Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

I Know Why Your Church Did (or Didn’t) Cancel Christmas

By David Whiting

David Whiting serves as one of the Executive Consultants on my team at Vanderbloemen Search Group. Before coming to Vanderbloemen, he served as Lead Pastor of Northridge Church in Rochester, NY, one of Outreach's 100 fastest-growing churches. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from his time at Northridge, and he often provides the Vanderbloemen leadership blog with unique perspectives on church leadership. I'm honored to have him as a guest blogger on LeadingSmart!  -Tim

Every few years Christmas falls on a Sunday. And when it does, debate and strong words are commonly exchanged amongst church leaders about whether or not to hold Christmas services on Sunday. Usually those words are lobbed through social media and are filled with pride and indirect (or direct) condemnation toward the other side.

I think the reasons churches hold Christmas services on Sunday are good reasons. And I think those who don’t hold Christmas services on Sunday have good reasons as well. And I wish both sides would slow down to more clearly hear and understand each other.

The reason a church does and doesn’t hold Christmas services likely says a lot about that church. And understanding those differences may help both sides be more gracious with the other and more clearly define their own mission and purpose.

Those Who Held Sunday Services on Christmas:

·      Your church is likely made up of a majority of people who grew up in church. They grew up understanding that Christmas is ultimately about Jesus – so what better way could there be to celebrate Christ than to gather together on Christmas morning? In fact, to those who grew up in Christian homes centered on Christ, it often seems unimaginable not to go to church on Christmas Sunday.

·      Your church longs to help parents train their children to know that Christmas is truly and ultimately only about Christ and that He takes priority over everything – even our normal Christmas morning traditions.

·      Your church likely considers Sunday as The Lord’s Day and a day that is distinct and special from every other day. It is the day our Lord was raised from the dead, and gathering on Sunday follows a 2,000-year tradition of people devoted to Christ.

·      Your church is likely not a “seeker” church. You probably aren’t seeker-focused, but you may be somewhat seeker-sensitive. You want lost people to come to church, but they are not your focus or priority on Sunday morning. Instead, they are the target of the members of your church as they live through the week. Their primary goal is to come to church to be encouraged and challenged, and then to go out into the world and witness for Christ.

·      Your church is more focused on the church family than on excellence. Excellence is great, but it isn’t the end goal. And Christmas Sunday morning will be less attended and you will be missing some key volunteers who won’t be there, but you will be together as a church family and forgiving of some of the holes that are created through a lack of volunteers on that day. And it actually is healthy for your church to sense the smaller “family” feel on a special morning like Christmas Sunday.

Those are all good reasons to have church on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday.

Yet those who cancelled church on Christmas Sunday can often look with pride and condemnation at churches like this as being legalistic and out of touch.  I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased with them.

Those Who Didn’t Hold Sunday Services on Christmas:

·      Your church is either filled with people who came to Christ as adults or your church is intentionally targeting those who don’t yet know Christ or are young in their faith.  And since your targets for Sundays are those who don’t yet know Christ or are new to walking with Christ, you deal with this reality: almost none of them will show up on a Sunday morning for church on Christmas Sunday. So these churches are willing to move their services to times that their target (unbelievers and new believers) will show up.

·      Your church loves Romans 14:5 which says, “5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Your church takes that verse seriously and you may feel condemned by those who don’t like your decision to move your services to Saturday and early in the week, and you may feel tempted to be prideful as if the other viewpoint is ignoring these verses.

·      Your church is likely a seeker church or a church that focuses on new Christians.  If you tried to hold services on Christmas Sunday, you would struggle to staff every volunteer role – from greeters to band and production members - and Christmas Sunday would end up being a less-than-ideal service to worship the Christ of Christmas. So, you’d rather have one of the two most special services on days when all volunteer hands can be on deck.

·      Your church wants your people to be intentionally pursuing family relationships to bring them to Christ. And if they have had decades of Christmas morning traditions, missing those traditions with non-Christian family to go to church might give feelings of frustration toward those Christians. So in light of Romans 14:5, why not change the service times so Christians can fully participate in family traditions and so non-Christians and new Christians will more likely participate?

Those are also good reasons to not have church on Christmas when it is a Sunday. Yet those who had church on Sunday can look at churches like this as not having their priorities right and too focused on lost people or excellence. I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased.

To conclude, there are three things that I wish both types of churches would do:

1)   I think both sides should intentionally stand down on condemnation and dial back on strong rhetoric.

2)   I think both sides should be clear on their mission and purpose, and they should pursue that mission to God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of all people everywhere.

3)   Finally, I think both sides should carefully read and apply Romans 14 when it comes to the decision of whether to have church on Christmas Sunday or not.

Romans 14:

 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 

Whatever your viewpoint on this, have good Biblical reasons for what you do. Don’t simply do something out of guilt, tradition, pride, convenience, or the desire to be “cool.”

6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 

Recognize that those churches who made a different choice than you are doing it to and for the Lord. Be careful about judging their motives or the results.

7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Each of our churches belongs to God. Let’s be gracious with each other and focused on Him, not on what we think other churches should or shouldn’t be doing.

9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Our role is not to judge those who make different choices on this matter, but rather to focus on having a clear conscience before God in what we choose for our church. When the day comes that we stand before God, we will give an account to Him for the choices we made. And He won’t be interested in hearing your condemnation of another group of church leaders who chose differently.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another

May all of God’s churches take this command seriously and pray for each other more than we evaluate each other.

16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 

Church, pursue your mission and purpose and do it so well that others can’t speak poorly of what you are doing.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Eternity is too long and hell is too hot for us to fight about such things. There are differences of opinions, and that is fine. Can we assume the best about each other? And can we attempt to see why another church made the choice that it made? Let’s be at peace. Let’s pray for each other. And let’s root for other churches to WIN!  Again, may it all be for God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of us who get to serve Him.

One Last Note:

From experience, I know this is a hard decision to make. I was the Lead Pastor at Northridge Church for over 15 years, and six years ago, Christmas was on a Sunday. We held three Christmas Eve services and one service on Christmas morning. They were identical services. We didn’t feel we could do an excellent Christmas Eve service and something entirely different on Christmas morning. And in our culture, we didn’t think people could come two days in a row at the Christmas season. We are a church filled with many newer believers. We thought giving people options that best fit their schedules (or even convictions) was best. So it was four identical services – three on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas morning.

We discovered that a vast majority of our Sunday AM attenders were staff, elders, and our key volunteers who always are willing to help get things accomplished. I am sure we had as many staff, elders, and volunteers serving as we had attenders that morning. We were a church filled with many new Christians, and since there was a Saturday night option (when even a non-Christian culture is used to attending a Christmas Eve afternoon or service), it became the primary option. And therefore, Sunday morning was the smallest attended of the weekend.

So when it came around this year, a lot of discussion went into it. What is best?

This year, Northridge Church didn’t have church on Christmas Sunday. What will we do next time? I guess we will all find out in December 2022.

Until then - let’s be gracious to those who choose to do it differently than we did. 

-- David Whiting

Friday Finds - 2017 Goals, Parental Leave, & Holiday Mistakes

'Tis the season to be busy, am I right? I've been on the road all week, and while it can be tiring to travel so much this time of year, it pumps me up to visit and get to know really awesome church leaders around the country. In the past couple of weeks, I've met with leaders in Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Mississippi, Indiana and California. I'm really encouraged with what God is doing through the Church today, and have especially enjoyed seeing how churches are creatively reaching their communities during the Christmas season.

I'm hoping these articles can help and encourage you this next week:

The Two Most Powerful Words For Reaching Your Goals by Michael Hyatt via MichaelHyatt.com

Every year, I keep my eye out for resources about New Years resolutions or goal-setting that aren't trite or something we've all heard many times. This insight from Michael Hyatt is certainly one of those gems. The two words he gives for creating and reaching your 2017 goals aren't what you would expect, but they make a lot of sense.

Are You A Good Boss? [Flowchart] by Amanda Zantal-Wiener via Hubspot

Since I know everyone is busy with their Christmas service planning (not to mention Christmas shopping or party planning), I thought I'd include a fun, quick read. Amanda Zantal-Wiener's flowchart is clever, with a lot of insightful hints to help you be a more self-aware, honest, and listening leader. Go through this and send it to your leadership team.

Ikea Is Giving All U.S. Employees Paid Parental Leave No Matter How Many Hours They Work by Claire Zillman via Fortune

Did you hear about this bold move made by Ikea recently? Their US workers will receive up to 4 months of paid maternity leave regardless of their number of hours worked. While I'm not giving any opinion about what your maternity/paternity leave policies should look like, I do think it's a subject that all church leaders should give a lot of thought to and re-evaluate often. What do you think of Ikea's decision? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Mistakes Pastors Make During The Holidays by Rusty Gates via Vanderbloemen Search Group

I've read a lot of blog posts that give leaders ideas for their Christmas service planning. But there aren't many resources that point out what leaders may be neglecting during this time of year. This wise article from my colleague Rusty has some great points about the mistakes we can make when we get too wrapped up in the season and everything we have to do for it. Give it a read.

What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments below. 

Friday Finds - Motivation, Hard Skills, & Retaining Christmas Visitors

Last week, my family took a trip to Indiana & Michigan to visit family & friends for "Thanksmas." This week, Faith has been busy putting up our tree and decorating our home for Christmas. It seems like time always speeds up this time of year, doesn't it? I strive (but struggle) to slow down and be present throughout this busy season, and I know church leaders can understand that as they prepare for Christmas services.

I'm hoping these articles can help you out over the next week:

This Value Is The Secret To Sustained Motivation by William Vanderbloemen via Forbes

Every church leader knows what it's like to lose motivation, to feel listless in their role, or, especially this time of year, just feel plain tired. But before jumping to "I must be burned out," "Maybe this isn't the role for me," or "I need a vacation," read this article instead. The key to staying encouraged and incentivized may be simpler than you think - though certainly a discipline to cultivate. If you haven't followed my friend William on Forbes yet, you should.

10 Things Successful People Never Do Again by Henry Cloud via Success.com

We've all heard the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The opposite stands true - sanity means not repeating the same failure or mistake again. Pulled from Dr. Henry Cloud's Never Go Back: 10 Things You'll Never Do Again, this quick read outlines 10 ways that smart people grow from their mistakes, rather than making them again.

7 Skills That Are Hard To Learn But Pay Off Forever by Travis Bradberry via Forbes

I strongly urge leaders to bookmark this article and re-read it when making your 2017 New Year's Resolutions (or, if you prefer, when choosing your "theme" for 2017). Many of these skills I've had to learn the hard way, but each one will make you a more effective leader. Travis Bradberry gives a compelling case for a holistic pursuit of better leadership.

8 Ways To Keep Your Christmas Service Visitors Coming Back by Jennifer Winge via Vanderbloemen Search Group

I had to include this article by my colleague Jennifer, because we've all seen so many (albeit helpful) articles on planning great Christmas services. But what's missing is the focus on how to get those visitors to keep coming back to church. This involves even more strategy than planning the service, but your staff needs to plan for this. Leaders, don't overlook this.

What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments below. 

Friday Finds - 2017 Trends, Discussing Failure, & Going Overboard At Christmas

Can you believe Thanksgiving is almost upon us? This year has flown by for me, as I'm sure it has for many of you. Though this time of year often ushers in a season of busy-ness for church staffs, it's also one of my favorite times of year to stop, reflect, and plan for the new year. I urge you to stay present during this season - present with your staff, with your congregation, and with your family. Be intentional about about paying attention to your leadership and the year ahead.

In light of that, here's what I'm reading this week:

10 Workplace Trends You'll See In 2017 by Dan Schawbel via Forbes

Anyone who has been in the workforce more than 10 years knows the dramatic shifts that are happening in the workplace - and how fast those shifts now occur. I think it's very important for leaders to be tuned into how the workplace is changing. Dan Schawbel predicts 10 trends we're going to see in 2017, and smart leaders should pay attention and pivot as necessary to build the best team possible.

The Right Way To Discuss Your Failures In A Job Interview by Allen Gannett via Fast Company

As Allen Gannett very accurately describes, you can learn a lot about a potential hire by asking them to talk about a past failure or disappointment. Allen describes the different "types" of answers candidates usually give, like the humble brag or the blame game. But the best way to answer the question? Complete ownership. Read on to see how to take ownership in a way that makes potential employers take note.

What Kind Of Leader Are You? A Fixer, Fighter, or Friend by Jonathan Raymond via Success.com

This is a longer read, but it is excellent. Much like a detailed personality assessment, this article insightfully diagnoses each leadership type, their strengths, their weaknesses, their blind spots, and their challenges. I think every leader should read this and take an honest look at what kind of leader they are and how they can both use their strengths and improve as a leader.

Why Church Leaders Shouldn't Go Overboard At Christmas by David Whiting via Vanderbloemen Search Group

My colleague David offers a slightly differing opinion than what we're used to hearing regarding Christmas service planning. His premise is this: "How you reach people is how you keep them." Read this thoughtful article, then let me know in the comments what you think. Do you agree with David? Or do you think churches need to pull out all the stops in order to reach the most visitors possible? There's no right or wrong answer, but I'd love to hear your reaction.

What are you reading this week? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Friday Finds - Teachability, Emotional Intelligence, & Scary Interview Questions

What a week! I stayed up way too late on Tuesday night watching the election results. The "peaceful transition of power" is by far the most amazing thing to watch every four years--regardless of who wins. It was definitely an interesting election season, but I'm still convinced that what you and I do every day, and how we treat each other, contributes more to a better tomorrow than anything a politician can do. 

So for starters, make an effort to be a better leader. Here are some articles to help:

5 Ways It's Visible That Someone Is Teachable by Kevin Lloyd via LeadBravely.Org

Teachability is one of those vital, irreplaceable soft-skills, but you don't hear too much about it. In my friend Kevin Lloyd's post, he describes how we can spot teachability in others, which is especially important for leaders who do a lot of hiring for their team. Teachability takes a measure of humility, and it's absolutely necessary in a great team. As Kevin says, "The most teachable leaders prove to be the more impactful leaders." Keep reading!

5 Things to Consider Before You Fire a Staff Member by Paul Alexander

Firing someone will always be difficult. As Paul Alexander points out, it's especially difficult for church staff members, because they're not just losing their job; they're usually losing their place of worship & spiritual support as well. There are a lot of considerations and processes to go through before pulling the trigger, and rightly so - it's not a decision to be taken lightly. Read this article for some important thoughts you must realize before firing someone.

5 Emotional Intelligence Hacks That Can Immediately Improve Your Leadership by Carey Nieuwhof via CareyNieuwhof.com

I'm all for "hacks" and super practical, hands-on advice. Carey Nieuwhof strikes gold (and some nerves) in this spot-on article. As he so wisely points out, "Insecure leaders are usually too afraid to hear the answers that will make them healthy." If we're to be healthy leaders, we need to pay attention to insights like this and work to improve our emotional intelligence. The health of your team depends on it.

The 11 Scariest Interview Questions Ever by William Vanderbloemen via Forbes

Now time for a little humor. What are some of the oddest questions you've been asked in a job interview? Interviewing effectively is both a science and an art, and it's easy to scare off your candidates by the types of questions you ask. Read this fun article from my friend William to know 11 questions NOT to ask in interviews.

What are you reading this week? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.