7 Thoughts For Pastors on Preparing For Christmas Services

By | Christians, Church | 2 Comments

As a pastor, I often told our staff that “Christmas is the new Easter”. It wasn’t something I could say as easily on Sunday morning without receiving the ALL CAP Monday morning emails. This requires a bit of an explanation.

Easter will always be the most important holiday for believers. Christianity is just a religion without the resurrection of Jesus. But in terms of reaching unchurched people – Christmas is the new Easter. From my experience, it appears easier to get people to attend at Christmas than it is on Easter Sunday.

Much of this has to do with the cultural implications we already deal with every Sunday. No longer is Sunday reserved as a day of rest from other activities. Going to the lake, attending a sporting event, or participating in traveling ball/dance is no longer taboo. 

Some of it has to do with the schedules of our church services. Typically, churches offer Easter services over a weekend. You could have a dozen services total. I’ve noticed churches starting their service offerings earlier in Easter week. (And I think that’s a good idea.) But regardless of the number you likely have them over a few days. Christmas-themed services can go from Thanksgiving through the New Year. (And if you want to follow the retail trend you can start decorating for Christmas in September!) 

Sadly, some of Christmas as the new Easter has to do with the message. Santa and Ho Ho Ho are more culturally acceptable at Christmas time than embracing the only One true God who got up from the grave.  (You can send me an ALL CAP email if you want, and I am certainly not agreeing with the culture on this, but it is true.) 

If this is true and Christmas is the new Easter in terms of reaching people who don’t regularly attend church, then our planning for Christmas must be more intentional than ever. 

I wanted to share a 7 thoughts with your church to consider. Many of these are things we did in our previous church. Some are derived from our experience over the last year or so sitting in the pews and visiting dozens of churches. 

My Suggestions

Recruit new volunteers. 

This one can potentially serve the church long after the Christmas celebration. You can onboard people easier during the Christmas season. Much like Easter, especially with vision-casting, church members will understand the need for new volunteers during a busier season. Use this as an advantage to get more people into key roles, but also as a discipleship tool knowing that people who serve are in a better position to be growing personally. 

Ask members to sacrifice. 

Christmas affords you a unique opportunity to ask your most committed people to serve in ways they may not otherwise. It is important to be fully staffed from the parking lot to the baby room. You will need extra greeters. People need to be willing to give up “their” seat for visitors. I personally believe you should always be thinking for your guests every Sunday. You should plan every detail you possibly can for them to experience excellence. In times where there are more visitors this is even more important. 

Pastors, this is an excellent time to vision-cast about the guest experience you want to create. Make it a big deal, because it is a big deal.

Let the story be the story. 

As a pastor, I felt so much pressure on the Christmas message. The fact that it is so well known and a part of the culture only adds to the pressure. My best advice is that you don’t have to find the new twist you’ve never shared. People watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas every year for a reason. “It’s a Wonderful Christmas” never gets old. The story of a baby, born to a Virgin, and laid in a manger is timeless. You don’t have to find something new. 

Share the gospel

I should have to say this. Hopefully, you don’t need that reminder, but with all the attention on the lights and tinsel, don’t forget to share the most important message of the year. A Savior has been born. He is Christ the Lord.

Share about the New Year. 

Find creative ways to talk about some of the things happening at your church; especially as you head into the new year. Help people understand the value regular church engagement offers them and their family. I always liked for the information we handed out to be unique from a regular bulletin. It’s nice if what people receive is big picture information about the church and our ministries at Christmas (and Easter). Visitors are more likely to read what you give them. 

Try to anticipate questions they may ask and answer them in what you hand to them. 

Christmas music. 

This was somewhat of a pet-peeve of mine. I’m sure our worship team felt my pressure here. But this is the time to sing Christmas music. I didn’t appreciate as much a service that offered songs we sang every Sunday and only one token Christmas song. 

I am not musical and have been told Christmas arrangements can be harder to put together and rehearse. This is not my area of expertise. I do know that culture actually helps us with this one. Where else can people sing Christmas music they know? They may actually sing Christmas carols they have known all their lives louder than any other time of year. Give them the opportunity even if it is simply a Christmas medley of favorites with little or no accompaniment. 

Plan good follow up.

If someone visits your church and takes time to give you information about them, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. The greatest return for visiting a church is often in the quality of the follow up after the service. People should hear from you. 

I personally like to give people options of how they want to be contacted and then obey their wishes. If they want a visit, someone needs to visit. But if they only want an email, then I would comply with their choice. But definitely let them know how much you appreciate them coming to your church.

Christmas is coming and, like most years, it seems to me like it got here sooner than last year. I pray as you prepare to meet people this Christmas that the joy of Christmas would be in your own heart and family. 

Please let me know any way we might serve you in the New Year! 

Merry Christmas!

Ways to Help Your Pastor This Christmas

By | Christians, Church, Leadership | No Comments

One of my goals in ministry is to help protect other ministers and their family. Through this blog I reach thousands of men and women who serve God in a vocational role. My heart is heavy when I hear from those who are drowning with burnout and whose family is suffering.

Having been on both sides of the pulpit – as a pastor and a layperson – I have a unique view of the pastorate. I am very thankful to have served in healthy churches, which encouraged my family time, but I hope to encourage those who struggle to balance family and ministry.

I also realize the size of my church helped. As pastor, I usually had a great staff and dedicated, trained volunteers. We even had several retired ministers in our church who could help fill in when needed.

During the Christmas season – and really into the new year – I want to share a few things you can do and a few not to do to support the ministers you probably love. The reality is the December calendar is packed with activities – as they are for everyone. The difference is many times a pastor doesn’t feel the freedom to control their schedule. People in ministry have accepted a call of God to care for people. Most ministers have a hard time saying no to people and can easily become overwhelmed with the never-ending demands of their time. That’s especially true during certain times of the year.

If a minister is not careful, they will spend so much time with others their own family will feel neglected. Sadly, they may not even realize this until it is too late and the family is grown and out of the house.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to do and not do to support your pastor or minister:

DO:

  • Pray especially for them during the holidays. Send notes and words of encouragement to them. People in ministry usually have tons of critics. Find some time to encourage them. It may be their greatest gift. This is an especially stressful time for everyone, but in some professions, such as ministry, it is not a slower time. It is a busier one.
  • Let them off the hook from attending every social event. They simply can’t do everything and still be ready for Sunday, care for the rest of the church and their family.
  • Invite them to your social – without an expectation they will come. They will love knowing you thought of them and wanted to include them. And, if they do come, try to you see them as regular people who like to have fun. Do not make them talk “Church” unless they want to and, remember, they do not always have to be the one to pray.
  • See if they have specific needs at the holidays. Many ministers, especially in smaller churches, have a hard time financially at Christmas.

DON’T:

  • Expect them to be everywhere. It’s simply impossible – and unreasonable.
  • Make them feel guilty when they can’t make your event. They will likely take it personal and it will weigh heavy on their heart. They wouldn’t be in ministry if they didn’t love people. And some of them even struggle with being people-pleasers. Don’t take it personal. It probably isn’t. It may simply be practical. They simply can’t be everywhere and do everything – just as you probably can’t – or shouldn’t try.
  • Hold them to a higher standard than is realistic. Remember, they are simply human.
  • Place unrealistic expectations on the minister’s family. They probably enjoy just being a family – as your family does.

Find ways to support those who have accepted God’s call to vocational ministry. You would be amazed how a small gesture can make a difference in their life and the life of their family. Plus, you’ll be playing a part in Kingdom-building – strengthening one of God’s servants.

Pastors/Ministers, what else would you add to my list? Do you feel especially stretched this time of year?

4 Suggestions to Protect Your Marriage This Christmas

By | Christians, Family, Marriage | No Comments

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to protect your marriage this Christmas:

Plan a budget together.

As a couple, agree upon how much you are going to spend and stick to it. This may require compromise. Often there is one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your immediate family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and voiced that they wanted more time with just us that we scaled back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time this holiday season.

For parents, remember your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which actually celebrate Christmas.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter. A Savior has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

Don’t allow outside tensions to reign inside your home.

The Christmas season can be stressful. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. Emotions – good or bad – run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. Make a decision together that outside tensions will not distract you from the closeness you have with each other or the joy of Christmas.

7 Words That Protect Our Marriage

By | Christians, Marriage | No Comments

Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. In many ways it is a stressful season with work, family demands, and constant transition, but it is a good season in so many other ways. We’ve been empty-nesters for a number of years now and we’ve adjusted to it well. It was hard missing our boys at first, but we enjoy our time together. These are some of the best years of our marriage.

The greatest thing I can say about our marriage is that we can’t think of anyone we would rather be with. When we are off from work we want to be with each other.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

We have always intentionally strived to protect our marriage. It’s always a work in progress, but we know that if we ever let up the enemy will win.

I’ve been asked many times how we keep our marriage strong.

Here are 7 words to capture how we strive to protect our marriage:

Walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. I’m typing this after we returned home from an evening walk. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. We’ve now become “mall walkers” when weather isn’t conducive to being outside.

As an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So, we walk.

Talk. And that’s so incredibly important. As we walk we talk about our day. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. Explaining cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life and she is of mine.

Question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” We ask questions that keep us thinking deeper about our life and each other.

Dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large.It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.

Laugh. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay.

Cry. I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But Cheryl and I are willing to be vulnerable with each other. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid or that I’m hurt. I can admit when I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes.

Love. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. Love is ultimately a choice we make. A deep, committed, loyal kind of love is a choice. I choose Cheryl and she chooses me.

What keeps your marriage strong?

7 Things I’d Say to Parents of Married Adult Children

By | Christians, Marriage | No Comments

In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.

One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.

One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with parents.

I am a parent of adult married children – two of them. Cheryl and I are trying to be good parents and in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

Here’s some of my best advice for parents of married adult children:

Remember “leave and cleave” and let them experience it.  Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way they have been. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their relationship will likely look different from yours — hopefully it will even be better.

No doubt you have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. That may include leaving behind some of the family traditions you have too. And that obviously can be harder to accept.

Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one as a couple if you have a private world of communication with your child. If they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse.

There may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.

They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other parents. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them?

Yes, it’s hard when you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive, but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them.  And it will often build resentment.

Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. Again, they are trying to form their own identity as a family.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. It’s not that you don’t have some good advice. And they might even be better off if they listened to your advice from experience more often. But most couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger.

Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.

Be an encouraging place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy and fun environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.

Love them both unconditionally. I would even say equally, but I understand that’s hard. You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with both of them. Give grace generously to both. And, perhaps most difficult, hold your tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful.

Finally, forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

I am praying with you as we attempt healthy parenting of adult married children.

5 Things I Would Love to Say to Job’s Friends About Friendship

By | Christians, Encouragement | 3 Comments

I’ve always been captivated by the friends of Job in the Bible.

You remember Job – the man of suffering. He suffered the loss of everything. He lost children, finances, health, and finally the respect of his wife.

Somewhere in the grief process his friends came to see him. You can start reading about Chapter 2. They provide a bulk of the dialogue in the book.

I think we can learn a few things about how to be friends to those who are hurting from the friends of Job. I would love some day to share my thoughts with them.

Here are 5 things I’d say to Job’s friends:

Thanks for showing up. Sometimes physical presence is the most comforting way to help someone grieve a loss. When a friend shows up even at times when it may be uncomfortable – that’s what it means to be a friend. You proved to be a true friend. You even sat with Job — apparently not even eating — for seven days.

Thank you. Your witness is well-noted.

It’s important to always speak truth. As much as I love that you came, I need to also say that in times of suffering friends may need love more than they need answers. Some people in your culture apparently believed that all suffering was the result of sin. Maybe you didn’t know this part, but we know that’s not true about Job.

Therefore, it’s usually best not to provide commentary to another person’s suffering. You see, it simply doesn’t help.

So, you should have just said what you knew to be true. Nothing more. Sometimes that’s only stuff like, “Wow! You’re hurting. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m here for you!”

Not everything has to be explained. You had a lot of “ideas” why Job was suffering. Thanks for your insight. I’m certain he listened closely to you, because you were there and you were his friends. The problem is you couldn’t possibly understand all that God was allowing in Job’s life nor could you predict his final outcome.

Again, maybe explanations are more burdensome than they are helpful in a time of grief.

Silence isn’t deadly. Seriously. Sometimes silence is gold. Being quiet can even be the godly thing to do. Consider Ecclesiastes 5:2 for an example. You were actually at your best — before you started talking. The days you were silent were possibly as much help to Job as anything you did. It was your presence that was most valuable.

Therefore, don’t be afraid just to demonstrate your love with your presence more than with your words.

You help me better understand the Bible. Seriously, you do. See, I know the Bible is true. All of it. I believe it cover to cover. The whole Bible is truth. But not everything written in the Bible is true. It’s truth in that it’s God’s written word and it happened as it is written.

However, we cannot guarantee it as true, however, unless God is the One who says it. People talk in the Bible – people like you. So does the evil one.

And some of the things you said, while it is true you said them, they simply weren’t true. You meant well. But it’s not truth unless it comes from God’s mouth or it amplifies His truth.

So, I learn from that from you, Job’s friends. Thank you.

As a result of what I have learned from you, I must be present when my friends are hurting most. Everything doesn’t need to be explained. Not everything needs my input or my attempt at a solution. I should be okay with silence.

Also, may I never take what I’ve heard — or what’s culturally acceptable — as an indication of truth. It is important to stick with the Scriptures and an accurate interpretation of them.

And, when I don’t know truth to share, I’ll just be silent. And be present. Fully present.

The Elasticity of the Heart – An Important Life Principle

By | Christians, Devotional, Encouragement, God, Life Plan | 10 Comments

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to missions at some point in your life, but you ignored it. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else – guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)

3 Words for Church Members on Using Social Media

By | Christians, Church | 4 Comments

I was visiting a church recently and decided to jump over to the church’s Facebook page during the service. Leadership Network helps churches with their digital presence and so I am always curious how a church is doing with their online ministry. As I was on their Facebook Live feed, I saw a church member (self-identified as so) criticizing the pastor for something unrelated to the message he was preaching. It was right there for me (and the world) to see on the live feed comment section. 

I was disappointed, but not surprised. Social media has become an easy place to offer criticism these days – even of pastors and churches.

It led me to think how I would advise a church member to use social media. As a pastor, I spoke about this subject frequently. I was continually encouraging those who loved the church about their online presence – mostly because, after over 20 years of online ministry experience, I understand the power of the medium. 

Perhaps I can write some things now without seeming as self-serving as when I was pastoring full-time. I’m not serving in a local church as a pastor. I am a church member, so this is a good reminder to me as well. Even more, I still love the local church, so it led to this post where I want to encourage (perhaps the word is challenge) church members – those who say they love the church – on some of their use of social media. 

Here are 3 tips for using social media for a good church member:

Don’t complain about the church or pastor via Facebook. 

Or any other form of social media, but the ones I see most are on Facebook. 

It makes no sense to me why someone who claims to love their church would post negative reviews about the church or something the pastor has said or done on such a public platform (and there are biblical teachings which would encourage us not to do so). The whole world can see those posts. Why not send the pastor an email? This seems like it would be common sense, but apparently it is not.

I should say that most times it is better to keep the complaint to yourself if it’s only personal to you. If they didn’t play your style of music maybe they will next time, but maybe the style of music reaches someone who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Christ or the church.

Everything we think and feel doesn’t have to be communicated, “but only what is helpful for building others up.” (Eph 4:29). When you feel your complaint is merited handle it personally long before you handle it publicly. 

Jesus prayed for unity in the church and that’s accomplished as we strive together as a Body to create it. 

Think before you post. 

For this one, I’m not talking about just the posts, which mention the church. I’m talking about EVERY POST on social media. With every post a church member makes they should realize they are representing the church – whether they intend to or not. We are part of a family. And just like what we do reflects our immediate family, what we do as members of the church reflects our church family. The potential for bad reflection (and good) is exaggerated on social media. 

This should be seen as a privilege more than it is pressure. The bottom line is about a protection of our witness.

During political campaign season I always tried to remind our church of this point. For example, I don’t know of any instances where someone from another political party changed their point of view because of a social media post. I do know many examples of people who have been turned off from Christianity because of the bad witness of someone in a local church on behalf of one. 

Think before you post.

Leverage influence for good. 

There can be a power in social media unlike few others. Posts can go “viral” quickly. Friends of friends see the posts we place on social media. (I once saw a series of posts on Instapot recipes get dozens of interactions from people I know.)

Imagine the impact the church can have if members use their online influence for the good of the church and Kingdom. Thankfully, I have dozens of stories from my own social media where something I posted was at the right time for someone who needed a word of encouragement. 

Here are a few ways you can use social media for good:

  • Check into church on Sunday. 
  • Let people know about the events of your church. 
  • Give your church a “5 Star Review”. 
  • Brag on your pastor online. 
  • Share your church’s social media statuses. 

Based on what you’ve posted previously about your church or pastor, would people you know want to attend the church?

Encourage people with your social media influence. May God be glorified – even through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the likes. 

It’s outside of my line of work, but some of these (maybe all) might apply to your workplace as well.