From the last porch light of Halloween through the last light of the Christmas tree, our holiday schedules are packed!
Cramming their way into our margins are school Christmas parties, staff get-togethers, and family dinners—and we haven’t even touched decorating, cooking, shopping, and wrapping. The holidays can be exhausting. So how do we “gift” families, volunteer leaders, and even our own households with margin during the holiday season?
The temptation is to take a red pen or a pair of sharp scissors to the calendar. Cancel it—whatever “it” is. But that’s a “New Year’s Resolution” sort of plan; not likely to be kept. So consider a few real-world options for building margin during the holidays—for you, your family, and the families you serve.
1. Hold your volunteer party some other time than December.
In the midst of the myriad of holiday gatherings that are pulling on families, they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness. Our children’s pastor hosted a very meaningful holiday gathering. The week prior to Thanksgiving she hosted a “thankful banquet” for volunteers, giving them a chance to share how serving has impacted them. She spoke her gratitude over each leader and then sent them home with a dessert for their Thanksgiving table. One year we hosted a New Year’s Day brunch instead of a Christmas party. It was the most highly attended volunteer appreciation I’ve ever done!
2. Rather than canceling programming to give your volunteers a break, ask them to serve on a rotation during the high holiday months.
If you can maintain appropriate ratios for care and safety, let volunteers come every other week. Think about subbing-in for them to give small group leaders and Sunday school teachers a respite from planning and preparation.
3. If canceling programming is part of the culture where you serve, consider offering something via video.
It’s a busy season, but we never want to lose focus on what the holidays are all about. It also keeps families engaged, even from a distance. And if videos aren’t a possibility, give some options for reading plans through YouVersion or another Bible reading app. You could even invite teenagers or leaders to participate with you in a reading plan, so discussion and contemplation are happening even when the doors at church are closed.
It’s a busy season, but we never want to lose focus on what the holidays are all about.Click to tweet
4. “But what about me, Darren?! When do I get a moment of solace during the holidays?!”
Great question! Of course, we can’t change the reality that this is one of our busiest ministry seasons—it’s a major focus for us, for good reason. So planning ahead for peace is crucial, or it won’t happen. I try to block one night per week from Halloween through Christmas where, no matter who invites us, the answer is no. It’s Sutton Family Time. We hold it sacred. Over the years the only thing that trumped that night was a school performance for our own children that we might not have known about. Even then, we went out for dinner or dessert prior to or following so that it was ‘our time.’
5. Take a mini-Sabbath.
Last year I had a decent amount of unused paid time off in my “bank,” so in mid-December I took three days off and finished Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts, making desserts, and all my other holiday preparations. I treated it as the “It’s-Christmas-Eve-and-I’m-not-ready-yet” scramble that is typical of most years. It was glorious—my church holds 25 Christmas Eve services over four days and three locations, so getting all the last-minute holiday stuff done a few weeks early made everything less stressful!
Most of us feel fully “spent” by the time we sit down to Christmas breakfast—the same is true for our students’ families and our volunteers. Walking away from everything isn’t a real option—besides, it’s the holidays! But think about living a “sabbath lifestyle” that embraces “sabbath moments” in the midst of the chaos.
Make it more “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and less “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”