Refocusing the Christmas Lens
With most pastors and congregations thinking about upcoming worship services and other ministry opportunities that seize so much of our attention this time of year, I want to help us think broadly about what the priorities are, what they aren’t, and how this time of year can be instructive for the rest of the ministry calendar.
Refocusing the Christmas Lens Part 6:
The Single Most Important Thing a Ministry Leader Can Do Right Now
Be gracious to yourself.
Really, friends. Right now, take a deep breath, exhale, and resolve to show yourself some grace. For your own sake, and for the sake of those around you.
Martin Luther, the 16th century German monk turned church reformer, who couldn’t be more flawed if he tried, once said, “to be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” This sounds like the sort of thing to which we just idly nod our heads without much further thought. But as I get older, and life and ministry become more complex and demanding, I am constantly coming back to this quote and wrestling with how profoundly true it is for me. If I lived by grace, maybe I’d let go of my tendencies toward over-accomplishment, judging other’s mistakes, and dismissive cynicism toward situations and people that don’t suit me. I’d likely be more patient with myself and with others, more tolerant imperfection. I’d accept that this isn’t my ministry, and these aren’t my disciples, but I’m simply a steward of God. Perhaps I’d be more okay with my ordinariness, my complexity, and with the fact that God loves me as I am. Perhaps.
These tendencies are magnified during seasons of life when there are high expectations, deadlines, and the possibility of other’s approval. And for many of us in ministry leadership roles, these weeks leading up to Christmas are that season. For some of us, it’s simply unrelenting. But while burning yourself out with “competent,” “put-out-all-the-fires-immediately” leadership may win you some credit in the short term, in the long term, it will burn you and everyone else out, sometimes leading to tragic failure in your congregation or in your life. We can’t make Advent or Christmas happen any more than Joseph was going to make baby Jesus happen. Let’s stop pretending that we’re in charge of this, and start enjoying the privilege of participating in God’s unfolding drama.
Show yourself some grace. Make a list of things you should say “no” to during this busy time of year, and then just say “no.” Write down some of the ways you’re probably going to disappoint some people, pray over it, and be okay with it. Celebrate some innovative failures. Or don’t do any of these things and simply know that God loves you. And know that being gracious to yourself isn’t just about you and your well being. It’s also about what you’re modeling for those around you. Good news – no one is going to remember the nativity program mishap, the Christmas party you didn’t show up to, the slip up in the sermon, the 14 typos in the bulletin. But over the long term, they will remember grace received, grace given, grace lived, grace proclaimed. Show them grace, preach grace. And start with yourself.