Meaning at Christmas.
Not meaning of Christmas. You’ve probably read lots about that. Or preached sermons on the subject. No, today this post is about what Christmas means to you. As a leader.
So let me start with a question.
The church is packed. Little candles in all the alcoves. Lots of visitors. It’s Christmas Eve, the one time in the year when the church congregation doubles. But you’ve lost your voice, so instead of you standing there welcoming everyone, it’s your second-in-command (curate, youth pastor). You will play no part in the service.
How does that feel? Take a spiritual health check.
I ask this because a church leader said to me the other day, 'well, you know, we leaders are control freaks so Christmas is especially hard this year.' Ouch!
My friend knows that hyperbole often contains humour, but his comment caught my attention. I don’t believe for a moment that all leaders are control freaks, but I do think there might be an issue here with performance. This affects all those whose job involves public performance. Actors, dancers, politicians, rock musicians . . . and church leaders.
Just how important is it for you to be up there in front of everyone? Take a look inside.
How do you find your meaning at Christmas?
Henri Nouwen once produced some training, which invited his students to think about their significance under the following headings:
I am what I do
I am what I own
I am what people say about me
Two of those directly affect church leaders.
The purpose of the training was to help people unhook themselves from these statements, to find significance in Christ alone.
I have been in meetings in which talks are allocated, and it has become clear that a leader is much more concerned that he is the one preaching the gospel than that the gospel is preached. That’s a problem.
I know leaders whose entire significance and identity is bound up in leading – preaching, serving, being seen everywhere around the church. That’s a problem.
I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, where your significance lies. Or your identity.
So what’s the answer?
First, we have many identities and it’s quite normal to embrace identity through profession. The Bible describes people by their professions – tent maker, artisan, soldier – nothing wrong with that. A problem arises, however, when profession overwhelms all our other identities, when significance is found almost exclusively in professional activity.
Second, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that we are physical and we are frail. We don’t float around on a cloud. We live and breathe among others. So it is quite natural and normal to have needs. (Henri Nouwen’s training doesn’t deny this at all.)
As such, the desire for encouragement, for connection, for our work to be meaningful, these things are all part of life. We are created with needs and desires and some of those God has designed to be met by others. Encouragement is a good thing. Second, it’s really okay to find pleasure in our work, in our service, in our speaking. It would be odd if we didn’t.
Yet, with that in mind, what can go wrong?
When significance is rooted entirely in performance, we are in danger of losing our footing. When we don’t just desire encouragement but crave it; when we find that we’re lost unless we’re serving, then something has gone wrong. Our identities have been surrendered to external forces. Somewhere along the line, Christ has been demoted, though of course we would never admit to this.
Paul writes, ‘to live is Christ.’ Some have re-written this as, ‘To be a leader who serves and preaches, that is me in Christ. If I don’t serve and preach, then I’m a nobody.’
That final part rolls along in our subconscious, often repressed by more busyness. The busyness is often pursued to fill the hole. If you resonate with what I’ve written, I certainly can’t solve your problem. Only you can take steps towards health.
Perhaps this pandemic – and the unique circumstances it enforces – will provide you with an opportunity to spend a bit more time alone. No meetings, fewer sermons to prepare, no one in the building.
So take time to enter your Mind Palace.
Go straight to the Soul Room.
On the wall is a picture with which you are very familiar. It’s a nativity scene, one in which the baby Jesus is surrounded by three figures – Mary who is holding the child, Joseph standing behind her, and to the side, an angel kneeling in worship.
This Christmas, however, you will approach it with a different mind-set. Today, you are the child, held tenderly, not by Mary, but by the triune God. You are right at the centre of the scene, not because of what you do, but because of the Three-in-One who cares for you. Deeply.
Do not worship the image, of course, simply enjoy being held.
This Christmas, it is enough simply to be cradled in the arms of your God.
In this scene,
You are not preaching.
You are not serving.
You are not leading.
You are not doing anything. You are just receiving.
Your need for love, for encouragement, for security, for peace . . . is entirely satisfied by your God.
This year, turn towards Him and find Him sufficient.
He is sufficient.
He loves you.
And that’s enough.