It is a hot July all over the country and already thoughts are being turned toward Christmas. While it may seem a little crazy to already be talking about a holiday that is months and months away, I think now is the perfect time to start planning and preparing for that entire season. With all of the pageantry and tradition that comes with the Christmas season, it is never hard to talk churches into spending resources, in the way of people, money, and time to doing something just a little bigger and a little more spectacular.
The longer I am in ministry, however, the more I realize that the money, and the time, and the people resources, in too many cases are used to entertain people that would have come to church anyway.
In churches all over America, the fall will bring with it preparations for Christmas cantatas, live nativity scenes, and full on Christmas pageants. Now, do not misunderstand what I am saying. I think Christmas Cantatas are beautiful, live nativity scenes are interesting (although in 99% of cases horribly inaccurate biblically), and Christmas pageants are always good for a chuckle when the kid playing the angel Gabriel knocks over one of the shepherds; but I wonder if they are really worth all of the time and effort.
I have never met a homeless man in my entire life that said, “Thanks for the blanket and hot meal, but what I could really use is some four-part harmony.” I have talked to a lot of families with young children that would only be interested in a live nativity scene if there might be conversations about a lamb roast immediately following. In a country that is in recession, and in a country where denominations are in decline, I think we need to start figuring out a way to channel our resources in a way that might result in lives being changed and needs being met.
When we started TurningPoint Church we made the decision that we would never do Christmas pageants, Easter cantatas, and things of that nature. In my experience ,you end up spending countless resources in the way of man-hours and money that at the end of the day really only end up entertaining Christians. We made the choice that we would focus those same resources toward meeting some real needs in our community.
I am not suggesting you throw the baby out with the bath water. There is nothing inherently evil about a kid dressed up as a wise man (who wasn’t even there when Jesus was born, by the way) so if you want to do those things that have become tradition at your church, I understand, but what are you going to do to meet some real needs in a real way out in the community with an equal or greater amount of resources?
This year, we will be working to give away bicycles to an area of our community that is terribly under-resourced. We have worked out a fantastic deal with the folks at Huffy, and have found some local area businesses that wanted to be a part in helping us purchase them, and this year we have a goal of assembling and distributing 1,000 bikes to kids who might not otherwise have them.
Throughout this same season we will be sending our connect groups out to our local VA hospital, where we will supply some worthy veterans with some fellowship, small presents, and a nice home cooked meal.
While we are already connected and involved with our local homeless shelter, we will ramp up those efforts through the Christmas season. We don’t have the resources to give all the people served there a place to stay, but we can easily supply them with some of the things they need to stay warm through the cold months.
While our list isn’t complicated and all that original or sensational there are a couple of things I want to point out as you decide where you might be able to make an impact:
As a leader, if you just come up with a list of stuff and try to get people to sign up, it will never work. Get a group of people together and start asking them the question, “If you could fix any problem in our city, what would it be?” If you find an area where people have passion, you don’t have to ask them to do anything. They will just take it and run because their heart beats for it.
As you start looking at really serving in the community, the immediate thing that will come up is how much you can afford to spend. How much is it going to cost? But keep in mind that this whole thing is not about how much money you spend. In fact, most of the projects we do require very little money. I am talking about where you spend your most valuable resource. The one resource you can’t earn more of. Time! Where are you prepared to spend the bulk of your time? At Turning Point, we always say that we want to spend the majority of our energy and time on people that are near to us, but are far from God. Which leads me to my last point.
Who will be applauding when you finish all of your efforts for the Christmas season? Will it be a room full of Christians who were pleasantly entertained for an hour? Will it be a room full of veterans who have spent the last three holiday seasons alone and forgotten by everyone? I like to hope that heaven would rejoice by the way we spend our efforts this holiday season. In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away! (Luke 15:7)
I know that depending on the context you are in, this might require a huge shift in thinking for your church, for your community, and maybe even for you. My prayer for you as you begin to meet with people and plan and prepare how you will handle this year’s Christmas festivities is that you will consider how you spend your time, your energy, and your money this year, and that how you choose to use those things would change the lives of people that are near to us but are far from God.