How You Can Avoid the Holiday Leadership Blues

(Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash)

The idea of Christmas "holidays" may seem ironic for you who are in church leadership.

It's the happiest time of the year, right? So why does it feel like the busiest time of the year?

I love the holidays. I grew up in San Diego, so Christmas included warm weather and palm trees for me. Here in Atlanta with the changing of seasons, it feels like Christmas! We love it! But the holidays are incredibly busy. That's just a reality. And the church intensifies that reality.

December is a busy month for everyone, that's true, but eventually, there is some downtime especially nearest the actual holidays. But that's not really true in the church. From Christmas Eve services to hospital visits, and from special outreach programs to year-end vision planning, it's a very full season.

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It seems like the pressure starts to redline for most church leaders when they add in strategic planning for the next year. Even if you began in September or October, there is still much to do if you are going to start 2019 to your greatest advantage.

  • So how do you maintain an attitude of holiday cheer when you are on the run?
  • How do you focus on Jesus when your calendar feels more strategic than sacred?
  • Is it possible to genuinely enjoy the holidays and keep up with the demands of serving in a church? The answer is absolutely yes. That doesn't mean it's easy, but it is definitely doable.

4 Practical Action Steps to Help You Avoid the Holiday Leadership Blues

1. Say no, even when it's tough.

Saying no is not the same as "Bah, humbug."

Just because you say no doesn't make you Ebenezer Scrooge, that curmudgeonly character in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Church leaders won't survive the holidays if they say yes to everything—even if they want to. And that's often the real situation; we want to more than people expect us to.

Most people are reasonable, and they understand if you are honest with them. That doesn't mean you always have to explain, but you do need to be honest and clear. If you're at ease, they will be. Disappointment passes in a short while, the effects of lack of honesty lasts a long time.

Let me offer a practical way to do this. Rather than focus on what you need to say no to, proactively figure out what you need to say yes to. Then, all the other decisions (the no's) are made, and there is considerably less pressure.

2. Avoid last-minute.

My wife, Patti, does most of our Christmas shopping, and she hates to shop at the last minute. I get it; it adds unnecessary pressure. Patti is smart, and she does most of the shopping online. She loves to search for sales and much prefers the "find and click" method over the "park and hunt" mall madness. But that doesn't change the reality of both our hopes that our loved ones sitting around the tree on Christmas morning love their gifts.

Last-minute usually results in less than optimal decisions both in Christmas shopping and in church leadership.

Too many of my colleagues tell me stories about writing their Christmas Eve message on Christmas Eve or trying to work on their 2019 strategic plans the week after Christmas. That's not a good decision. Leaving your programming details to the last minute will not produce the results you want.

It's not too late. Jump in now. It's the first week of December. You still have time. Make a list of mission-critical priorities and do only those things. It's not easy, but you can do it.

3. Don't over program.

When Patti and I were much younger, we were out multiple nights a week, every week, for "parties and programs" each December with the church. I think we got away with that because we were married for eight years before we had our first child.

Packing in too many things in December is almost always a mistake.

Here's a good rule of thumb. For every special holiday service or special event that you add, do your best to drop one "regularly scheduled" program. Here's another idea. Try to combine programming. For example, because of where Christmas Day lands this year, our Christmas Eve and Sunday services at 12Stone are the same service.

4. Adopt a fresh perspective.

A young leader was asking for advice because his employer was repeatedly asking him to work weekends. This was a source of great frustration to him, even though his boss always gave him equal time off during the week for any weekends he worked. Working some weekends bothered him so much that he was considering quitting his job that he loved and felt gifted for.

Wanting to give him a different and fresh perspective, I used examples like firefighters, pastors, doctors, police and military. Lots of people work crazy schedules even on the holidays. They chose their profession and consider it a privilege.

It's the same for those of us in ministry. God chose us, and we said yes to a call that requires our commitment at inconvenient times. This will never work long-term if you resent it. Your calling and ministry must be embraced as a privilege. We often say it this way, "I don't have to; I get to!" That is a fresh perspective that works and will add purpose and passion to your holidays.

I hope these four ideas are helpful to you. More can be added, and maybe you could leave one as a comment. But these are a great place to start.

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

This article originally appeared at

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