“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—These are all classics and true for many people.

But in worship ministry, December can often feel more like “I’m Not Home for Christmas,” It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Mayhem,” “It’s the Most Chaotic Time of the Year.” December can be flat-out overwhelming due to all of the added holiday programming, extra rehearsals, extra worship services, team scheduling conflicts (because they’re busy enjoying the festivities and family functions), year-end meetings, etc.

It’s not like you’re a “Bah-Humbug,” and it isn’t like you don’t want to delight in the season and all that it represents. But neither do you want to let your congregation down at Christmas. Look, the truth of the matter is that this time of year really is fun and exciting…for some people.

The problem is that the fun and excitement often comes at a heavy price and sometimes feels totally out of reach to the worship minister. Because you’re buried at church, you have to say no to Christmas parties, no to family gatherings, no to shopping sprees, no to Christmas vacations, and no to relaxing at home when your family is off school and work. This can cause considerable stress and strife…especially if you have a spouse and kids. I know – I lived it.

As Andy Stanley often says, this scenario is “not a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed.” The reality is that you cannot just walk away from ministry responsibilities or the incredible opportunities this time of year brings to share Jesus with your community. But it is also critical to remember that this is also the best time of the year to make lasting memories with your friends and families.

December will be busy, but it doesn’t have to be a blur, and it certainly doesn’t have to be a relational disaster.

Here are five strategies that can help you thrive, not just survive, during the Christmas season.

1. Plan Ahead. For me, there is nothing worse than trying to pull something together, of any quality, at the last minute. To try is irresponsible (in my opinion), and it adds unnecessary stress to everyone involved. So it’s critically important to start early. Take the appropriate amount of time to involve your team, determine your goals and objectives, outline the desired outcomes, story-board your content, plan programming details, produce a project schedule, and assign tasks. Providing sufficient prep time and coordinating the necessary resources will make the day or days of the program/event way more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone. It will also give you margin to trouble-shoot unexpected curve balls when, not if, they are thrown at you.

2. Be Strategic. Don’t fall victim to the plethora of great ideas for celebrating Christmas. Crossroads (a large congregation located in Cincinnati) discontinued “Awaiting” (a spectacular, dramatic Christmas musical) for 2018. Although it was a very successful (and ginormous) program, it was expensive, sucked the life out of their creative arts teams and was not central to the core mission of the church. It was extremely entertaining, but ineffective at transforming lives into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many churches have done the same thing. Try simplifying this year. I’ve discovered that people no longer care about (or need) the pageantry. What they are really looking for are less-extravagant, more-traditional, family-oriented experiences. And as it happens, these are much easier to execute and do not require extraordinary resources, time or energy. Focus on what’s best, and weed out the “good or better.”

3. Involve your family and friends. Finds ways to involve the people you care about in the preparation and/or execution of the program/event. Doing things together will diminish your FOMO (fear of missing out) and reduce the amount of things you actually miss out on. And, best of all, it will produce shared experiences that you and your family will remember for years to come.

4. Slow Down. You’re no good to anyone when you abuse your mind, body, and soul by not resting, eating poorly, and burning the candle at both ends. So don’t neglect yourself. I often failed to follow this advice at my own peril and my rewards were back problems, headaches, high blood pressure, elevated LIPID profile and A1C numbers, and being stressed out to the max. View me as a cautionary tale. Don’t be another exhausted casualty. Get help. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Delegate as much as possible (NOTE: anything can be delegated, even if you don’t think it is). You might be surprised how many “yeses” you get just by asking people to share the load. Many hands make light work.

5. Discover something new. Let’s face it, the Christmas story isn’t just ancient history—it’s old hat because it’s been told the same way ad nauseam. But even though the story is well-known, there are ways to share and experience it in fresh ways each year. Look for different aspects of the story to highlight and for new angles to investigate. Find creative ways to make the story’s themes, applications, and implications more relevant to your community. Mix things up by rearranging the carols. Include secular Christmas songs to connect with unchurched people and nonbelievers. Use different instrumentation than you typically do on a Sunday morning. Recognizing the presence of young(er) children and out of respect for their parents, forego the normal sermon in favor of a more participative and engaging teaching time. Design a sacred ceremony using contemporary mediums (video, art, dance, spoken word, etc.). The options are endless!

The Christmas season can feel like an out-of-control locomotive bearing down on you but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is totally possible to create effective and engaging holiday programs/activities and still have enough margin in your life to enjoy the people and activities you love. I hope these practical suggestions help you fully experience and embrace this most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!