This week, my mentoring group at Southeastern Seminary and I talked about stress on pastors during the Christmas season. Having had the discussion, I decided to revise this post to remind us to pray for pastors. Here’s why this season can be tough on pastors:
- We minister to folks who are especially hurting during the holiday season. Some families are celebrating the holiday for the first time without a loved one, have experienced painful divorce in the past year, or are struggling so much financially that they can give few gifts for Christmas. We must minister to all these folks.
- The parties are often numerous, and the expectations are high. Everybody invites the pastor and his family, and everybody expects them to come. It’s possible to have an entire month of December without a free night if you don’t schedule well.
- Other extra Christmas events usually require extra time. Christmas musicals (and all their practices). Children’s programs. Small group parties. Community events. Luncheons. The list could go on and on – and even thinking about it can be exhausting.
- Some of us wrestle between being with our church or with our extended family. That’s especially the case when Christmas Eve or Christmas falls on Sunday. Some of us want to be with our extended family out of state, but feel obligated (rightly or wrongly) to be with the church.
- We watch, and often participate in, the materialism that pulls at American Christianity. We recognize the idols around us, and many of them are things that won’t last. We preach against materialism, all the while knowing that we’re often guilty, too.
- It’s tough to come up with new Christmas sermons. We don’t need to come up a new story, of course — the Christmas story is always both simple and glorious. Nevertheless, we sometimes wonder if we should find a new approach to an old story.
- Christmas attendance is often like a roller coaster. Sometimes it decreases from December 1 to after the new year. It often increases on the Sunday closest to Christmas, though many members may be away that weekend, too. Numbers-watching during this season can drive a pastor crazy.
- The whole season can be tiring. Churches that operate on a calendar year might still be rushing to complete budgets and volunteer staffing for the next year. All the Christmas happenings are just added on to daily ministry — and it’s wearisome.
- Poverty often becomes most real during this season. Social organizations are feeding the hungry, and they welcome the help of churches at some level. Hurting folks stop by the church asking for assistance. We see more pain than usual during this season.
- We often don’t exercise regularly or eat well during Christmas. We don’t take care of ourselves physically during the craziness of the season, and our choices affect us spiritually as well.
- Some of us are hurting, too. It’s supposed to be a time of joy, but some pastors are struggling on the inside. Everything feels fake when you’re leading celebrations while you’re hurting.
Take time to pray for your pastors today during this busy season. They need it and deserve it.
Chuck Lawless is Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Team Leader for Theological Education Strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.