(Reprinted from the December ’08 Kidology.org Newsletter)
Getting Christ Back into
Christmas Your Ministry
There is a danger in ministry that is easy to miss. During the Christmas season, we often hear the phrase, “keeping Christ in Christmas,” or reminders that He is the “reason for the season.” But these sentiments have as much to do with our ministry all year long as they do with the celebration of Christmas. While it is certainly disappointing how little of Jesus we see in our culture’s celebration of Christmas, and frustrating to see our Savior being systematically squeezed out more and more every year, there is something far more gradual and eternally dangerous than seeing Christ steadily removed from Christmas. And it is happening every month of the year. It is the slow and unintentional removal of Christ from ministry – or at least the removal of a vibrant relationship with Jesus in the midst of Christ-centered ministry.
I have no doubt that children’s ministry leaders and volunteers will keep “Christ in Christmas” during this season. I am more concerned about whether we will keep a relationship with Jesus at the center of our life and ministry. Christmas serves as a perfect object lesson on this topic because Christ slips away from our ministries the same way He slips out of Christmas. When it comes to the purpose and focus of Christmas, it is true that there are those who are intentionally and strategically trying to remove Christ from Christmas – but they are easy to identify. However, there is a more subtle attack at play. Too often Christ gets lost, not because of overt attacks, but because He just gets drowned out in the midst of many other good things. Shopping for gifts to express love is a good thing. Decorating to make the world a brighter place is a good thing. Cooking up special recipes to make life taste better is a good thing. Playing with children, volunteering to help the poor, giving to the needy, playing music focused on joy, and promoting peace and expressing love are all good things. They aren’t “bad,” and they even please Christ – but at the same time, they can distract us from the very One who inspired them.
The same is true with our lives and ministries. We do have an Enemy who seeks to remove Christ from the center of our lives, and often his distractions or downright seductions work – and we sin. But more often, it is all the GOOD in our lives and ministry that can cause Jesus to be lost in the shuffle. We are about so many good things! Creatively teaching the Bible is good. Getting kids to come to church is good. Making the environment fun and inviting is good. Preparing fun games, engaging crafts and yummy snacks is good. Providing resources is good and staffing our classes and programs is good. Developing safe policies and creating attractive bulletin boards, brochures and websites is all good – and most of it is inspired by our desire to lead children into a saving relationship with Jesus. But just as Christ slips out of Christmas while we are busy sipping the eggnog, so Jesus can slip out of our ministry while we are restocking the resource room with apple juice.
Here a few warning signs that Jesus may have gotten buried in the busyness of ministry:
- You haven’t read the Bible for yourself in awhile. (Lesson prep doesn’t count!)
- If you pray, it’s at meals, or when you need something for the ministry.
- Your spouse or kids are starting to resent the ministry. (Or perhaps you are.)
- What used to bring you great joy now seems like a burden. (If you are honest.)
- You aren’t really as happy as you appear on Sunday. (You thought no one could tell.)
- You can’t remember the last time you got to lead someone to Christ (one on one).
- You are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with the ministry. (His burden is light.)
- You are exhausted most of the time.
- You feel unappreciated, undervalued and overworked.
- You don’t like who you are becoming privately.
- You have sin in your life that if anyone knew…
How does it happen? How can you be doing so much GOOD and seeing LIVES CHANGED and have so many people impressed and pleased with you… but Jesus seems like a stranger to you?
It is because your ministry has become central, when it is only supposed to be an outgrowth of your relationship with Jesus. It’s what you do; it was never intended to become who you are.
Let me tell you a true story about a member of Kidology.org. Jean was an extremely active and talented volunteer in her church, leading many aspects of the ministry. So when the church decided to hire a children’s pastor, she asked me to pray as she eagerly applied for the paid position. At the culmination of the search process, the church leadership decided to evaluate the final outside candidate and Jean at the same time. As she describes it, they flew in a “superstar” applicant who they would interview and evaluate along with Jean. “I was scared big time” Jean says, “and failed the interview miserably. I was so frozen with panic that my husband started answering the questions for me!” Jean was sure she wouldn’t get the job. She lacked the education, the experience, and frankly she knew she didn’t answer all their questions very well. Jean was accepting with grace the fact she probably wouldn’t be chosen but was happy to continue serving as a volunteer under whomever the church leadership eventually hired. That was why she was so surprised when the church leadership called her in and offered her the position as the new children’s pastor. Surprised, she asked, “But I thought I gave all the wrong answers?” They replied, “You did. But you also talked about Jesus in all your answers and how you and He would figure it all out. We’d rather have a leader who is in touch with Jesus and working with Him, than a leader who is depending on their education, experience and expertise to lead.”
I applaud Jean’s church leadership for recognizing what truly matters most in a children’s ministry leader – an active trusting relationship with Jesus. She is now getting the experience and education that will only make her a better leader. No school or conference or church can offer her the most important thing for the job: a vibrant relationship with Jesus.
Where does Jesus fit into your life and ministry? Do you have all the right answers? Or do you have Jesus? Are you relying on all your expertise and experience or are you leaning on Jesus and allowing Him to lead you as you lead the ministry?
Friend, Jesus is not only the “Reason for the Season,” he is the Reason for your Ministry, too. “Keeping Christ in Christmas” is not the main challenge – keeping your relationship with Him central in your life and ministry is! Perhaps you need to take some time away from ministry and spend it with Jesus. Show him He is still #1 in your life and that ministry comes only after the relationship. Thatwill give Jesus a Very Merry Christmas indeed!
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SOMETHING TO CONSIDER:
If you could benefit from some time away from ministry to focus on your relationship with Jesus, please take a look at Yosemite Summit or Unbridled. Yosemite Summit is a four-day retreat for men in Yosemite National Park, while Unbridled is a three-day women’s retreat in Ohio. Information on both can be found at YosemiteSummit.org