If you are a last-minute leader, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one putting finishing touches on a worship service, sermon, play, piece of music, bulletin or outreach effort. In fact, you can be forgiven for thinking your timing is right in line with the theme of the season. With no room at the inn, Mary and Joseph are ill-prepared for Mary to comfortably give birth to Jesus. Much of Jesus’ early life, too, is spent on the fly avoiding Herod.
As Biblical as being last-minute may be, there’s a cost for today’s church leader. We are in danger of missing the very spiritual qualities we are preparing to share with others.
Last-minute activity, done under pressure, activates the release of adrenaline. Once adrenaline is released, it gives us a heart-pounding rush, energizing the system. There’s a feel-good component to that. At the same time, it shuts down the part of the brain that is tuned in to mood. And it messes with the heart’s rhythms, creating discordance instead of coherence. The ragged heart beat that results disconnects us from the people we love, unable to relax or connect in meaningful ways.
I remember one Christmas Eve in particular, where I had been scurrying around like the proverbial chicken with my head cut off. I had successfully managed one urgent matter, calmed down two anxious people, and counseled three lonely people. I felt very useful, but strangely empty. When all was said and done, I had many things I could check off the to-do list, but I had no sense of peace in my soul.
Here’s the thing: there will always be last-minute things we cannot control. There’s something about Christmas that seems to bring the unexpected to the forefront. At the same time, there are many things we can control. For instance, there are no surprises about when Christmas comes. Christmas Eve comes like clockwork on December 24. Christmas Day falls reliably on December 25. Advent is always the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We can plan for these holidays, folks.
Here are some last-minute recommendations for the last-minute leader.
First, congratulations on managing all the things that need your attention at this time of year; good job! Give yourself some love; this is not an easy calling.
Second, consider all the people you will be serving this Christmas. It may well be the highlight of your year—a full sanctuary, new people coming in, beautiful music, people who know the stories and the words. Pray for these folks in joyful anticipation. Bless them. Open your heart to them.
Third, spend some time between Christmas and New Year relaxing. Get away for at least a little bit. Give attention to your own spirit, your own family, and your own well-being. Play and rest. During this time, I like to reflect on the wins and losses of the previous year, to count my blessings, and write out my celebrations. Once Christmas is over, spend time on this most important of activities. It will help you set the stage for a powerful 2018.
Fourth, don’t wait til Fall 2018 to look up the dates of Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Year. Map them out now. Think through the timing of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Watch Night services, and surrounding Sundays. Make note of the lectionary readings. Begin to collect stories and let your imagination connect with the scriptures. Put your notes where you can easily find them next year. And then, breathe deep. After all, Lent is coming.