Many people call Advent and Christmas their favorite time of the year. After all, there’s tree lighting, caroling, unlimited amounts of Christmas cookies, and TV specials only Hallmark can make. And while their congregations may be rejoicing, pastors are often struggling with this time of year. After all, they’re stuck with the tall task of making a story that everybody knows seem fresh, different and new. They’re equally burdened with making that story inspire people to innovative mission within the community to transform the world.
Add that to the growing rate of declining churches, the short window of new visitors that come during advent, and the unexpected that’s sure to arise as Juel Nelson describes here. The pressure of this season can overwhelm leaders feeling incapable of meeting the challenges of today’s mission and ministry. However, if we shift our understanding of what’s urgent, we can rise to meet challenges and welcome this season with authentic joy.
- Stop thinking that what’s urgent is what’s wrong
Often in mission and community development we seek to inspire people to action by calling out everything that’s going wrong in the community. We trot out the most depressing statistics, stories, and pictures hoping that if people are sad enough they’ll be guilted into action. And while we shouldn’t shy away from painful realities impacting many of our neighborhoods and communities, it’s not the only way to move people. Sharing powerful testimonies of what God is doing, the difference that God’s mission is creating, and the people whose sweat, service and sacrifice are making that happen can capture the hearts and minds of people, too. The joy of Advent and the miracles of mission that God is manifesting in communities are always urgent and timely messages if only we would share them!
- Stop thinking that what’s urgent is only what we can handle
A mission ministry chair once said, “this is my busiest time of year. I’ve got to run the toy drive, lead the Advent feeding program, plan the mission Sunday, and apply for next year’s grants.” Listening to this long list of responsibilities, we only hear the word “I.” She never mentioned a team of people who were walking alongside her and when asked about it she said: “This is urgent, I’ve got to do it to make sure it’s done right.” In this season with new visitors, additional services, and mission opportunities, it’s very tempting to let what’s urgent become what we do alone. Mission and ministry are never solo acts; they require teams of God’s people working together to make God’s purpose a reality. When we make what’s urgent the only thing we can do we rob ourselves of the joy of teamwork, the efficiency of working together, and the more significant impact that only comes when not one part but the whole body of Christ moves together.
- Start thinking that what’s urgent may change
Advent may be a season we celebrate year after year with time-honored traditions, yet it’s also an invitation to what needs our attention right now. When we think of a laboring Mary desperate for a room to birth the Son of God, we think our work as leaders is to create space for the Mary’s in our midst: to build room and capacity for leaders to bring forth new mission and ministries that will transform the world. But, like that innkeeper, our focus is full of everything that used to be urgent rather than what’s bursting forth in front of our eyes. Shifting to what and who is urgent to God’s mission now will keep us connected to where the Spirit is moving next.
As you lead, preach, encourage and challenge your congregations in this season of Advent, know that you’re being prayed for urgently. Whatever shifts you make, God will meet you there with joy.