By Pete Scazzero
Advent can be a spiritual low point for Christian leaders.
We’re told that Christmas is the time to get as many people as possible to the church—especially on Christmas Eve, to close the financial year strong, to thank all our leaders, and to model reaching out to our neighbors for Christ.
The problem is that in the process we lose the wonder and beauty of celebrating God’s coming in Jesus of Nazareth.
For years I preached the incredible message of the incarnation, but I was spiritually dry inside.
We can blame the culture or the expectations of the people around us, but the primary responsibility is on us to lead ourselves well—and to model a life in Jesus to all those around us.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, and there are four “Christmas killers” for church leaders I’d like to address, along with offering some strategies for resisting them.
Vincent de Paul said, “The one who hurries delays the things of God.” Hurrying is violence to our souls and to those around us. Ask yourself: What am I doing that God might not be asking me to do?
As we’re rushing, our family and friends get the leftovers because we’re depleted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask yourself how might you be rushing through this season.
There’s a lot of pressure to do so much in so little time that we push this button called “autopilot spirituality.” We teach the profound eternal truth of the incarnation of God coming as human flesh in Jesus. But we miss the meaning.
Slow down at Christmas. Be still before Him. One of the great verses in Scripture to memorize is Luke 5:16, where in the midst of healing a multitude of people—amid lots of rushing—Jesus often withdrew and prayed.
It was many years ago that Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline in which he said, “Our adversary the devil majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds.” If anytime we feel it with great intensity, it’s now—the holiday season.
How do we live the Christian life without silence, stillness, and sustained attention on Jesus?
Think about this: Jesus, who was without sin, needed to withdraw and pray. To remain in loving union with the Father, it was indispensable for him to do that. We can’t lead people toward Jesus when we have disordered hearts.
Take a deep breath. Remember Jesus. Slow down.
After 30 years of pastoring, I can say this with some authority: The growth and vitality of your ministry aren’t dependent on Christmas. They’re dependent on God. And it matters how you lead and who you are throughout the year; not just this holiday season. Nevertheless, this creates anxiety for some leaders.
When it comes to anxiety, consider this: Our bodies know before our minds that something is wrong. When I have anxiety creeping on, there is tightness in my neck and shoulders, along with a knot in my stomach.
Sometimes God speaks to us through our bodies. Watch for any physical manifestations of anxiety, particularly in this busy season most of us are in.
Most of us want to be high performers. We want our programs to be flawless, our sermons to be brilliant, and our volunteers on fire. But that’s not realistic. It’s human to make mistakes.
Eugene Peterson said it this way in The Jesus Way: “Perfectionism is a perversion of the Christian way. To impose it on oneself or another is decidedly not the way of Jesus.”
Things aren’t going to perfect this Christmas. There are many things that can (and will) go wrong, especially as your church or organization raises the level of activity. We do our best, and we realize we’re going to make mistakes.
It’s easy to disguise perfectionism with a commitment to excellence. It destroys contentment and joy, and evaporates gratitude. Our fallen-ness is a gift to keep us grounded.
3. Ignoring God’s limits
The list of things—hosting, decorating, gift-giving, additional church services, parties, ministry emergencies—seems limitless.
We get weary. We have enormous limits of time energy, money, and spiritual fullness. And we can only give so much.
When we do more than God asks us to do, it opens the door to chaos. And in turn, we’re no good for those we lead and serve.
The remedy? Listen to the Father. Ask for wisdom and discernment around what’s important during this season.
Receive God’s limits as a gift. When we don’t we’re in great rebellion—even if we’re doing His work. At this point, you may realize you’ve made too many commitments going into Christmas.
If this is the case, my advice is to journal the mistakes you’ve made, listen to what God is saying, and go back to this journal next year when you are making seasonal commitments.
It’s easy to forget our most important priority in ministry: to remain deeply connected with the Father, those close to you, and yourself, especially amidst all the pressure swirling around us.
Ask God what you can delegate. Ask Him what can wait until next year. And listen. God wants us to practice His presence and practice the presence of other people.
If you’re in leadership, to be present with people—to really see an individual amid the busyness—takes intentionality and supernatural help. Jesus said it very simply: If we remain in Him, we’ll bear a lot of fruit.
It’s not so much that we hold a position with Jesus; we’re held by Him. If we forget to abide in Him, we’ll have nothing substantial to offer people.
May God give you grace to slay all four of these Christmas killers as you abide in Him.
PETE SCAZZERO (@petescazzero) is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City. After serving as senior pastor for 26 years, Pete now leads Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (emotionallyhealthy.org), a global ministry transforming church culture through the multiplication of deeply changed leaders and disciples.