The Advent season is probably the single most stressful time of the year for church leaders. In addition to the overscheduling, the overspending, the forced merriment, the pressure to find the right gift, and the anxiety of travel and family relations that stress out the average person during the final 6-8 weeks of the calendar year, church staff have the challenge of helping everyone remember and celebrate the real reason for all this cultural insanity.
After attending numerous church parties, planning services attended by more visitors than at any other time of the year, writing and preaching that old story in a new way, and squeezing one’s own family meals and gatherings between Christmas Eve services—it’s finally Christmas. Whew.
Those twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany—those misunderstood, forgotten days that serve for most as a mere afterthought to the six-week ramp up to Santa Claus, a time to return unwanted items and take advantage of after-Christmas sales—this is your time. It’s your time to recover from the madness and experience the incarnate Christ anew.
Like many other paths of recovery, you can devote some time to taking stock of your life, faith, and ministry, and making necessary changes to lead a healthier life. Although the Twelve Steps began with Alcoholics Anonymous, over the years they've found a much broader audience and have helped many Christians cope with their addictions and unhealthy ways of coping with stress.
Hopefully our Ministry Matters version will give you some insights as you cope with the stresses and temptations of the Christmas season, and prepare your soul for another year of ministry.
1. Admit that you are powerless over what happens during Christmas. You can be light for those who need to know God cares for them by being present without trying to fix them. Christmas will not be a perfect and joyful time for everyone and your job is not to be Santa Claus Jesus and attempt to make it that way.
2. Believe that God can restore you to sanity. As soon as possible after Christmas Eve, rest. Unplug from technology, especially if it reminds you of church work.
3. Turn your will and your life over to the care of God. As we mature in faith it is easy to lose some of the awe of the Christmas story. Try to get out of your thinking head and into your feeling heart. Now's not the time for exegetical work. Spend time in prayerful conversation with God on what you've experienced through this devotional time, be honest, and then listen in silence.
4. Make a searching moral inventory of yourself. What are your areas of weakness? To what temptations are you most likely to cave? What behaviors do you tend to excuse in yourself but condemn in others? Stress often intensifies our worst traits, so chances are, they've reared their ugly heads in recent weeks.
5. Admit to God, yourself, and another human being the nature of your wrongs.
Everyone needs accountability, and what better way to clean the slate as the calendar turns than to confess your sins and ongoing temptations aloud? Consider maintaining that accountability partnership throughout the next year.
6. Be ready to give up destructive behaviors. Get serious about change and take practical steps to avoid your besetting sins in the new year. For example, if gluttony is a particular vice, you'll want to de-sugar, de-fat, and de-salt the church office as soon as possible. You do not have to eat all those treats that were brought in as gifts. Thank the givers and pass the goodies along. Prepare yourself for setbacks and battles of willpower that are sure to arise.
7. Humbly repent. There is a reason the traditional Twelve Steps parse out the acknowledgement of, confession of, and preparation to give up one's sin: true repentance is an ongoing process. Not just an apology but a real turnaround and sincere transformation of character. It can be easy for a church leader to focus on everyone else's relationship and rightness with God—don't forget the person in the mirror as well.
8. Make a list of people you have hurt, and be willing to make amends. Like repentance, reconciliation is an ongoing process as well. We've all heard mumbled apologies that sound insincere or coerced. Spend time in prayer and introspection to consider those you have harmed with your actions or attitudes and be sure your contrition is sincere and unselfish.
9. Mend and reinvest in relationships. Apologize and make amends where appropriate. (An exception is made for situations in which making direct amends could do additional harm.) Have you neglected your family during the busy Advent season? Now's the time to deposit back into the emotional bank of those who support you (and the ministry) throughout the year. You may have missed school events or get togethers due to church work. Make it up with not just quality time but quantity time. And think about ways to avoid this problem next year, then take action.
10. Continue to take personal inventory. Most New Year's resolutions are abandoned by Valentine's Day. Make sure your self-reflection, correction, and improvement is ongoing. Find an accountability partner and plan weekly or daily check-in's. Don't wait until the new year is looming to consider and confess again.
11. Improve your contact with God in prayer. Twelve Step groups emphasize praying "for knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out." You may get called a "professional pray-er" at family gatherings, but don't neglect your personal prayer life. Seek God's will in all things and ask for the strength to do what God desires.
12. Go forward in ministry with a renewed soul, helping others to grow in right relationship to God and one another.
Recovery is not just for addicts. We all have junk in our lives and can benefit from the moral inventory and path of renewal outlined in the Twelve Steps. We encourage you to consider reading one of the featured resources listed below, and offering a study in your church or community based on the Twelve Steps.
Merry Christmas from the Ministry Matters team, and best wishes for a fruitful New Year!