her college sweetheart. They have two daughters (one is a junior at James Madison University and the other is a freshman at University of South Carolina) and a chocolate lab. Lisa has a great love of movies, Starbucks, and creating environments for kids. Read more from Lisa on her blog: readysetsunday.com.