By John Chisum
“’Maybe Christmas,’ the Grinch thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’” —Dr. Seuss
Beatle boots. I just wanted Beatle boots. But the package under the tree that had been so promising, the one shaped like the perfect pair of black Beatle boots, packed such a walloping disappointment on Christmas morning. Instead, I received something resembling steel-toed construction boots. That entire Christmas was ruined for me. I cried. I sulked. I made the whole day miserable for everyone. The shimmering expectation of donning a sleek pair of black leathery Beatle boots was so overpowering for me that year that nothing else would do. I was 11-years old, the Beatles ruled the world, and I still owe my Mom an apology.
I think the childish expectations we build up around Christmas — those bright fantasies about Beatle boots or a Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle like Ralphie wanted so badly in A Christmas Story are just part of growing up. But what about the expectations we have as adults, especially around the kind of experiences we hope to serve up to our congregations through the Christmas season? Are they healthy? Are they harmful? What if we don’t wrap the right gifts in the right packages and fail to deliver the right results?
The truth is, people do bring their expectations to church. They expect the right songs to be sung at the right times. They long to have “that Christmas feeling” again this year and hold you responsible as the worship leader to provide that experience for them, no matter which style you generally use or how you feel about it. How can you maintain integrity, serve your people in a way they can receive, and lead well without missing the entire Christmas experience yourself? Maybe we can find some fresh perspective in the following suggestions:
Realize we’re all still children inside
Christmas is a season of great expectation, hopes, and dreams. Every person who comes through the doors of your church, no matter what age, is still that 5-year-old, 12-year-old, or whatever-year-old on the inside. While we hope people won’t act like a 2-year-old once they’re fully grown, there’s still a child inside each of us longing for the perfect gift that will bring delight again and make Christmas come alive once more. If we’ve lost some of the wonder of Christmas, it will be very hard to bring it to others. Taking time to assess where we’ve lost the childlike joy of our relationship with Jesus is a great place to start.
The faith community is a place that can bring together biblical Christmas traditions and anchor our people in the truth of the Gospel again
It took me a long time as a worship leader to realize that a momentary shift from the rock and roll worship songs I loved to the classic hymns and choruses of the Christmas season was actually a very healthy one. It gave us a natural pause from the week-to-week routine to reflect and remember the foundation of our faith in the very coming of Christ. I had to get over my musical preferences in order to lead others with music that could reach them at a deeper level during that time. Instead of seeing Christmas songs as a diversion or a bother, I began to appreciate them for how they bring us together around the central story of Christ’s birth.
Your gift isn’t for you
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our leadership gifts are for others. It’s hard to be completely selfless, but moving towards a deeper understanding of tenderly serving others through the Christmas season (with or without affirmations) is what we’ve signed up to do —serve. Serving means meeting the needs of others first, then our own. It’s that gentle attitude of setting aside what we want, what we prefer, what we would love to get from others in order to give them what they hope for first. In other words, it’s the choice to sing O, Little Town of Bethlehem one more time for the sake of those who need to hear it, whether we think we do or not.
Lead with humility
I never got the Beatle boots. I probably forgot about it all quickly enough and that big Christmas letdown has been replaced with many precious memories in the years since with my own family. My parents did the best they could in the moment and their hearts were in the right place.
Whatever your own expectations are for this season and the expectations of those you serve, keeping it real for yourself is the best way to help keep it real for others. Remember that you’re not responsible for the reactions and responses of others (you can’t make anyone worship). Your job is to lead with love and humility as you join to reflect on the wonder of the Christmas story.
About the author: John Chisum has been active in the Christian music industry as a songwriter, arranger, producer, music publisher, and recording artist. He has served alongside some of the world’s greatest and best-loved artists such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Don Moen, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, and many more. John is currently Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters and recently celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary with his wife, Donna. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.